Mystery of the Mummy from KV55: Dr. Zahi Hawass

Akhenaten

Akhenaten, Egypt’s first and only monotheistic Pharaoh, has intrigued Egyptologists for centuries. Has the Egyptian Mummy Project finally found his mummy?

The Valley of the Kings, on the west bank of the Nile across from the ancient city of Thebes, is famous as the final resting place of the pharaohs of the New Kingdom — Egypt’s “Golden Age.” There are 63 known tombs in the valley, of which 26 belonged to kings. Beginning with the great female pharaoh Hatshepsut, or perhaps her father Thutmose I, almost all of the rulers of the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth dynasties built their tombs in this silent valley.

Only one king from this period, Amenhotep IV or Akhenaten, is known to have chosen a different burial site. Akhenaten rejected the worship of Amun, the principal state god of his forefathers, in favor of the sun disk, the Aten. He abandoned Thebes, then the religious capital of Egypt, and moved his government to a virgin site in Middle Egypt known today as El-Amarna; it was near this new capital city that he had his final resting place prepared.

Akhenaten’s tomb is similar in some ways to those built in the Valley of the Kings; it consists of a number of chambers and passages cut deep into the limestone cliffs of a remote valley. It is decorated, however, with unique scenes connected with the worship of the sun-god Aten, and with images of the royal family. Akhenaten’s beautiful wife, Queen Nefertiti, figures prominently in his tomb decorations, as in much of the art of the Amarna period. Although Akhenaten’s tomb at El-Amarna was never completely finished, there is little doubt that the king was buried there.

After Akhenaten’s death, Egypt returned to the worship of the old gods, and the name and image of Akhenaten were erased from his monuments in an effort to wipe out the memory of his ‘heretical’ reign.
In January 1907, the British archaeologist Edward Ayrton discovered another tomb in the Valley of the Kings. This tomb, KV55, is located just to the south of the tomb of Ramesses IX, very close to the famous tomb of Tutankhamun. KV55 is small, uninscribed and undecorated, but despite its simplicity it has great historical value, because it is also connected with the royal family of El-Amarna.

A flight of 21 stairs leads down to the entrance, which Ayrton found blocked with limestone. Although the blocking may have been opened and then resealed in ancient times, the excavators found that it was still stamped with the necropolis seal, a jackal atop nine bows representing the traditional enemies of Egypt. Beyond the entrance lay a corridor, partially filled with pieces of limestone, leading to a rectangular burial chamber containing a gilded and inlaid wooden coffin. Inside this coffin rested a badly decayed mummy, which had been reduced to little more than a skeleton. The lower three quarters of the coffin’s gilded mask had been ripped away and the cartouches (oval rings containing royal names) that once identified the owner were removed, leaving the remains inside both faceless and nameless. The identity of the mummy found in KV55 is one of Egyptology’s most enduring mysteries.

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The newly renovated Amarna room at the Egyptian museum in Cairo. (Photo by Mohamed Megahed)

The contents of KV55 offer some clues to who the mystery mummy might have been. Although the tomb had been badly damaged over the centuries by floods that periodically inundate the Valley of the Kings, many intriguing artifacts were found inside. Apart from the coffin containing the mysterious mummy, the most spectacular objects were panels from a gilded wooden shrine that had been built to protect the sarcophagus of Queen Tiye, the mother of Akhenaten. Originally, the shrine had borne the name and image of Akhenaten along with that of the queen, but these were erased in ancient times.

Other objects from KV55 included small clay sealings bearing the name of Tiye’s husband Amenhotep III, and Tutankhamun, who may have been her grandson. There were also vessels of stone, glass and pottery, along with a few pieces of jewelry, inscribed with the names of Tiye, Amenhotep III and one of Amenhotep III’s daughters, Princess Sitamun. Four ‘magical bricks’ made of mud were also found in the tomb, stamped with the name of Akhenaten himself. A beautiful set of calcite canopic jars made for Akhenaten’s secondary wife Kiya rested in a niche carved into the southern wall of the burial chamber.

