The Discovery in West Thebes (KV 63): A New Tomb on the West Bank at Luxor

The Discovery in West Thebes (KV 63)
A New Tomb on the West Bank at Luxor

by Jane Akshar

Dr. Hawass and Dr. Schaden exchange thoughts at the beginning of the official opening

Notation: Jane Akshar, operates Flats in Luxor, a member of the AETBI, that offers flats for lease as well as local tours of the Luxor region. She also operates our Luxor News Blog.

I heard the news first from my husband as he watched the news in Arabic. A new tomb has been found in the Valley of the Kings, just a few meters from the tomb of King Tutankhamun Checking on the internet I found brief mentions but obviously the main news was under wraps until the arrival of Dr Zahi Hawass on Friday, February 10th.

Everyone is always claiming that the Valley of the Kings has been exhausted, and yet 80 years after Tutankhamen was found we have another new discovery. I had to be there, so this morning early I got a taxi to the Valley. Dr Hawass was coming from Cairo to announce the find on the early plane. It opens at 6 am, and apart from Japanese tourists being shepherded around at breakneck speed, I was the only person there. It was bitterly cold as only the desert can be and I could scarcely feel my fingers. It was easy to identify the area. The team from the University of Memphis had been working in and around the tomb of Amenemeses (KV10) for years. Indeed, I had attended a lecture two years ago where Dr Otto Schaden had talked about the excavations. One area they were working on was some workmens huts to the left of the tomb as one faces the entrance.

Dr Earl Ertman, Nubi Hassal and Dr Otto Schaden

In fact, after discovering workmen's huts some five years earlier, the team had speculated about there also being an undiscovered tomb, and had even taken a picture of Dr. Schaden and Earl Ertman holding a sign inscribed with KV63 as a joke.

This Nubi Abdul Hassal who was in charge of the workman that found the stone chippings

It was Dr Schaden who described the discovery. We were digging down to what is referred to as the Howard Carter three level. This is dark debris and suddenly we were coming across white chips. My workman couldnt understand why I was so excited. We were surrounded by white chips and that was the big deal. But then we came upon an edge, then another and then a corner. At that point I called a halt and told my inspector, you better call the big boys, this is something significant.

Word quickly spread around Luxor as workmen and guardians left the Valley for the day, but the team had to keep quiet until Friday The crme de la crme of Egyptology were gathered around the entrance. Some were teasing Dr Schaden about becoming an historic figure. I think it is fair to say that they were all excited by the find and its implications.

Just a few of the creme de la creme of Egyptology waiting at the tomb entrance. The University of Memphis team pose for a group photo. Standing from Left to Right: The Dig Inspector (name unknown), Dr. Otto Schaden, Dr. Ted Brock (Co-Director), Sharon Nichols (grad student), (standing slightly in front of Sharon) Heather Alexander (Photographer), Betty Schneider (Artist/Recorder), George Johnson (Photographer), Roxanne Wilson (Artist/Recorder), Lorelei Corcoran (Director of the Intstitute of Egyptian Art and Archaeology, The Universty of Memphis). Seated is Earl Ertman, (Professor Emeritius, The University of Akron, Assistant Director of KV-10/KV-63 Mission).

Dr Hawass arrived around 8:00 am and was quickly surrounded by the mass of media. It was hard not to think of a similar moment with such excitement other than the Tutankhamun tomb discovery by Howard Carter in 1922. The Valley filled with TV crews and cameras and bemused tourists tried to find out what was going on. The more savvy tour guides had already updated their parties and their groups were being shown this new discovery.

The media circus at the top of KV63

The tomb may provide less drama than the famed opening of King Tut's tomb, a discovery that revealed a treasure trove of gold artifacts along with the boy-king's mummy. The media was allowed down in small groups as there was concern about the gases inside the tomb and the shale surrounding it.

"It's a dream come true," said Edwin Brock, co-director of the project and its discoverer, affiliated with the University of Memphis. The tomb, believed to be some 3,000 years old, dating to the 18th Dynasty, does not appear to be that of a pharaoh, he added. "It was a wonderful thing. It was just so amazing to find an intact tomb here after all the work that's been done before. This was totally unexpected," Brock said.

