The desecrated royal coffin found in Tomb KV55.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Anatomist Grafton Elliot Smith suggested that the man may have suffered from a condition that would have delayed maturation of his skeleton, known as Frölich's syndrome, in addition to chronic hydrocephalus. However, later examinations showed no abnormalities in the skull or skeleton. While the skull’s shape was unusual, it was not abnormal. In February 2010, further testing of the remains was conducted, with the age established at approximately 35 years at the time of death. Through scientific studies, researchers were able to make various connections to determine the gender, age, and identity of the mummy located in KV55. Those who created and later altered the tomb certainly did not make that easy.

As of February 2010, scientists declared with near certainty that the skeletal remains in KV55 are in fact Akhenaten himself, the son of Amenhotep III, and the father of King Tutankhamen. This determination was made more than 100 years after the tomb was discovered. For now, the “almost certain” determination that the mummified remains belong to Akhenaten are the conclusion to this mysterious find. 

Bust of Pharaoh Akhenaton

Bust of Pharaoh Akhenaton ( Wikimedia Commons )

Attempts have been made to recreate the circumstances that led to this mysterious, hasty burial. It is possible that Queen Tiye upset Amenhotep III’s burial plans when she outlived him by 12 years.

Akhenaton, originally named Amenhotep IV, was one of the most radical pharaohs of Egypt.  The father of Tutankhamun, was a revolutionary who is noted for abandoning traditional Egyptian polytheism and introducing the first monotheistic religion centered on the one ‘true’ god of Aten (the Sun disk), so it is also possible that Akhenaten’s later reputation as ‘heretic king’ led workmen to hastily remove other sarcophagi, such as Queen Tiye’s, from Akhenaten’s presence, leaving him alone in the damaged tomb.

Although we can be confident that the remains belonged to Akhenaten, we may never know the exact circumstances that led to the presence of his isolated remains in this mysterious tomb.

Featured image: The desecrated royal coffin found in Tomb KV55. Wikimedia, CC BY 2.0


The Mystery of the Mummy in Tomb #55 – Historic Mysteries. Available from:

Mystery of the Mummy from KV55 – Guardian. Available from:

KV 55 (Tiye or Akhenaten?) – Theban Mapping Project. Available from:

By M R Reese


during the time of Ramses I. they had all of his belongings removed from his tomb and place somewhere else. That coffin had a mask on it before it was reburied. if you look closly at the area in where the cartouche should be it says Kiya. all of those grave goods were meant for her but she was disgraced at Y16.

during the time of Ramses I. they had all of his belongings removed from his tomb and place somewhere else. That coffin had a mask on it before it was reburied. if you look closly at the area in where the cartouche should be it says Kiya. all of those grave goods were meant for her but she was disgraced at Y16.

Above article gives an alternative view on KV55 and the mummy, which is likely not Ahkenaten.

Peter Harrap's picture

In Egyptology, there is an assumption that some mummy "must be" somebody. These graves were regularly looted, robbed, desecrated. The skeleton is variously, 20 years old, 30 years old. Then it is a woman, then a man. I'm waiting for somebody to weigh in with "alien". It'll happen.

If the tales are true that Akhenaton was erased from history, as here and Velikovski (in Oedipus and Akhenaton) argued, adding that Tiye was walled up alive, etc, the first thing I would do if I wanted to make sure he never made it back would be to cremate his remains and put any old mummy in his place.

It never seems to occur to academics today that thousands of years ago people had imagination and vice equal to our own, and it must here surely be remembered that the so-called King's List is incomplete.

Whilst reading Velikovski's very interesting hypothesis years ago, it occurred to me to imagine that the incomplete Kings list was a cause of confusion such that Akhenaton and Tutankhamen were the same person, and that the incest tag label on a number of pharoahs is incorrect.

A number of identifiable diseases associated today with incest are also known in ordinary lineages where there is no record of incest at all, and Akhenaton might have changed his name to that of one of his children who had died, and reinstalled the old religion in order to atone for the death of that child whom he might have imagined the result of God's disfavour.

If you examine the King's Lists carefully and the accepted chronologies of the reigns of the different pharoahs there are equally a number of discrepancies, but it does not mean necessarily that the gaps are to be filled in the future by  "missing" pharoahs at all.

Then there are other possibilities. We are told so and so reigned 23 years. Or that so and so died aged 23.

Possible where the preceeding Pharoah was his mother. Possible where some bright spark of a scholar insisted they have got the length of a life correct when it is merely the length of a reign. Remember its all in a secret language we might not always be right about.

Why manufacture mysteries where we ignore the sad fact that there is NO evidence.

It may be that NO pharoah was EVER mummified at all. What the inscriptions SAY, may be untrue.

It ain't necessarily so...

Further, the statue may not resemble Akhenaton at ALL! As everything of him is supposed to have been obliterated any true likeness, contemporary with him in life would have been destroyed after his death. What point would there be rubbing out his name everywhere if you keep a damn great statue of him??




It is interesting and puzzling still, though I think we can attribute some pretty ordinary things to what occurred at least with the hasty tomb business and defaced coffin. I bet dollars to sandcrabs that in the process of erasing the memory of Akhenaten from Egypt's memory. Followers still true to him may have interfered and stolen the coffin at the time of defacing and the few items they could get in their hands on. It makes sense that he wasn't a radical thinker as maybe a little tetched or imbalanced mentally and emotionally. The after life was everything to them, it would make perfect sense that those who loved him would do anything to protect his rightful place into the afterlife. Just a random ramble.


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