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The Shrine of Queen Tiye. (Photo by Mohamed Megahed)

The cartouches on the coffin might once have held the key to the identity of the KV55 mummy. Even without them, however, many scholars have felt that the remaining inscriptions, which include titles and epithets, might reveal the identity of the coffin’s owner. The great linguist Sir Alan Gardiner argued that the titles showed that the coffin had been made for Akhenaten, and that no one else could have been buried in it. Other scholars, however, have noted that the inscriptions were altered at some point, and it has been suggested that the coffin’s occupant might not be its original owner. The French scholar Georges Daressy thought that it might originally have been made for Queen Tiye, and then altered for Smenkhkare, a mysterious successor of Akhenaten who ruled Egypt for only a short time. Another possibility is that it was made for Smenkhkare during a time when he and Akhenaten ruled together as pharaohs, and then altered when he took the throne as sole ruler.
The mystery of the coffin is made even deeper by the fact that part of it was stolen from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. While its lid is mostly intact, the wood of the lower part had decayed to the point that nothing was left except the gold foil and glass and stone inlay that had covered its surface. The foil and inlay were taken from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and eventually resurfaced at the Museum of Egyptian Art in Munich, Germany. The foil and inlay were recently returned to Cairo, but there are still rumors that pieces of the gold foil from the coffin are still hidden away in storage, in museums outside of Egypt. I do not understand how any museum could purchase an artifact that they knew had been stolen from another!

Gardiner’s claim that the inscriptions on the coffin could only have referred to Akhenaten, together with the presence of the ‘heretic’ pharaoh’s name on other artifacts in KV55, convinced many scholars that this mysterious king had been brought to Thebes for reburial after his original tomb at El-Amarna was desecrated. The bones belong to a male, with a highly elongated skull. This trait is found in artistic representations of Akhenaten and his family, and can also be seen in the mummy of Tutankhamun, who may have been Akhenaten’s son. In addition, the KV55 mummy shares a blood type with the golden king; studies have indicated that the remains from the Amarna Cache belonged to an individual closely related to Tutankhamun. Taken together, the clues lead to the seemingly inevitable conclusion that the KV55 mummy is Akhenaten.
Most previous forensic studies have concluded that the skeleton belonged to a man who died in his early 20s, or at the latest about 35. Historical sources indicate that Akhenaten must have been well over 30 at his death. The majority of Egyptologists, therefore, are inclined to believe that the KV55 mummy is that of Smenkhkare, who may have been an older brother or even the father of Tutankhamun. The identification of the mummy as Smenkhkare, however, poses problems of its own. Little is known about this short-lived king..

Re-opening the Case
As part of the Supreme Council of Antiquities’ ongoing Egyptian Mummy Project, we decided to CT scan the KV55 skeleton in the hope of discovering new information that might shed light on the debate. Our forensic team has studied a number of mummies, and made many exciting discoveries. Our most recent work resulted in the identification of the mummy of Queen Hatshepsut.

Hawass

Dr. Hawass inspects the KV 55 mummy before its CT scan

When we brought the remains from KV 55 out, it was the first time that I had actually seen them. It was immediately clear to me that the skull and the other bones are in very bad condition. Dr. Hani Abdel Rahman operated the equipment, and our gifted radiologist Dr. Ashraf Selim worked with us to interpret the results.
Our CT scan put Akhenaten squarely back in the running for the identity of the mummy from KV55. Our team was able to determine that the mummy may have been older at death than anyone had previously thought. Dr. Selim noted that the spine showed, in addition to slight scoliosis, significant degenerative changes associated with age. He said that although it is difficult to determine the age of an individual from bones alone, he might put the mummy’s age as high as 60. The jury is still out, but it is certainly tempting to think that Akhenaten has finally been found.

Scan_Comparison

Scans of Tutankhamun’s mummy (left) and the bones from KV 55 seem to show similar elongated shape

Akhenaten, Nefertiti and the Amarna period have received a great deal of attention in recent years. One of the main reasons for this continued interest is that I have requested the loan to Egypt of the head of Nefertiti in the collection of the Egyptian Museum in Berlin. So far, the Berlin museum has not agreed to our request to bring the head to Egypt for three months as part of an exhibition to celebrate the opening in 2010 of the Akhenaten Museum in Minya. I do believe that Egypt’s people have the right to see this beautiful sculpture — a vital part of their heritage and identity — in person.

In the meantime, the wonderful artifacts in the newly renovated Amarna room at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo are reminders of the achievements of this period. The shrine of Queen Tiye and the lid of the coffin from KV55 adorn this gallery. A quartzite bust of Nefertiti, perhaps even more beautiful than the painted limestone bust in Berlin, also offers a glimpse of the splendor of the Amarna age. You can also see the gold foil and inlay from the bottom part of the KV55 coffin, mounted on a plexiglass base to show how they were arranged on the original coffin.

My friend Mark Linz, the head of the American University in Cairo Press, told me that he felt that the renovated Amarna room is amazing and unique, adding that he hopes that it will bring the glory of the Amarna period to life and tell people the story of Akhenaten, the first king to believe in a single god.
The Valley of the Kings still holds many mysteries. This coming year, we will begin DNA studies of the mummy from KV55, along with those of Tutankhamun and others, with hopes that DNA evidence will add even more to our understanding of this period.

