Inching Closer to Ankhesenamun: Unraveling the Radiant Child of Amarna—Part I
Ever since the discovery of KV62, the treasure-filled sepulcher of Tutankhamun, in 1922 – and even before that in 1907 when the mysterious Tomb 55 came to light – Amarna royals have always managed to make headlines globally. The search for the final resting place of Nefertiti captured the imagination of the public in 2015, but no headway has been made on that count at the time of writing. Just when the spirits of Egyptological scholars and enthusiasts began to wane, out of the blue, Ankhesenpaaten /Ankhesenamun, the third of six daughters born to the Pharaoh Akhenaten and his iconic queen, has suddenly become the center of attraction in recent times; thanks to archeologists holding out the hope of finding her burial.
The Western branch of the Valley of the Kings is an archeologically promising site. Largely unexplored, in future, Egyptologists could find the burials of several missing royals, especially from the Amarna Period. Right now, however, the hunt is on to discover the crypt of the last queen of that dynasty, Ankhesenamun.
Into the Valley of Silence
Of late, the Western Valley, also known as the Valley of the Monkeys, has grabbed the spotlight from its more renowned counterpart, the central Valley of the Kings. While the latter location in the eastern wing of the pharaonic necropolis has been the cynosure of all eyes for well over a century, owing to the wealth of burials of rulers and nobles found there, the Western Valley has thus far been largely ignored. It is generally assumed that this site is mostly devoid of tombs, because, apart from those of Amenhotep III (WV22), Aye (WV23), and the uninscribed and unfinished WV25 — which is purported to have been the beginnings of Akhenaten’s crypt while he ruled from Thebes at the start of his reign — no other burials have surfaced here.
Egyptological scholar, Brian Alm, believes the opposite is true:
“It has always vexed me that the West Valley is just too vast and empty. It’s a long, long way in there for only two finished tombs, unlike the Valley of the Kings proper, which is so accessible, compact and jammed with graves. There must be a lot more in the Western Valley… in fact, there could be scores of tombs out there.”
- Tomb Could Be That of Tutankhamun’s Wife and Egyptian Leading Lady Ankhesenamun
- The Hunt for Ankhesenamun: How Did a Young Woman Stop an Ancient Dynasty from Imploding? Part I
The Red colored circle indicates the entrance to the tomb of Amenhotep III (WV22) in the Western Valley. Foundation deposits revealed that work on the tomb was initiated during the reign of Thutmose IV. WV22 was ‘officially’ discovered by Prosper Jollois and Édouard de Villiers du Terrage, engineers with Napoleon's expedition to Egypt, in August, 1799.
The Valley of the Monkeys (Wadi el-Qurud) situated on the West Bank of Luxor derives its name from a scene that features twelve baboons representing the twelve hours of night from texts known as the Amduat (“That Which is in the Afterworld”) that is depicted on a wall of Pharaoh Aye’s tomb. It is speculated that WV23, the tomb of this penultimate ruler of the Eighteenth Dynasty, which was discovered in 1816 by Giovanni Battista Belzoni, was in all probability under construction when King Tutankhamun (born Tutankhaten) passed away suddenly. Scholars who support this theory state that it made perfect sense to bury the young sovereign near his illustrious and orthodox grandfather, Amenhotep III, especially post the troubling events witnessed during the Amarna interlude.
Dr Marianne Eaton-Krauss explains that there was no hard and fast rule for when a new pharaoh should begin construction of a burial place; and it certainly was not necessary that he should undertake the task immediately upon ascending the throne. Given that the economy had suffered under the renegade ruler Akhenaten; and the temples he had once closed were now reopened and funds diverted for their upkeep, it stands to reason that this could have probably been a contributing factor to begin work on Tutankhamun’s tomb midway through his reign. What is certain, however, is that the Western Valley was hallowed ground for the Amarna clan.
- The Hunt for Ankhesenamun: A Murderess, Vixen or Helpless Child in this Ancient Egyptian Soap Opera? Part II
- Tomb of Prominent Queen and Wife of Tutankhamun Could Soon Be Unearthed
This sculptor's model, popularly known as the Wilbour Plaque - named for the early American Egyptologist, Charles Edwin Wilbour - represents Akhenaten and his consort Nefertiti in near-equal size—an unthinkable depiction in ancient Egyptian art. But then, the powerful Nefertiti was more than a mere queen in her husband’s court. Brooklyn Museum, New York.
Journey from Ankhesenpaaten to Ankhesenamun
While the count of Akhenaten's early Regnal Years - the number of years of a king's reign - are clear; it is the mysterious goings-on in the royal court sometime before his demise that has Egyptologists perplexed. Ankhesenpaaten was most probably born in Regnal Year 5 or 6 in the new capital Akhetaten (‘Horizon of the Aten’, modern Tell el-Amarna) established by her father, the enigmatic Pharaoh Neferkheperure-waenre Akhenaten, in honor of the solar deity, the Aten — whom he declared the supreme god. Several Amarna monuments proclaim Ankhesenpaaten’s royal birth: ‘ King’s daughter of his Body, his beloved Ankhes-en-pa-aten, born of the great royal wife, his beloved, Lady of the Two Lands (Neferneferuaten Nefertiti)’ . For a while, life was paradisiacal in the Sun City.
