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An overall view of the central Valley of the Kings.

Pharaohs and Flash Floods: Was Tutankhamun’s Tomb Saved by an Act of Nature?

The death of Pharaoh Akhenaten in Regnal Year 17 was a powerful body-blow to the promotion of his fledgling religion, Atenism. Evacuated from their original communal crypt at Amarna, the royal dead were ferried down river to be buried in the traditional necropolis at Thebes—based on arrangements made by the last scion of the Sun family, Tutankhamun. Key members were accommodated in tombs in and around the central Valley of the Kings; such as in Tomb 55. However, the greatest Egyptological surprise was the discovery in 1922 of the near-intact tomb of the boy-king himself. Speculation is rife about how and why his sepulcher survived, when almost all royal tombs were stripped off their treasures. According to some scholars, it was not the benevolence of Tutankhamun’s successors, but the forces of Nature that played a crucial role in hiding tomb KV62 for millennia.

A sandstone head of King Akhenaten found in Tell el-Amarna at the Sculptors' workshops during the Petrie/Carter excavations, 1891–92

A sandstone head of King Akhenaten found in Tell el-Amarna at the Sculptors' workshops during the Petrie/Carter excavations, 1891–92. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Journey to Amarna and Back

Akhetaten, the new capital established by Neferkheperure-waenre Akhenaten in Middle Egypt, was situated on the open valley of the plain at modern Tell el-Amarna. With the grand river Nile on one side and towering cliffs on the other, the city did not need artificial fortification. Guarded heavily and easily protected, no one without a purpose for entry was entertained.  It was in this environment that Nebkheperure Tutankhaten Hekaiunushema was born, probably in the North Palace. The boy-king who went on to rule Egypt in the latter half of the Eighteenth Dynasty witnessed tectonic shifts – at both religious and political levels – during his brief stay of no more than three to four years at Akhetaten, after which the court headed back to either Thebes or Memphis.

A close-up of one of the sixteen Boundary Stelae that Akhenaten erected to demarcate the limits of the sacred territory of Akhetaten. Foundation Decree “Stela U” reveals the king’s reasons for shifting the capital, his intensions to be buried in a crypt in the cliffs there; and his extraordinary love for the Aten. Tell el-Amarna.

A close-up of one of the sixteen Boundary Stelae that Akhenaten erected to demarcate the limits of the sacred territory of Akhetaten. Foundation Decree “Stela U” reveals the king’s reasons for shifting the capital, his intensions to be buried in a crypt in the cliffs there; and his extraordinary love for the Aten. Tell el-Amarna.

When the curtains finally came down on the Amarna interlude, it was not merely the living, but the royal dead too, that made the journey back to familiar ground.

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 Independent researcher and playwright Anand Balaji ,   is an Ancient Origins guest writer and author of Sands of Amarna: End of Akhenaten

[The author thanks Richard Dick Sellicks, Ted Loukes , Heidi Kontkanen and Julian Tuffs for granting permission to use their photographs. Photographic records of the excavation of Tutankhamun's tomb by Harry Burton are available for free here. The public archives of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York can be accessed here.]

Top image: An overall view of the central Valley of the Kings. Photo: Richard Dick Sellicks

By Anand Balaji

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