Ancient Egypt: Culprits behind 'desecrated' tomb identified

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The Valley of the Kings was a mass burial ground for the pharaohs. Some of the country’s greatest rulers were deposited there: Tutankhamun, Seti I, Ramses II, as well as queens, high priests and other elites of the 18th, 19th and 20th dynasties. There are over 60 tombs in the valley.

They vary from small tombs, little more than a large hole in the ground to giant mazes with over 100 underground chambers.

Unfortunately for modern day Egyptologists and archaeologists, the majority of the tombs were looted thousands of years ago.

But the artwork on the walls remains, enabling researchers to get a taste for what might have once filled the lavish graves.

Eventually, the Valley of the Kings ceased to be used as a resting place of the greats, somewhere around the 11th century BC.

This was something widely believed among Egyptology circles.

However, in 2011, researchers came across another, as of yet undiscovered tomb in the valley.

Named KV64, it has since proved to be one of Ancient Egypt’s most enigmatic relics.

A small tomb, it contained the remains of two people buried 500 years apart.

One inhabitant was Nehmes Bastet, a high-ranking temple singer.

But the identity of the occupant of the first tomb, who was buried first, remains unknown.

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What is known is that the remains were female, and so the owner must have been a high-ranking priestess or queen, with many claiming that she was in some way connected to Egypt’s royalty.

The mystery was explored during the Smithsonian Channel’s documentary, ‘Unlocked: Egypt’s Lost Princess’.

Here, the narrator noted how one of the burials had been “violently desecrated” by tomb robbers searching for treasure, while the other body was left untouched.

For a considerable time, the full extent of what had happened escaped researchers.

When Egyptologists at the University of Basel moved closer to finding the answer, they uncovered a bloody and tumultuous window into Ancient Egypt’s past.

Swiss archaeologists working at the site established in 2020 that KV64 remained untouched and hidden for nearly 3,000 years.

This meant that whoever robbed the “royal lady” of the 18th dynasty did it during the time of the Ancient Egyptians.

A closer look at the 500-year period between the two burials in KV64 suggests the tomb was robbed at the end of the New Kingdom, in around 1077 BC.

This was the beginning of a violent phase in Egyptian history, a time called the Third Intermediate Period.

By 1000 BC, the wealth accumulated in the 18th dynasty by the likes of Akhenaten, Tutankhamun, Smenkhkare and Neferneferuaten had been spent.

As the riches ran out, a power struggle ensued.

It was here that a new group rose up and challenged the pharaoh: the priests.

Led by the High Priest of Amun, the chief Egyptian deity, the pharaohs were soon forced to leave their capital of Luxor.

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[ANALYSIS] 

They left together and moved 360 miles north to the city of Tanis.

Professor Susanne Bickel, an Egyptologist working on the University of Basel’s ‘Kings’ Valley Project’, told the documentary: “The political situation in Egypt changed.

“The economic situation changed.

“There was a new regime in Upper Egypt in Luxor which definitely had financial problems.”

Prof Bickel suspects that the new rulers of this region came up with a novel solution to fill their coffers and empty treasure houses.

She believes it could be the case that the desecration of the royal lady in KV64 was most likely officially sanctioned by the ruling priesthood.

This was the same priesthood who, in earlier times, were charged with protecting royal tombs.

Now, to pay their debts, the researchers believe they turned to raiding them.

With the pharaoh’s court now far away in the Nile Delta, the Valley of the Kings ceased to be a royal burial ground.

The rich tombs from this point on were “systematically ransacked”.

The narrator said: “The royal lady in KV64 may have been a victim of this anarchy, her grave desecrated in the search for treasure.”

Scholars used to believe that the Third Intermediate Period spelled the end of the practice of royal cemeteries.

But the remarkable discoveries in KV64 have revealed a new story: that the Valley of the Kings didn’t die.

It instead started a new chapter.

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