We will also embark on the first archaeological expedition in the valley ever to be conducted by an all-Egyptian team. It seems unbelievable that up to this point, every excavation in the Valley of the Kings has been the work of foreign scholars. We are working right now to the north of the tomb of Merenptah, the son and successor of Ramesses II. I truly believe that the tomb of Ramesses VIII may be located in this area. It is possible that even as you read this article, you will hear the announcement of a major discovery in the valley.

There are still more royal tombs yet undiscovered. The tomb of Amenhotep I, for example, is unknown, although it may lie in the area of Deir el-Bahri. There are also many mummies that have never been identified: The remains of Nefertiti, Tutankhamun’s wife Ankhsenamun and many others may still await discovery or identification.
The sand and rocks of the Valley of the Kings hide treasure, both in the form of gold and in the form of information that can help us to reconstruct history. I hope that our new excavations will produce great stories, bringing the thrill of discovery and maybe even tales of the curse of the pharaohs, to the world. I am sure that the Valley of the Kings will reveal some of its mysteries to us — I can feel it, and I can see it in my mind’s eye. Do not laugh… I know that this is true!*

 

Credit: source – http://www.guardians.net/hawass/articles

Also see www.drhawass.com/wp/

Bronze Age Settlement 3000 Years Old (Part 2): ‘Must Farm, UK’ dig site give up more amazing artifacts!

must_box2Archaeologists said they were “thrilled” to find the well-preserved wooden box inside one of the roundhouses

A tiny wooden box with its contents still inside, an intact pot and animal bones are some of the first items unearthed inside a roundhouse at what has been dubbed “Britain’s Pompeii”.

The UK’s “best preserved Bronze Age dwellings”, found at a Cambridgeshire quarry, date from about 1,000-800 BC. They were preserved in silt after falling into a river during a fire. The “delicate task” to uncover the contents has just begun but the finds have been called “amazing artifacts”.

The two or three circular wooden houses uncovered by archaeologists were built on stilts, and formed part of a settlement partially destroyed by fire 3,000 years ago.

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A cluster of animal and fish bones could have been kitchen waste, archaeologists said

must_sieve

Using a specially-built wet sieving station the team can examine sediment from inside one of the houses and ensure that “even the tiniest vertebrate remains and glass beads” can be recovered

The site, at Must Farm quarry near Whittlesey, has been described as “unique” by David Gibson, from Cambridge Archaeological Unit, which is leading the excavation.

Most Bronze Age sites have no timber remaining, just post-holes – but here, the stilts, roof structure and walls have been unearthed.

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The diagram shows a roundhouse before and after the fire

It is thought the roof fell in during the fire, covering the contents of the houses. Much would have been preserved as it sank into the Fenland silt. Only a small section of one of the house interiors is being examined as yet.

Bone ‘cluster’

One of the first items found was “a very small, delicate wooden box that is mostly complete”. Archaeologists said they were “thrilled” to discover such a well-preserved artifact. The contents appear to be inside still, but work to examine what those might be will not take place until later.

bucket

A wooden bowl or bucket base together with pottery have been found in the occupation deposit beneath the roof

An intact “fineware” pot and animal bones have also been found, all of which must be “meticulously” cleaned and documented. The “cluster” of fish and animal bones uncovered inside “could have been the kitchen waste of the time,” they said.

must_comp

Archaeologists began looking beneath the roof for the house’s contents (left) after documenting more than 1,000 timber pieces (right)

Although they are in the very early stages of examining the house interior, the quality and quantity of what has been uncovered so far has left archaeologists “very excited”. The site has the “potential for more uncommon household objects including tools, cutlery and even furniture,” they said.

The excavation is being jointly funded by Historic England and quarry owner Forterra. Pompeii, in ancient Rome, was hit by a volcanic eruption in AD 79. Tonnes of ash fell, preserving much of the city for thousands of years.

Bronze Age Europe and Britain

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Gold cape discovered in Mold, north Wales – a supreme example of Bronze Age art

  • The Bronze Age in Britain lasted from between 2500 and 2000BC until the use of iron became common, between 800-650BC
  • It came after metalworkers discovered that adding tin to copper produced bronze, used for tools and weaponry which were much more hard-wearing
  • The Greek poems of Homer – though composed later – look back to a time when bronze weapons were used
  • Classic Bronze Age remains include sophisticated axes, precious gold objects, and round burial mounds or “barrows” of which many can still be seen in Britain*

 

Credit:  BBC News    (02-16)

Cambridge Archaeological Unit
UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE

Bronze Age Discovery: Amazing 3000-year-old settlement gives up wheel!

bronze-age-cnn-wheel

Complete Bronze Age wheel believed to be the largest and earliest of its kind found in the UK has been unearthed

The 3,000-year-old artefact was found at a site dubbed “Britain’s Pompeii”, at Must Farm in Cambridgeshire. Archaeologists have described the find – made close to the country’s “best-preserved Bronze Age dwellings” – as “unprecedented”. Still containing its hub, the 3 ft-diameter (one metre) wooden wheel dates from about 1,100 to 800 BC. The wheel was found close to the largest of one of the roundhouses found at the settlement last month.

