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The Final Coffin July 6, 2006
by Mark Rose

Story time at KV63 as archaeologists search for an explanation for the enigmatic tomb


The tomb's discoverers hoped that this coffin, at the back of KV63, might hold a mummy. (Heather Alexander/Amenmesse Project) [LARGER IMAGE]

This Sunday--July 9, at 9:00 pm ET/PT--Discovery Channel will air "King Tut's Mystery Tomb Opened." The program is about the recent discovery and opening of KV63, the first tomb found in the Valley of the Kings since the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb (KV62) in 1922.

KV63 seemed to have coffins but no mummies. The finds included embalming supplies (natron and linen), sealings (linking the tomb with Tut), pillows, oil and storage jars, and a miniature coffin of pink gold. See our coverage "KV 63: A Look at the New Tomb" and "Valley of the Kings Cliffhanger" and the excavation web site At the beginning of summer, there was still hope that the coffin farthest from the entrance might contain a mummy.

The new Discovery Channel documentary covers the opening of that coffin, what was found inside it, and what archaeologists thought of the tomb. The raw footage I was able to view showed an on-site interview with Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council for Antiquities; discussion between Hawass and project director Otto Schaden about the pink gold coffinette; and the opening of the coffin. The film of the opening is amazing: conservator Nadia Lokma seems out of her mind with worry, Hawass is giving orders, and Hawass and Schaden can't help but pitch in with the lifting.


The coffin opened (Discovery Channel) [LARGER IMAGE]

There's no mummy inside, however. In a June 28 press release the contents of the coffin are listed as "gilded collars ornamented with flowers, sticks, linen pieces, clay fragments, and golden 'shreds.'" The same press release, gives the following interpretations of KV63:

"I announce today my belief that KV63 is indeed the tomb of King Tutankhamun's mother, Queen Kiya," stated Dr. Hawass. "The identification of KV63 as the final resting place of Queeen Kiya helps to solve the riddle of the location of King Tutankhamun's tomb in the Valley of the Kings. KV63 faces KV62, making it clear that the tomb was for someone near and dear to king Tutankhamun."


"Historical evidence shows that Queen Kiya died giving birth to King Tutankhamun in Amarna. Dr. Hawass and Dr. Schaden theorize that the boy pharaoh secretly ordered his mother's tomb to be moved to the Valley of the Kings, and that prior to his death, King Tutankhamun requested to be buried near his mother."

The press release refers to "an extensive battery of scientific tests and a comprehensive timeline analysis." Perhaps those are presented in the final version of the documentary, but the Kiya connection in what I saw was an argument based mostly on 1) links with Tut's tomb (pottery and seals) and 2) the physical proximity of KV63 and KV62. From there on, it is conjecture.

Hawass notes that burial in the Valley of the Kings was for kings, immediate family, and, rarely, favored courtiers. Who, then, could KV63 have been for? Someone close to Tut. According to Hawass, that means Tut's wife Ankhesenamun, his stepmother Nefertiti, or Kiya, a secondary queen and possibly Tut's mother. Ankhesenamun outlived Tut and is ruled out on that account. KV63 was unfinished, so that makes Nefertiti, who had plenty of time to carve a tomb, unlikely. That leaves Kiya.


Conservator Nadia Lokma inspects the contents of the coffin. (Discovery Channel) [LARGER IMAGE]

Who is Kiya? A secondary queen of the pharaoh Akhenaten, Kiya was called "wife and great beloved of the king." She may or may not have been Tut's mother. She may or may not have been a Mitannian princess named Tadukhipa, about whom we know from diplomatic correspondence between her father King Tushratta and the pharaohs Amenhotep III and his son Akhenaten. Kiya appears in several reliefs wearing a characteristic Nubian wig and large round ear decorations. She disappeared around the eleventh year of Akhenaten's reign, either dying or somehow falling out of favor.

Nefertiti, Akhenaten's primary queen, apparently had only daughters. So Kiya has often been suggested as the mother of Tutankhamun and an older brother named Smenkhkare. One relief does show Kiya holding a small child, but it is a princess. Supporters of the Kiya-Tut connection point to a chamber in the royal tomb at Amarna, Akhenaten's capital. Wall reliefs there may show the death of a woman in childbirth, with an infant being handed off to a nurse. Is this Kiya's demise and Tut's advent, which occurred at about the same time? It might be, but it can't be proved. Regardless, around 1353/1352 B.C., year 11 of Akhenaten's reign, Tut is born and Kiya drops out of sight (her monuments and inscriptions are re-carved for Meritaten, the oldest of Nefertiti and Akhenaten's daughters). (See this relief in the Metropolitan Museum for an example of the reworking of Kiya's image.)

If Kiya were originally buried in the Amarna royal tomb, was she later moved? By Tut? To KV63? Proving that would be a challenge. There's no mention of any artifacts or inscriptions that provide a direct link to Kiya in the video I've seen or in the press release. And with no direct evidence she was ever interred there, the simple proximity of the tomb to Tut's burial place has little weight since the assumption that Kiya was of great importance to Tut personally is just that, an assumption. We do have some of Kiya's funerary goods, but they were found in KV55, which held an elaborate gilded and inlaid coffin and canopic jars originally intended for Kiya. But the coffin had been reworked for a male burial and her inscriptions on the jars erased. Kiya's funeral goods had apparently been appropriated for the burial of Smenkhkare, whose poorly preserved mummy was found in the coffin.

Close-ups show the floral wreaths and a pair of sticks that some speculated were bones. (Discovery Channel)

This tale is more than a little tangled, and without having seen the full video it's pointless to go farther. Could a dying Tut have requested from his courtiers--Ay, Maya, and Horemheb--that they bury him next to his mother, Kiya? Whose body he had "secretly" moved from Amarna and placed in an unfinished tomb? And was the tomb later robbed, then used as a cache for embalming supplies? Let's see all the evidence, hear the full explanation, and then see if we like the story or not.

Mark Rose is Online Editorial Director, Archaeological Institute of America.

© 2006 by the Archaeological Institute of America