In a remarkable new discovery, archaeologists have uncovered a massive tomb in the West Bank of the Nile Valley of the Kings in Luxor containing more than 50 royal Egyptians, including four princes, eight previously unknown princesses, and a number of infants.
The 3,300-year-old tomb was discovered when researchers investigated a depression in the ground and came across a 5 metre long shaft, a corridor, and four rooms, which had been trashed and plundered in antiquity.
The team of archaeologists from the University of Basel in Switzerland, who have been excavating in the region since 2009, found textiles, mummy bandages, linen cloths, bones and other scattered funerary artifacts in the tomb. Valuable relics were most likely looted from the tomb centuries ago.
The adult mummies were found in a poor condition and appear to have been torn apart by grave robbers, but the royal infants were well preserved. “They are wrapped in numerous layers of bandages and treated with bitumen,” said researcher Susanne Bickel, of the University of Basel.
The tomb dates to the 18 th dynasty and the Third Intermediate Period. Hieratic inscriptions (a cursive form of hieroglyphs) revealed that most of the mummies in the tomb were related to two pharaohs, Thutmose IV and Amenhotep III, who ruled during the 14th century BC, and were buried at different times.
Thutmose IV, was the 8th Pharaoh of the 18th dynasty of Egypt. He secured an alliance with the Mitanni Empire of northern Syria and ushered in a period of peace at the peak of Egypt’s prosperity. He was succeeded to the throne by his son, Amenhotep III.
The reign of Amenhotep III marked the zenith of ancient Egyptian civilisation, both in terms of political power and cultural achievement, under his 36 year reign. Countries like Babylonia, Assyria, and Mitani were emerging as potential new rivals, and Amenhotep began writing to the other rulers of the Near East, carving letters on small stones that messengers took to foreign princes.
The Amarna letters, as they became known after they were found in 1887, were the key to Amenhotep’s success, especially when backed up with gifts from Egypt’s great wealth. The 18th dynasty ruler became king at the age of around 12, with his mother as regent. He ᴅɪᴇᴅ in around 1354 BC and was succeeded by his son Amenhotep IV, widely known as Akhenaten.
During Egypt’s New Kingdom (1550-1070 BC), royals were buried at the Valley of the Kings, a site along the Nile, opposite modern-day Luxor. King Tutankhamun’s tomb is among the best preserved burials to have been discovered at the Valley of the Kings, and new tombs are still being discovered and studied at the site today.
Bickel and colleagues are hopeful that studying the newfound mummies and their scattered grave goods could shed light on the lives of people in the pharaohs’ royal court.