But the carefree days that the family enjoyed were numbered: a plague that ravaged Akhetaten appears to have claimed the lives of many members in the royal household. To make matters worse, Akhenaten’s doomed religious revolution brought the empire under a cloud; and he tenably died a broken man in Regnal Year 17. Following the reign of the ephemeral Smenkhkare – whose identity remains a mystery – Ankhesenpaaten who would have been no more than twelve years of age at the time married her half-brother and new king, Nebkheperure Tutankhaten Hekaiunushema, a nine-year-old.
Tutankhamun became Pharaoh during a tumultuous period. He passed away prematurely just when the ship of empire was being steadied following the Amarna interlude. This head of indurated limestone is a fragment from a group statue that represented Amun seated on a throne, and the young ruler standing or kneeling in front of him. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
In Regnal Year 3 vizier Aye and generalissimo Horemheb, who were in all certainty the real powers behind the throne for the duration of Tutankhaten/amun’s reign, pitched for a change back to the old religious order. The royal couple followed suit by altering their names to Tutankh-amun and Ankhesen-amun, indicating to their subjects that the worship of Amun Ra the state god who was ousted by the heretic was back in vogue. Akhetaten was abandoned in favor of Malqata palace in Waset (Thebes) when the traditional pantheon and seat of power were restored. The Restoration Stela at Karnak Temple commemorates the end of iconoclasm and heralds the new age ushered in by Tutankhamun.
However, no one could have envisaged the premature demise of the young pharaoh at the tender age of nineteen; and when he died without producing an heir, a battle of succession probably played out between two heavy-weights at court: Aye and Horemheb. But neither of these men was of royal lineage, so the path to kingship could only be decided through marriage with the last surviving true blue-blooded individual, Ankhesenamun.
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Egyptian digital artist, Ziad Nour, reimagines the face of vizier Aye who became king when Tutankhamun died. This recreation is based on the plaster study from the Amarna studio of Akhenaten’s court sculptor Thutmose. The unfinished portrait at the Neues Museum, Berlin is commonly identified as representing the penultimate ruler of the Eighteenth Dynasty.
Frail and Frightened, yet Feisty
While still recovering from the shock of losing her childhood companion and husband, Ankhesenamun was apparently pressurized to marry Aye. It’s likely that he was either her grandfather or great-uncle. Dr Ray Johnson eloquently explains the loneliness of the widow: “Her grandmother was Queen Tiye, one of the most powerful queens Egypt ever saw. Her mother was Nefertiti. They ruled as living goddesses, so of course Ankhesenamun felt she had the same power. And she found out that she didn’t.”
Even as preparations for Tutankhamun’s burial were underway, the frightened queen made a remarkable plea to the rival Hittite king, Suppiluliuma I—though the true author of this letter is still hotly debated:
“My husband died, a son I have not. But to thee they say, the sons are many. If thou wouldst give me one son of thine, he would become my husband. Never shall I pick out a servant of mine and make him my husband. I am very afraid! ”
Howard Carter believed that Ankhesenamun was no shrinking violet: “She was, it seems, a lady of some force of character. The idea of retiring into the background in favor of a new queen did not appeal to her, and immediately upon the death of her husband she began to scheme… one of Ankhesenamen’s sisters had been sent in marriage to a foreign court, and many Egyptologists think that her own mother was an Asiatic princess. It was not surprising, then, that in this crisis she should look abroad for help.” This distressing episode ended on the borders of Egypt with the murder of Zannanza, the Hittite prince who was sent to wed Ankhesenamun.
The hand of Ankhesenamun rests protectively upon the back of her husband and half-brother Pharaoh Tutankhamun, in this statue at Karnak Temple. The penultimate ruler of the Eighteenth Dynasty, King Aye, probably married the young queen to legitimize his claim to the throne.
If matters had indeed panned out in this order, Ankhesenamun, who was around 22-years-old, married Kheperkheperure Aye, a 70-year-old. This wedding must have been a hurried affair, for Aye officiated at Tutankhamun’s Opening of the Mouth ceremony, thus, further legitimizing his claim to the throne. In the spring of 1931, Professor Percy Newberry stumbled upon a faience finger-ring in an antique shop in Cairo that had the cartouches of Aye and Ankhesenamun inscribed side-by-side – proof of wedlock, according to some Egyptologists – though traditionally rulers issued marriage scarabs.
The tomb of Aye (WV23) was vandalized in antiquity: funerary treasures of the king were looted, paintings depicting him were chiseled out, his sarcophagus was smashed to smithereens; and his mummy went missing. It is believed that this crypt was originally intended for Tutankhamun.
Nevertheless, Ankhesenamun vanished at this juncture, for there exists no mention of her beyond the Cairo ring. It is Tey, the Great Royal Wife whose name and images are depicted on the walls of Aye’s tomb. But, far from imagining a dire fate for Ankhesenamun, Dr Aidan Dodson informed the present writer, “Ankhesenamun - after the Hittite-marriage debacle, she suffered the Egyptian equivalent of the Mediaeval European ‘being sent to a nunnery’ - probably a palace out at Siwa Oasis or somewhere equally urban.”
Top Image: Detail of goddess Mut with likeness of Ankhesenamun; design by Anand Balaji (Photo credit: Ancient Egypt and Archaeology Web Site ); Deriv.
By Anand Balaji
The author expresses his gratitude to Professor Jiro Kondo , Director, Institute of Egyptology, Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan for granting exclusive permission to use a photograph of the WV22 expedition.
Special thanks to Egyptian digital-artist Ziad Nour for allowing the publication of his artwork.
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