The royal tomb was discovered in the 1890’s. Its relatively late discovery was due to its location, very far removed (about 6 Km.) from the site of Akhetaten, at the end of the “Royal Wadi”, the entrance to which is situated in an indentation in the cliff between the groups of northerly and southerly private tombs.
The entrance to the royal tomb is at the ground level of a side valley and faces to the east where the Aten rises each day. This event, the rising of the sun and the awakening of the life of the temple and its worshipers is one of the (unusual) themes shown on the reliefs carved on the walls of the interior rooms. The arrangement of the tomb, like its decoration, diverge wildly from the types in use in the tombs of preceding kings of the dynasty. The tomb takes the form of a long, wide corridor, the descent into which is via two steep staircases separated by a long sloping passage inside the flank of the hill, with a length of 28 metres, finally opening into an antechamber giving access to the funeral chamber. The antechamber is located at the foot of the second staircase and opens, via a door, onto the “protective well” whose upper room is decorated. From this room, we arrive directly at the door of the funeral chamber.
To the side, two “suites” have been cut in the cliff which is quite unusual.
At present, the tomb is in a lamentable state due to the pillage it suffered after the king’s death and also at the end of the 19th century.
The wide (3.2m) entrance opens to the east and we descend directly into the corridor via a ramp-staircase, the first of the New Kingdom.
The first corridor is immense and combines the two first passages of a “standard” royal tomb. It ends with a second ramp-staircase, a characteristic which we do not see again until the reign of Ramses II This leads directly to the well.
The theological change inferred by this corridor has (rightly) been stressed. In contrast with earlier tombs, this one has a median axis leading directly to the sarcophagus chamber with no angle. This fact has been interpreted as being the wish to allow the deceased to come out directly into the daylight, which is plausible. On the other hand, it has been suggested that this orientation permits the rays of the rising sun to reach the sarcophagus which is hardly tenable because, for one thing, the tomb was closed, so the sun could not penetrate in any case (strangely, I have never seen this simple explanation expressed anywhere). In addition, the sarcophagus was not at the middle of the room but offset to one side, so the sun’s rays couldn’t have reached it anyway.
The well is wider and shallower than usual (about 3m.) The walls of the room which form the upper part of the well were once plastered, then decorated with reliefs and inscriptions but all that remains today simply shows that the entrance was flanked by two carefully carved reliefs showing floral bouquets.
Among the other scenes in the well chamber were representations of the king and queen making offerings to the Aten with the eldest princess at the end of the walls. We thus see that the well chamber, apart from protecting against devastating floods and rare but violent storms, also had a symbolic function.
Leaving this room, we arrive directly at the door to the funeral chamber.
This had been sealed with a wall of limestone bricks which later served as a fill to fill up the well and bring out the funerary equipment for transport elsewhere. This proves that inhumations occurred in the tomb, that of Akhenaten himself, his daughter Maketaten and his mother, Tiy.
The funeral chamber is an impressive square hall with sides of about 10 mtres and a height of 3.5 metres. Is excavation included arranging for a platform on the left of about 33cm in height on which stand the remains of two square pillars. The masons had just begun to cut a passage to another room at the corner furthest from the right-hand wall to serve as another “suite” for a new burial.
The reliefs and inscriptions carved on the plastered walls of this room were almost entirely erased a short time after the death of the king. Traces of inscriptions near the ceiling, in an extremely fragile state, give the names and titles of the Aten, Akhenaten and Nefertiti. With difficulty we recognise in, the scenes which were once there, the usual ceremonies of offerings to the Aten, at which the royal family officiated, of enormous quantities of food, drink and flowers piled up on the altars of the Aten. Pieces of furniture and funerary equipment destined for the use of the deceased also appeared in these scenes. On the other hand, in conformity with the ideology of the Aten, which rejected the “ Books of the Hereafter”, the funeral chamber contains hardly any texts. Among the rare ones recognisable, we notice the great frequency of the cartouche of the queen Nefertiti, which underscores her very important liturgical role.
In addition to the main rooms in the tomb, two different series of rooms were excavated. One of them opens off the descending corridor, half way down in the right wall while the other begins at the end of the corridor at the point where it opens into the antechamber. The group situated at the higher level is absolutely unique. From the first corridor, a suite has been excavated (but not finished) which comprises three corridors one after the other giving access to a suite of three rooms. This suite is unfinished and of a worn appearance but closely resembles a royal tomb in layout, including the presence of a descending access corridor. The potential occupant (s) are Queen Tiy, mother of Akhenaten, one of his daughters or a Great Royal Queen.
Facing the entrance to this suite, on the left wall of the main corridor, a start has been made on the carving of a door which should have opened, apparently, on another suite of rooms but its excavation was never followed up. A similar arrangement is found at the lower end of the main corridor: on the left, a door has been sketched in (recognisable from some initial cut grooves) whereas, opposite, a passage has been excavated leading to a suite of three rooms, each leading into the next.
