DB320 - Uncovering the Impressive Cache of Hidden Pharaohs
The tomb discovered in the summer of 1881 changed Egyptology forever. It was an assemblage containing the mummified remains and funerary equipment of more than 50 kings, queens, and many other royals and nobles.
Many tombs in The Valley of the Kings, The Valley of the Queens, and others were looted in ancient times (the problem still exists today in many parts of the world). When the first Egyptologists entered the tombs, it was not unheard of for them to encounter damaged walls, broken artifacts, and empty sarcophagi. Mummies of famous pharaohs like Ramesses II, Seti I, and Tuthmosis II - all were thought to be lost to thieves. The unearthing of tomb DB320 would change that belief.
How a Goat Discovered a Treasure
The tomb DB320 is located in the Theban cliffs of Deir el-Bahri. According to the most possible version of the story about the discovery of this tomb, the mummy first came to light when a straying goat stumbled and disappeared down a concealed tomb shaft. The Egyptian man, who was the owner of the goat, was Ahmed Abd el-Rassul. He was, like all of his family, a well-known tomb-robber.
The Abd el-Rassul family lived comfortably through looting tombs into the 1870s - when the growing number of important papyri reaching the local antiquities market gave the game away. Thus, when they discovered the tomb, they realized that the chances of successfully exploiting it were slim, so they decided to inform the Ministry of Antiquities and hoped to receive some kind of reward.
Aerial view of the Ramesseum and Sheikh Abd el-Qurna where the Abd el-Rassul family lived and traded looted artifacts. (CC BY-SA 4.0)
In 1881, a French Egyptologist named Gaston Maspero, who was the head of the Antiquities Service at the time, went back to Paris and left his assistant Emile Brugsch, temporarily in charge. He was the first person (apart from the Abd el-Rassul family) to enter the tomb called “cachette.”
Location and Outline of Tomb DB320
He said later in an interview:
“Soon we came upon cases of porcelain funerary offerings, metal and alabaster vessels, draperies and trinkets, until, reaching the turn in the passage, a cluster of mummy cases came into view in such numbers as to stagger me. Collecting my senses, I made the best examination of them I could by the light of my torch and at once saw that they contained the mummies of royal personages of both sexes; and yet that was not all. Plunging on ahead of my guide, I came to the [end] chamber..., and there standing against the walls or here lying of the floor, I found even a greater number of mummy-cases of stupendous size and weight.”
Location and outline the tomb DB320 in Deir el Bahari, the hiding place of many royal mummies. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
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A Great Cache of Mummies
For many years it was widely believed that DB320 was originally the tomb of Queen Ahmose-Inhapi. However, recent research proved that her tomb was a different one located nearby. Some researchers also believe that DB320 was the tomb of Ahmose Merytamen.
There are other hypotheses however, and according to Nicholas Reeves, the tomb known nowadays as DB320 was the family tomb of Pinedjem II - a High Priest of Amun in the years 990 – 976, during the reign of the 21st Dynasty.
Princess Ahmose Henuttamehu of the 17th dynasty of Ancient Egypt. Behind her is possibly her mother Ahmose Inhapi. (Alensha / Public Domain)
Egyptologists gained priceless information about the great kings and queens of Egypt through performing autopsies on the mummies found in DB320. The list of mummies discovered within the tomb can be placed into two distinct groups. The first of which consists of individuals from the Second Intermediate Period and the New Kingdom - which are poorly coffined and many of them are damaged. The second group is much better equipped and dates to the Third Intermediate Period.
The list of pharaohs is impressive and includes: Amosis, Ramesses I, Ramsses II, Ramesses III, Ramesses IX, Seti I, Tuthmosis I, Tuthmosis II, Tuthmosis III. Between the female mummies there were the greatest women of the Second Intermediate Period: Tetisheri, Ahhotpe I, Ahmose-Merytamun, Ahmose-Inhapy, but also New Kingdom princesses like Bakt and women connected with the Third Intermediate Period.
Most of the mummies were previously buried elsewhere, but during the Third Intermediate Period priests decided to relocate them into the safer place. It happened probably after the 11th year of Shoshenq I during the reign of the 22nd dynasty. The group from the Pinudjem II times, were coffined and not plundered when found. They occupied the end chamber, while the intrusive coffins were crammed into the corridors and the side chamber of the tomb.
"Ramesses the Great", bust of one of the four external seated statues of Ramesses II. (Hajor~commonswiki / CC BY-SA 3.0)
Examining the Mummies and Grave Goods
The unwrapping of mummies took a place five years later. It started on May 1886 and took two months. The examination was supervised by Gaston Maspero and British anatomist Sir Grafton Elliot Smith. Due to the inscriptions on coffins and other artifacts, the researchers were able to identify most of the mummies from the tomb.
They also discovered that the pharaoh of the Second Intermediate Perion, Sekenenre Tao II, was killed during battle. The information about the life and death of many important people of Ancient Egypt was significantly improved.
One of the most mysterious mummies from tomb DB320 is the mysterious Man C, who could be a priest, but some theories say that he could be also the pharaoh Ay. Unfortunately, the mummy still awaits examination with modern methods. Several mummies from DB320 remain unidentified and some of them have not even been thoroughly examined.
Between the coffins and mummies there was also a wooden box with the mummified liver or spleen of Hatshepsut. Inside another box the tooth of a queen (or ''king'') was found. This was the main tool in the process of searching for the mummy of a female-pharaoh a few years ago. The tomb was also equipped with shabti boxes of several people, canopic jars, bronze libation vessels, fragments of destroyed coffins and many other smaller artifacts.
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Canopic jars of Neskhons, wife of Pinedjem II. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
The discovery of ''cachette'' DB320 was a milestone which expanded the knowledge about Egypt’s past in an outstanding way. It also marked another change, as Gaston Maspero started to collaborate with the men who were responsible for discovery of DB320. Mohamed Abd el-Rassul later discovered another huge cache of mummies. This time it was a tomb of Theban priests. Many who live in their family village of Gurna tell the remarkable story of the mummy caches to visiting tourists.
Top image: On Left – Theban tomb - burial site of Pinedjem II and a Royal Cache, tomb shaft. On Right – Pinedjem II as Theban High Priest of Amun. From his Book of the Dead. Source: Left, CC BY-SA 3.0; Right, CC BY-SA 2.5.
Dodson A. and Hilton D.m, The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt, 2004
Oakes L., The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the pyramids, templs & tombs of Ancient Egypt, 2006
Graefe E. Belova G., The Royal Cache TT 320: A Re-Examination, 2010.
Reeves N., Wilkinson R.H., The Complete Valley of the Kings, 2008.