Dr Hawass descends into KV63

At the bottom of the ten meter deep pit, a narrow shaft leads down another five meters to the door, made of blocks of stone. A hole about 30 centimeters (one foot) wide has been cleared from the door. There is only one chamber that measures about four by five meters and within it one can see five wooden sarcophagi. Inside, one sarcophagus had fallen on its side, facing the doorway. The funeral mask showed the painted features of a woman, with long black hair, thin eyebrows and kohl-ringed eyes. Gold patterns of a thick necklace or breastplate were visible, but the lower half of the coffin was splintered and rotting, the result of termites, Brock said.

Coffins on the inside of KV 63

In one corner of the chamber, a coffin seemed to have been partially pried open. The brown cloth below the lid probably belongs to a mummy, the archaeologists added.

At the back of the chamber was the silhouette of another sarcophagus, the stately face painted on its funeral mask staring upward, hands folded on its chest.There were a number of storage pots nearby for food and drink. Some were made of pottery and some of alabaster.

Various vessels thought to be filled with offerings

Still unknown is whose mummies are in the five wooden sarcophagi with painted funeral masks, surrounded by alabaster jars inside the undecorated single-chamber tomb.

Dr Hawass commented that, "It is amazing to find a new tomb in the Valley of the Kings when everyone thought it impossible. At this stage we can not say who we are dealing with. Dr Schaden joked that it could be the gardener, but he went on to add that whoever it was, the individual was certainly in favor with the king. We know that only very important people would be accorded a burial in the Valley of Kings so it could be a noble but it equally well could be someone more significant. "After all these years we've worked on tombs which have been known for a long time, and had been partly cleared, and we just followed excavators and restorers. Here we finally have something new for ourselves, so it's really very satisfying," said Schaden.

Dr Zahi Hawass speaks to the media.

"I don't think it's a royal tomb, maybe members of the court," he told reporters. "Contemporaries of Tutankhamun are possible, or of Amenhotep III [also called Amenophis III] or even Horemheb." Egypt's antiquities chief, Zahi Hawass, said, "Maybe they are mummies of kings or queens or nobles, we don't know. But it's definitely someone connected to the royal family." He expected that this information would be available soon, but from the evidence available at the moment Dr. Hawass thought that we may even be dealing with a possible cache rather than a tomb burial. He thinks that some of the mummies could even be royals moved from their "original graves to protect them from grave robbers". Hawass said archaeologists hope to find hieroglyphs on the coffins that will identify the mummies.

Dr Hawass arrives at the site with my neighbour and friend Ibrahim Soliman, Director of Karnak SCA in the background

But there has been considerable speculation amongst various ancient Egyptian enthusiasts. According to one source, Bob Partridge of Ancient Egypt magazine said it could possibly be the tomb of Queen Nefertiti, who co-ruled Egypt between 1379 and 1358 BC. Her tomb has never been found.

"Nefertiti was probably buried to the north of Egypt at a place called Akhetaten." "It's believed that the burials there, which included Nefertiti and some of her daughters, were brought back to the Theban area, and the Valley of the Kings would be the obvious place." It should be noted that Tutankhamun is thought to have been the son of Akhenaten.

The archaeologists hope to enter the tomb within a few days, after removing the remaining rubble from the bottom of the shaft and carefully taking away the rest of the door.

Though this tomb, located very near that of King Tutankhamun, is actually the first to be discovered since that famous one was unearthed in 1922, "I wouldn't be surprised if we discover more tombs in the next ten years," U.S. archaeologist Kent Weeks told reporters. The fact that the tomb is a single chamber probably means it was meant for only one mummy, Weeks said. "The objects in the tomb don't necessarily date to the original tomb," Weeks added.

This shows you where the new discovery is in relation to KV10. KV63 is to the left where the sandbags are.

Weeks, who was not involved in the new discovery but saw photos of the tomb's interior, said it was probably built for one person but that multiple sarcophagi were moved in later for storage. The jars, he said, appear to be meat jars for food offerings. Objects in the tomb "could be 200 to 400 years later than the original cutting of the tomb," he said. Weeks made the last major discovery in the valley. In 1995, he opened a previously known tomb, KV5, and found it was far larger than expected, with more than 120 chambers, which he determined were meant for sons of Pharaoh Ramesses II. With the departure of Dr Hawass the Valley reverted to its normal everyday self, but what more secrets does it hold?