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“Mysteries of the Amarna Period Royal Tombs: The Kings’ Valley” Dylan Bickerstaffe (EEG Meeting Talk)

On Sunday Dylan Bickerstaffe came to speak at the Essex Egyptology Group meeting about the 18th Dynasty tombs in the Valley of the Kings. He structured his talk around the order of discovery of the tombs, and concentrated on those related to the Amarna era (from Amenhotep III through to Horemheb). As well as telling us what is known he spent a lot of time telling us what is less well understood – the facts in need of an explanation (generally giving his own theories and discussing those of others).

I shan’t attempt to give an overview of the whole talk, instead I’ll pick out a few things that particularly caught my attention. One of these was KV58 – which was an almost empty tomb (having been robbed in antiquity), but the few bits and pieces left were intriguing. Bickerstaffe believes that this could be the tomb of Nakhtmin, the son of Ay. I actually recognised the name Nakhtmin, as when I wrote a short article about shabtis for a previous incarnation of this blog I’d run across him in my reading as someone who provided shabtis for Tutankhamun’s burial.* Nakhtmin is the sort of senior noble who is plausibly buried in the Valley of the Kings – he was the head of the army during Tutankhamun’s reign and was also the son of Ay (who succeeded Tutankhamun as Pharaoh). The grave goods that were left in the tomb included pieces provided by Ay (which might be expected for a father to do for a son that predeceased him), and parts of a chariot including some of the gold foil decoration. The gold had been scrapped off by the thieves and crumpled up to carry away to be melted down – and they must’ve dropped it on the way out of the tomb.

*Bickerstaffe mentioned this, and also pointed out an oddity – Ay didn’t give any items to Tutankhamun’s burial. The only thing from KV62 that is linked directly to Ay is the wall paintings that show him playing the role of Tutankhamun’s son.

KV55 is another particularly interesting tomb – I knew something about it, because the remains found in that tomb have been postulated to be Akhenaten (most prominently by the DNA paper that was published a few years ago (post on my livejournal about that)). The skeleton from KV55 probably isn’t Akhenaten – Bickerstaffe told us about the conflicting evidence, primarily that the remains are those of a man too young to have had as many daughters or to’ve reigned as long as we know Akhenaten did. A more plausible explanation is that this is the remains of a man called Smenkhkare whose name is known as either a successor to Akhenaten or a co-regent with him. He was probably Akhenaten’s younger brother (which fits with the DNA evidence). What I hadn’t known about this tomb was anything about what else was found in it, nor anything else about it. I knew the remains were skeletal rather than mummified and it turns out that this is because water had got into the tomb through a crack in the rock above it. Over time this damp lead to the destruction of most of the organic material other than the bones. There was also the remains of a shrine found in this tomb, which was originally for the burial of Tiye (Akhenaten’s mother, Amenhotep III’s wife) – this was also pretty rotten and had collapsed. This is what lead to the original identification of the body from KV55 as an older woman – expectations (again) leading to the pathologists finding the “right” answer.

Bickerstaffe’s preferred theory about Smenkhkare is that he was a co-regent with Akhenaten, intended as his successor, who predeceased Akhenaten. This is partly fueled by an object that he referred to as the “only interesting thing from the tomb of Tutankhamun”. Obviously KV62 was full of precious objects, but most of them don’t really advance our knowledge of Ancient Egypt. The one that does is a piece of a box, which is labelled with three names – that of the Pharaoh Akhenaten, that of a (probably female) Pharaoh Neferneferuaten and that of the (Dowager) Great Royal Wife Meritaten. It’s known from writings elsewhere that Smenkhkare was married to Ahkenaten’s daughter Meritaten. So this box fragment gives Tutankhamun’s predecessor on the throne, and his regency council (in effect, my paraphrase). The theory is that Akhenaten originally intended his brother to be his successor, but as Smenkhkare predeceased him he was left with a baby (Tutankhamun, probably Smenkhkare’s son) as his heir. So he installed his wife Nefertiti as a co-regent (Neferneferuaten) to provide continuity after his death. (I should’ve taken notes – I hopefully haven’t misrepresented that too much!)

That’s only a small selection of the interesting stuff from the talk, he covered rather a lot of other things as well. This was very much my sort of talk – if you’ve read many of my posts about TV programmes you’ll’ve seen me complain about documentaries that promise to Solve The Mystery or to provide The One True Answer to something. This talk was the antithesis of that sort of approach – Dylan Bickerstaffe told us about intriguing collections of facts and objects that are still in the process of being explained and gave us his own (and others) theories and potential explanations.