Tomb of Tutankhamen's Mother Found

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New findings have led Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities to conclude that the first intact tomb to be discovered in the Valley of the Kings in over 80 years, belonged to Queen Kiya -- King Tutankhamen's mother.

The tomb -- designated KV 63 -- was found in February, just feet away from the final resting place of ancient Egypt's young celebrity pharaoh Tutankhamen.

Since then, the team of archaeologists have unearthed a trove of seven wooden coffins, more than 20 storage jars, and more than a few oddities that are still being figured out.

All of this, even though many experts have argued that the Valley of the Kings -- the elaborate final resting places of the ancient society's kings and queens -- has nothing left to offer archaeology and Egyptology.

"When you least expect it sometimes, something just pops up," said professor Otto Schaden, field director of the Amenmesse Tomb Project of the University of Memphis. He also discovered the tomb.

"We can only find what they leave us, you know? When you're digging, you never know what you're going to see next."

The dig had many excited, not just because it was the first tomb uncovered in the Valley since 1922, but because Schaden and his team had hoped to find a mummy in one of the tomb's seven coffins.

Those hopes were dashed, but replaced with excitement over the discovery of embalming materials, necklaces woven from flowers, and other religious artifacts when the last sarcophagi was opened.

Breathing Life Back Into Valley of the Kings

Of the seven coffins discovered, one had yet to be opened when the researchers and media were invited in.

Schaden and others in the archaeology community were hoping to find an important, perhaps royal mummy.

"One suggestion is that it may be the mummy of his wife, or [Egyptian Queen] Nefertiti, or possibly Tut's mother Kia," said James Phillips, professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois and an archaeologist with the Field Museum in Chicago, before the final coffin was opened.

Though Phillips said he was relying on reports out of the region at the time, his theories were realistic possibilities considering the time period, where the tomb was discovered, and the fact that experts had been in search of the mummies of these women for 100 years.

"That would be huge," said Ken Nystrom, a biological anthropologist at Santa Clara University. Recently, he was the presenter of a Discovery Channel documentary examining the find. "It would be incredible to find another royal mummy in KV 63."

The jackpot in many ways would have been if the tomb had turned out to be that of Nefertiti, the stunningly beautiful wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten, another well-known leader in ancient Egypt.

Tiny Coffin Not for Tiny Mummy

Although finding the mummified remains of a member of the royal family would have been a boon for Schaden and his team, it would have been perhaps more important to public perception than to the archaeologists working in the Valley.

"The public perception is that the dig is a failure if there's no mummy, and that's just not true," Nystrom said. "For archaeologists, it's just as incredible to find a name, an inscription."

Nystrom says that's an important distinction because what gets the public excited isn't always what gets archaeologists excited.

Still, it's the public's furor over finds like KV 63 that keep the money flowing and the digs going.

On top of the recent discoveries, the team and archaeology community have been excited about what's been found in KV 63.

Among the finds is a doll-size coffin hidden beneath six pillows inside another, larger coffin and decorated on the top and side with gold leaf.

"It's about 16 [inches to] 17 inches long," Schaden said. "It was probably a funeral figurine -- a mummiform figure that serves as a possible substitute for the deceased."

In essence, if you were important enough to be buried in one of the Valley's tombs, chances were you didn't want to be forced to do any kind of manual labor in the afterlife. Mummiforms were believed to act as clones, doing the work so royal members wouldn't have to get their hands dirty.

Patience Is a Virtue

All of the materials found in the tomb are now being removed piece by piece, because termites have been chewing on their wood for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

Each piece will be meticulously gone over, and then conservators will pick one or two of them to begin reassembling.

Schaden says the Egyptian government would like to see everything removed, because the position of the tomb could make it vulnerable to rains or flooding.

The process of moving fragments out of the tomb piece by piece, then waiting for them to be repaired and catalogued, requires patience in the face of thrilling, once-in-a-lifetime discoveries.

Schaden says the time his team takes means preserving these priceless artifacts for years to come.

"We have some people that are so anxious that they're willing to crawl back in there and take whatever is there," he said. "Never. I don't know if it's a good point or a bad point, but I'm patient."

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