Who is Really Buried in Egypt’s Most Mysterious Tomb?

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Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Wikimedia Commons/Pegasus Books

Excerpted with permission from Pharaohs of the Sun: The Rise and Fall of Tutankhamun’s Dynasty by Guy de la Bédoyère, published by Pegasus Books.

In the murky drama of Akhenaten’s aftermath and the first few years of Tutankhamun’s reign the small and scrappy Valley of the Kings tomb known as KV55 and its wrecked contents are never offstage. The controversies, bolstered by recent scientific evidence which has only muddied the waters further, have rumbled on ever since the tomb was found. However, the surviving evidence of the deposit suggests it was originally a reburial of Tiye and Akhenaten whose bodies were brought from Amarna by Tutankhamun for safety. Subsequent clearance work left behind only one male body of indeterminate identity, but undoubtedly a close relative of Tutankhamun’s, along with cluttered and damaged remnants of funerary equipment.

KV55 is a tomb in the Valley of the Kings that contained a cache of material and bodies brought from Amarna after Akhenaten’s reign. It lies only about 120 ft (36 m) across the valley floor from Tutankhamun’s tomb (KV62). No other two 18th Dynasty royal tombs are so close to one another but neither had been designed originally as a royal tomb. They were far too small, corresponding to the tombs of nobles allowed the privilege of a burial in the Valley, such as Yuya and Thuya’s. Tutankhamun’s was subsequently modestly enlarged to squeeze in the paraphernalia of a king but KV55 was not. KV55 consists only of an entrance corridor, a rectangular burial chamber, and a small niche annex. There were no dockets or decoration that might have explained whose tomb it was. It had suffered from a chaotic burial of at least two bodies, after which it was reopened. Some of the contents were removed, leaving only one body behind in a royal coffin and some funerary equipment. Deliberate damage was caused to what was left behind, made worse by later water ingress and structural collapse.

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