Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Old Mummification Museum lecture - Undecorated tombs in the Valley of Kings

Mummification Museum Lecture on Undecorated Tombs in the Valley of Kings
Dr Donald P Ryan of Pacific Lutheran University on the Undecorated Tombs KV21, KV27, KV28, KV44, KV45 and KV60 in the Valley of Kings 26th November 2006

Website http://www.plu.edu/~ryandp/

The aim of tonight’s lecture was to show that the undecorated tombs in the Valley of Kings are interesting and important.

Scattered among the magnificent and beautiful tombs of the Pharaohs in the Valley of Kings there are a number of much smaller undecorated tombs. Although discovered at the turn of the centaury they have been virtually ignored both by those discovering them and by subsequent scholars and visitors. When Dr Ryan was a student back in 1983 he noticed them in the valley and pondered the archaeological problems they posed. These tombs must have belonged to some very important people in Egyptian society but we don’t know exactly who they are. Being undecorated there are no names preserved and the merger finds inside, due to a twist of fate, have not preserved the names of the occupants.

Dr Ryan has been working in the small wadi that leads to Thothmosis IV and he started there in 1989.


This tomb was known to be in front of KV19 but essentially it was lost. Carter had discovered it and found 2 mummies, remains of a gilded coffin and some other bits and pieces. 3 years later Edward Ayrton removed the coffin and one mummy. The tomb belonged to SeptRe the Royal Nurse of Queen Hatshepsut. The archaeologist Elizabeth Thomas suggested including this tomb to the team. The first day they arrived just having a look around and armed with few tools and a broom they decided the have a quick look and see what they could find. Half an hours work and they had found a cut edge and then the steps. Dr Ryan joked with the audience you didn’t need GPS to find a tomb ½ an hour with a broom was enough.

The stairs are very steep and when the team uncovered them they were gleaming white. The first room has a very low ceiling with 2 niches and had never been flooded. They found lots of gold flakes and a copper chisel suggesting that possibly the robbers had brought the objects to the daylight while they were hacking off the gold from them. They found a large pile of wrapped mummy bundles of food, a large piece of coffin and a well preserved female mummy. The left arm was bent across the body and had a clenched fist and the right arm was straight down the side. This is considered to be the pose of a royal female by many Egyptologist and is Dr Ryan’s opinion. The mummy was stripped and the wood had been stripped of gold and there is speculation that it is Hatshepsut. The tomb of Hatshepsut is just above this are and it is entirely possible it was cached in the tomb of her nurse. The coffin has notches for a beard suggest that it was a male coffin.

In 1990/91 there was intense speculation in the papers that this was the body of Hatshepsut, Dr Ryan was never actually contacted and this caused him some embarrassment as all sorts of quotes were attributed to him. If he had been he would have stated that the speculation was just that speculation, it is possible but there is no proof what so ever so nothing could be proved. The papers got there facts so wrong he even had a copy of a news paper with a photo of Howard Carter which had his name underneath.

Both this mummy and the one removed in 1906 are now being studied by Dr Zahi Hawass using all the latest technology including CAT scans and it is hoped that something will be found that would clear up this mystery for ever.


This tomb was discovered by Belzoni in 1817 but was subsequently flooded and disappeared. This tomb also had to be found and likewise the team did so very easily. Within 10-15 minutes of starting their search they found the start of the tomb and almost immediately the number 21 was found painted on the surface. This is from the early numbering of the tombs in the valley and confirmed that they had located the right spot. It took another month to excavate the entire entrance. When Belzoni found it he said there were 2 mummies and some pots and the team wondered if these would still be there. The layout of the tomb is quite like that of the tomb of Ay with the exception of the chamber having a central column.

Before Belzoni found it, it had not been flooded but unfortunately now it had except for on side room whose threshold was sufficiently high to protect it. The tomb has some unique rectangular niches. In the side room there were lots of big white pots that had been broken. There were some large rocks inside and it is possible that some early vandal from the 19th centaury had used them to break the pots. Inside the side room there is graffiti from 1826. The pieces that were found are from around the time of Thothmosis IV and are bags of natron, mummy rags and several clay seals showing the necropolis seal of the 9 captives.

The mummies were in pieces but enough remained to show that there were left hands with clenched fists and bent arms. It is possible that these were two queens after all we are missing a lot of 18th Dynasty queens and other royal women. It may be they are right under our feet in these undecorated tombs. In Dr Ryan’s opinion the fact that the names are missing is bad luck rather an intentional act to leave these mummies unidentified.

4 other tombs

The other 4 tombs are shaft tombs, KV44 and KV45 were excavated by Carter and under the primitive archaeology of the time Carter didn’t find gold so basically left them unexcavated by modern standards. On top of the 18th Dynasty burials there is a small amount of evidence of 22nd Dynasty burials. The team found coffin fragments and numerous crude ushabtis.

Dr Ryan showed a very technical slide just to demonstrate the conservation work of the team. This included a survey of the natural hazards facing the tombs. It is hard for tourists to believe it but the biggest danger facing the tombs is flooding.

On a personal note Dr Ryan explained what he had done during the years 1989-1993 when he left the Valley. He worked with Thor Heyerdahl for the last 7 years of his life and there is quite a lot about this on the website. Thos Heyerdahl died 4 years ago and Dr Ryan decided it was time to come back to the Valley. He commented rather humorously on the changes he noticed over the years some not so nice like MacDonald’s overlooking Luxor Temple and the volume of visitors in the Valley.

After his return the firs thing they did was to go round their tombs and see what the passage of time had done. At KV60 they brought in Dr Larry Berman the curator of Boston Fine Arts to look at some of the object. The wrapped mummy bundles were x-rayed by Selim Hassan. Investigation showed ribs, large joints, birds and a large piece of meat which might be liver.

They also investigated to see what damage the flood of 1994 had done to the tombs. At KV21 although it had a diversion wall water had entered the tomb and a thin layer of silt was on the floor. On the walls there was also a mark showing the height the water had reached. In 1993 the team had installed crack monitors and they were keen to inspect these. Contrary to some well publicised views by the author of ‘the Rape of Tutankamun’ (John Rommer) who accused archaeologists working in the valley of exposing the tombs to destruction, the crack monitors should no movement. However this does not mean that anyone should be complaisant.

Last year had been a study season and this year they decided to pay attention to KV27 again. The shaft leads to a chamber followed by another and 2 small rooms. In the early 1990’s this tomb was used as a shelter by the souvenir sellers and at one time a bog was using it for nursing her puppies. It shows evidence of fires that had been lit. They had cleared the shaft 12 years ago and this year they finished the tomb chambers. One wall shows the various flood debris levels reaching almost to the ceiling. There are at least 7 levels although opinion differs on exactly how many there are. There is one very clear deep level.

At the back of the room there was an alcove which is most unusual. Inside they have found lots of pottery (organics and wood don’t tend to survive as well). There are the mud stoppers of the pots and counting these gives about 40 pots. Barbara Aston, the pottery expert has been working on these trying to put some back together.

But in all this we have no names for these tombs. The team did come across a canopic jar and the first piece they found did not have a name but later they found a piece with a name Userhet, but this confused rather than resolved the issue because it was the third jar and the other 2 were found in KV45. So does Userhet belong in KV45 or KV27?

There are 4 more days left in their season and Inshahallah they intend to publish soon, maybe next year.

Posted by Jane: - 1:12 pm - Edit| No Comments »
November 21st, 2006

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