The suite of three rooms leading off the bottom of the descending corridor on the right has been named “the suite of Maketaten” because these three rooms, traditionally designated alpha, beta & gamma (here, A, B & C) seem to be related to the death of this princess. This has recently been contested but without proof. All the reliefs are badly damaged. When the French epigraphists began to copy the reliefs in rooms alpha and gamma in 1894, the scenes were practically complete. Now they are little more than ghostly sketches.
Room A is square. It has sides of about 5.5 metres and a height of 3 metres. All the walls have been finished and decorated with painted reliefs. Two long scenes show the royal family with five of their daughters making offering in the courtyard of a temple while the Aten rises on the wall and sets on the opposite wall. Passageways interrupt the other walls but they carry reliefs showing chariot drivers who have accompanied the worshipers and are waiting for them outside, before the temple doors, together with their military escort. Other scenes show the king and queen in a room weeping at the death of a woman- queen or princess- laid out on a funeral couch. The Aten is shining into the room but in an identical scene, just above, the shining solar disc is missing which may indicate a night watch.
Outside the room the mourners lament and throw dust on their heads. A Vizier figures among the people in tears. He is recognisable by his long, puffy robe. A wet nurse is leaving the funeral chamber. She is carrying a small child whose high rank is indicated by the presence of a fan-bearer. This scene has been interpreted as showing the grief of the royal family on the premature death of a princess. A special quality of the reliefs resides in the fact that certain portrayals have been re-carved in order to temper the unflattering artistic style of the first years of the reign.
Room B is anepigraphic: it may have been a storeroom.
Room C is the smallest of the three. It is 3.5 metres square and its height is 1.8 metres. It has every appearance of having been designed as a funeral chamber.
One of its walls carries, in its decoration, reliefs showing the funerary furniture, but the main characteristic resides in the presence, in the reliefs on another wall of another deathbed scene similar to that in room A. The dead princess is Maketaten (her name is given). She rest on a funeral couch in a bedroom but her image and her name have been erased. She is mourned by her weeping parents while, outside the funeral chamber, stands a wet nurse breast-feeding a small child, which she holds in her arms (and who might be identified as Tutankhamun, though without proof), followed by two fan-bearers. A large group of courtesans, ladies-in-waiting and officials join in the lamentations, their attitudes denoting great grief.
On the opposite wall, a scene associated with the previous one shows the king and queen followed by the four surviving princesses and a group of mourners throwing dust on their heads.
A series of fragments of pink granite belong to the king’s sarcophagus while another group, this time in grey granite, came from the lid. There were also pieces of another sarcophagus of red granite with a grey granite lid, which belonged to a woman. May we presume princess Maketaten, whose death and funeral are displayed in room C.
Anyway, the two sarcophagi were smashed into small pieces and spread around over a large area. The losses were so great during this operation that it was impossible to restore the two monuments completely.
Nevertheless, we can get a good idea of the appearance of the king’s sarcophagus (see below). Its reconstruction shows that it had representations of the queen Nefertiti, sculpted in high relief and extending protective arms at each corner of the monument in the likeness of the guardian goddesses of the four corners.
It is not so easy to identify the occupant of the other sarcophagus but the names of Akhenaten, Amenhotep III, Nefertiti, Tiy and Merytaten appear beside that of Maketaten on fragments of the trough and the lid.
Funeral servants () have also been found. Their presence remains a mystery as they are an Osirian practice and Osiris was totally banned in the Armarnian religion.
The tomb was not the last resting place of Akhenaten. His successor, Tutankhamun had his mummy and part of the funerary material transported to Thebes, certainly for protection. It seems the, nowadays, the occupant of tomb KV55 in the Valley of the kings is Akhenaten, or, at least, this is how it is described by the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. (But that has caused more controversy… Smenkhare and Tiy have also been suggested). Thanks to Jon Bodsworth (), here are some photographs of the newly exhibited sarcophagus of the king, Cairo Museum. In August 2003 the in the Cairo Museum was again opened, and I went there.
If you are interested in kv55 and the saga of the gold leaves from the base of one of the sarcophagi, found in Munich, here are 4 sites : , , , the .
The path goes round the left side of the Museum. And there I was much surprised to see lying on the pebbles the - heavily restaured after having been smashed into pieces - sarcophagus of… Akhenaten !. No one seems to care about it, and it was filled with cigarette-ends, and empty bottles of mineral water.
Thanks to Jon Bodsworth (), here are some photographs of the newly exhibited sarcophagus of the king, Cairo Museum.
In August 2003 the in the Cairo Museum was again opened, and I went there.