A Mystery Fit For A Pharaoh

The first tomb to be discovered in the Valley of the Kings since King Tut's is raising new questions for archaeologists about ancient Egypt's burial practices

The entrance to the new found tomb was hidden for more than 3,000 years beneath the remains of ancient workmen's huts. (Discovery Channel)
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What seems clear is that someone in the New Dynasty gathered up the items in KV-63 quickly. Perhaps even in haste: shards from a single pot are distributed haphazardly in various coffins or jars. "All the stuff had to be kept together," says Brock, who served as co-director on the project until April.

Since the undisturbed chamber is apparently not a proper burial tomb, what is it? There are two main possibilities, says Corcoran. The materials may have come from an embalming studio, which used natron, incense and jars similar to the ones found in KV-63. Or they may have come from a burial that had been somehow defiled.

Some scholars speculate that the cache might be tied to the upheavals surrounding the heretic king Akhenaten, who not only abandoned the old gods to worship Aten alone but also built a new capital—along with new cemeteries—at Amarna, about 250 miles north of the Valley of the Kings, along the Nile River. Upon Akhenaten's death, his successor—young Tut—abandoned Amarna and monotheism and reinstituted the old ways. Perhaps there was confusion over what to do with those royal personages who had been buried in the forsaken capital. "People were trying to deal with where they should be buried, and how," says Bryan of Johns Hopkins. Some mummies apparently were transported to the Valley of the Kings. And, says Corcoran, hieroglyphs on a broken seal found amid the debris in KV-63 names the sun god Aten. But whether the chamber was actually dug during that disruptive period has yet to be determined.

Schaden seems surprisingly disengaged from all the speculation—and even from the excitement of following in Carter's footsteps to uncover the first valley tomb in nearly a century. Instead, he worries about missing a gig with his band this summer. "I'm having very little fun," he tells me when I call him in May. Most of his volunteers have gone home, and his relations with the University of Memphis are chilly. After years of leaving Schaden alone, the university dispatched Corcoran, an experienced art historian, to join Schaden at the dig. "There are too many cooks in the kitchen," Schaden says. Corcoran declines comment.

Call it the curse of the Valley of the Kings. Carter also found the relentless media spotlight irritating, fought bitterly with his sponsor, Lord Carnarvon, and chafed under the critical eyes of other archaeologists. But the gentlemanly Schaden seems particularly ill-prepared for the maelstrom he unleashed. His go-slow approach, his reluctance to face the media onslaught and his failure to field the requisite conservators and artists immediately after the tomb was opened have annoyed some colleagues.

As we sit on plastic chairs in the shade of Amenmesse's tomb, Schaden appears almost melancholy. He seems to yearn for his earlier, less complicated life, when he could putter in peace. He fiddles with two broken bits of pottery that had been sealed in a jar for well over three millennia. "There, it fits," he says, sliding them together with a small smile.


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