Its discovery “demonstrates the inhabitants of this watery landscape’s links to the dry land beyond the river”, David Gibson from Cambridge Archaeological Unit, which is leading the excavation, said. Historic England, which is jointly funding the £1.1 m excavation with landowner Forterra, described the find as “unprecedented in terms of size and completeness”.

“This remarkable but fragile wooden wheel is the earliest complete example ever found in Britain,” chief executive Duncan Wilson said.

“The existence of this wheel expands our understanding of Late Bronze Age technology, and the level of sophistication of the lives of people living on the edge of the Fens 3,000 years ago.”

Must-Farm_digArchaeologists worked on a wooden platform as they uncovered roundhouses at the quarry

Historic England, which is jointly funding the £1.1m excavation with landowner Forterra, described the find as “unprecedented in terms of size and completeness”.

“This remarkable but fragile wooden wheel is the earliest complete example ever found in Britain,” chief executive Duncan Wilson said.

“The existence of this wheel expands our understanding of Late Bronze Age technology, and the level of sophistication of the lives of people living on the edge of the Fens 3,000 years ago.”

bronze-age-cnn

The dig site, at Must Farm quarry near Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire, has been described as “unique”

It has proved to be a Bronze Age treasure trove for archaeologists who earlier this year uncovered two or possibly three roundhouses dating from about 1,000-800 BC. The timbers had been preserved in silt after falling into a river during a fire.

Wheel_completeThe Bronze Age wheel is said to be the largest, earliest complete example of its kind ever found in Britain.

Kasia Gdaniec, senior archaeologist at the county council, said the “fabulous artefacts” found at the site continued to “amaze and astonish”.

“This wheel poses a challenge to our understanding of both Late Bronze Age technological skill and – together with the eight boats recovered from the same river in 2011 – transportation,” she said.

The spine of what is thought to be a horse, found in early January, could suggest the wheel belonged to a horse-drawn cart, however, it is too early to know how the wheel was used, archaeologist Chris Wakefield said.

spine_horseThe spine of what is thought to be a horse was found not far from the wheel

While the Must Farm wheel is the most complete, it is not the oldest to be discovered in the area. An excavation at a Bronze Age site at Flag Fen near Peterborough uncovered a smaller, partial wheel dating to about 1,300 BC. The wheel was thought to have been part of a cart that could have carried up to two people.

The Must Farm quarry site has given up a number of its hidden treasures over the years including a dagger found in 1969 and bowls still containing remnants of food, found in 2006.

More recently the roundhouses, built on stilts, were discovered. A fire destroyed the posts, causing the houses to fall into a river where silt helped preserve the timbers and contents.

What does the wheel tell us?

Wheel2

“We’re here in the middle of the Fens, a very wet environment, so the biggest question we’ve got to answer at the moment is ‘Why on earth is there a wheel in the middle of this really wet river channel?’,” says archaeologist Chris Wakefield.

“The houses are built over a river and within those deposits is sitting a wheel – which is pretty much the archetype of what you’d expect to have on dry land – so it’s very, very unusual.”

An articulated animal spine found nearby – at first thought to be from a cow – is now believed to be that of a horse.

“[This] has pretty strong ties if they were using something like a cart.

“In the Bronze Age horses are quite uncommon. It’s not until the later period of the Middle Iron Age that they become more widespread, so aside from this very exciting discovery of the wheel, we’ve also got potentially other related aspects that are giving us even more questions.

“This site is giving us lots of answers but at the same time it’s throwing up questions we never thought we’d have to consider.” Analyzing the data from samples found at Must Farm could take the team several years, he added.

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Artist’s  impression of what one of the roundhouses might have looked like

Other artifacts found inside the roundhouses themselves – including a small wooden box, platter, an intact “fineware” pot and clusters of animal and fish bones that could have been kitchen waste – have been described as “amazing” by archaeologists.

must_box

Archaeologists said they were “thrilled” to find a well-preserved wooden box inside one of the roundhouses

At the time of this article, the team is just over halfway through the dig to uncover the secrets of the site and the people who lived there.*

Credit:  BBC News – Cambridgeshire     (02-16)