The Mystery of Egyptian Tomb KV55 in the Valley of the Kings
In 1907, a mysterious tomb was discovered in Egypt. Known as KV55, the tomb contained a variety of artifacts and a single body. Identification of the body has been complicated by the fact that the artifacts appear to belong to several different individuals. It has been speculated that the tomb was created in a hurry, and that the individual buried there had been previously laid to rest elsewhere. With many different possibilities for the identity of the mummy – ranging from Queen Tiye (Akhenaten’s mother), to King Smenkhkare – researchers who set out to identify the mummy were presented with a puzzling challenge.
In January 1907, financier Theodore M. Davis had hired archaeologist Edward R. Ayrton and his team to conduct excavations in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. The Valley of the Kings is an area in Egypt located on the West bank of the Nile River, across from the city of Thebes. Almost all of the pharaohs from Egypt’s “Golden Age” are buried in this famous valley.
Egypt’s famous Valley of the Kings. Source: BigStockPhoto
As Ayrton’s team was working on January 6, 1907, they discovered the entrance to a tomb – KV55. They notified Davis the next day, and began removing the rubble blocking the entrance. On January 9, Davis and Ayrton entered the tomb, accompanied by Joseph Lindon Smith and Arthur Weigall. Over the next few days they took photographs of the items within the tomb and began removing artifacts. By January 25, they were able to view and investigate the coffin and the skeletal mummy within the tomb.
The KV55 tomb is fairly small and simple. The entrance includes a flight of 20 stairs. At the time of the discovery, the entrance and stairs were covered by rubble which all had to be removed. A sloping corridor leads to the tomb, which contains a single chamber and a small niche. Within the tomb, at the time of discovery, were four canopic jars, a gilded wooden shrine, remains of boxes, seal impressions, a vase stand, pieces of furniture, a silver goose head, two clay bricks, and a single coffin. The coffin had been desecrated, with parts of the face having been removed.
Layout of Tomb KV55. Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0
Overall, the physical appearance of the tomb is unremarkable. However, the contents became more puzzling and mysterious as they were examined, as each piece appeared to be connected to different individuals. This made efforts to identify the remains within the tomb more difficult. According to some researchers, the presence of this variety of items indicates that whoever was entombed here was done so in a hurry, or possibly the individual was buried somewhere else, and then relocated to KV55 at a later date.
One of the four Egyptian alabaster canopic jars found in KV55, depicting what is thought to be the likeness of Queen Kiya. Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 2.5
While identifying the remains in the tomb has been challenging, there are many clues in the items found within the tomb. Many of these items have been linked to King Akhenaten. The four canopic jars within the tomb were all empty. They contained effigies of four women, believed to be the daughters of Akhenaten, and may have been created for Kiya, one of Akhenaten’s wives. The gilded shrine appeared to have been created for Akhenaten’s mother, Queen Tiye. And Akhenaten’s name was on the two clay bricks.
Davis’ first impression, after in situ examinations were conducted by physicians, was that the remains belonged to Queen Tiye. Evidence that the remains were female included the positioning of the arms, post-mortem damage to the pelvis, and lack of male genitalia. Later it was proposed that the coffin could have belonged to Nefertiti, Meketaten, or Meritaten. Eventually, it was agreed that the coffin was initially created for Kiya. However, upon further study and tests of the remains, researchers concluded that the individual buried within the tomb was, in fact, male.
Profile view of the skull recovered from KV55. Public Domain
Even after it was determined that the remains were those of a male, there remained questions as to who he was, and how old he was when he died. Scientific testing revealed that he may have been closely related to King Tutankhamen, who is believed to have been Akhenaten’s son.
Another theory was that the remains belonged to Smenkhkare, who may have been Akhenaten’s successor. The remains were first estimated to belong to a man who died around the age of 25, but it was later determined he would have been closer to 20 at the time of death.