Incredible archaeological finds already surround the archaeologists who are toiling away in the Valley of the Kings in October 2019. As the team scour their selected dig site, though, one of the workers notices something strange. The sand seems to have shifted, in fact – just enough to reveal what looks to be a face. And when the archaeologists investigate further, they come across yet another truly astonishing discovery that may yet change what we know about Ancient Egypt.
But then the Valley of the Kings has long rewarded researchers with historical treasure. The rocky expanse on the west bank of the Nile houses 63 tombs, for example, with one of these even having housed the illustrious Tutankhamun. The boy king – who is also known colloquially as King Tut – is of course one of ancient Egypt’s most famous pharaohs.
And the October 2019 discovery came on the heels of yet another successful dig in the Valley of the Kings. You see, the country’s Antiquities Ministry had announced the week before that its archaeological team had found 30 industrial workshops, with these spaces appearing to date all the way back to 1539 B.C. Inside, experts theorized, the ancient Egyptians had built furniture to place inside tombs alongside their fallen kings.
That find gave experts a frame of reference for how the ancient locals pieced together their coffins and tomb decor. And the uncovering of such substantial artifacts may very well have felt like an accomplishment for the area’s archaeologists. Little did the researchers know, though, that something completely different – and perhaps yet more stunning – would also be revealed in just a week’s time.
But before we look at what was found in the Valley of the Kings, let’s focus in on the area itself. Between the 16th and 11th centuries B.C., ancient Egyptians chipped into rock there in order to create tombs for the pharaohs and other leaders of their New Kingdom. And the fruit of their labor sits on the Nile’s west bank just across from Luxor – although that city was once known as Thebes.
What’s more, new facets of the Valley of the Kings have emerged even in recent years. In 2008, for example, two additional tomb entrances were uncovered at the location, with those pathways adding to the area’s tally of 63 tombs and chambers. And although many had been cracked open and emptied of their expensive offerings long ago by raiders, the tombs still contained clues as to how and why Egyptians buried the powerful in such a manner.
But, of course, one tomb in the Valley of the Kings stands as its most famous find. In November 1922 Howard Carter pinpointed the final resting spot of Tutankhamun, and the teenager’s undisturbed tomb has helped transform the archaeological site into a world-famous tourist draw. Experts certainly didn’t stop there, though. To this day, they continue excavating and conserving the Valley of the Kings.
In fact, Egypt is in the midst of its biggest Valley of the Kings excavation since Carter discovered King Tut’s tomb. And the massive effort has a particular aim: specifically, the country’s team of archaeologists hope to reveal yet-to-be-uncovered royal crypts. The tomb of Tutankhamun’s widow, Queen Nefertiti, hasn’t as yet been unearthed, for example, and it’s hoped that workers in the area will eventually find it.
Yet archaeologists haven’t restricted their search to just the Valley of the Kings. They’ve also moved outward to Asasif – an ancient cemetery near the more famous Thebian burial place. And digs in Asasif have actually already yielded tombs from the 18th Dynasty – of which King Tut was the final pharaoh from his family to reign.
In fact, this renewed focus has already yielded some incredible finds. For example, during an investigation into the Valley of the Kings – which is sometimes referred to as the East Valley – experts discovered a new tomb. This final resting place was then given the moniker KV 65.
Archaeologist Zahi Hawass led a team into KV 65, within which they found some of the ancient apparatus used to build out the tomb. The crew also tapped into the area surrounding King Tut’s famous resting place, and there they uncovered a series of small huts in which the ancient Egyptians are once thought to have stored their tools.
The 42 huts also contained hieroglyphic artwork, pieces of tomb carvings and some rings – the latter of which specialists dated back to the Ramesside period. This epoch began following the death of Tutankhamun and marked the start of the 19th Dynasty, which ultimately lasted from 1292 to 1189 B.C.
Hawass and company similarly dug into the area’s West Valley, which some refer to as the Valley of the Monkeys. And there they made yet another astonishing find, unearthing an entire “industrial zone” in which the Ancient Egyptians had churned out their funerary ornaments and tomb furniture. The discovery was momentous, too, as archaeologists had never seen anything like this before in the vicinity.
The sprawling ancient factory area encompassed 30 workrooms as well as a kiln in which the workers could bake ceramics. And speaking about the relic, Hawass told CNN in October 2019, “Each workshop had a different purpose. Some were used to make pottery, others to produce gold artefacts and others still to manufacture furniture.”
Also in the workrooms, Hawass and his team uncovered silver rings, inlay beads and golden foil. All of these elements would have been used to adorn ancient Egyptian coffins – more specifically, those that belonged to the era’s royals. A number of the decorations even came etched with the wings of Horus – an ancient god who was typically linked with both death and resurrection.
And Hawass went on to explain why the workrooms were so important a find. He said “Up until now, everything we knew about the Luxor region came from the tombs themselves, but this new discovery will allow us to shed a light on the tools and techniques used to produce the royal coffins and the furniture placed in the tombs.”
Hawass revealed, too, that an industrial workplace that had been designed to produce decorative funerary elements had never been found in Egypt before. And the area could yet hold further significance. You see, it may very well give clues as to how the laborers lived their lives, as some of the spaces seemed to be dedicated to their needs while on the job.
Hawass explained to CNN, “We found storage rooms used to hold water and food as well as a water tank from which the workers would drink.” With all the researcher and his team uncovered, then, the huge amount of effort put in to get inside the ancient worksite had proved worthwhile.
Yes, actually infiltrating the space had been no easy task. According to Hawass, more than 3,000 stones had blocked any entry into the ancient industrial center, and these had all needed to be removed before any further investigations could be made. Once the archaeologists had finally stepped into the interior of the West Valley site, however, they were able to make estimations of its age. The artifacts, for example, looked to have been created during the 18th Dynasty, which lasted from 1539 to 1292 B.C.
Still, Hawass and the rest of his team had a bigger goal in mind. Namely, they hoped that their Valley of the Kings-centric dig would reveal further royal tombs. And the archaeologist claimed at the time of the industrial discovery that such a breakthrough would likely occur sooner rather than later. Hawass told CNN, “I believe we are very close to finding an intact royal tomb.”
Furthermore, the industrial workplace – or, specifically, its foundation deposits – made such a possibility even more real. The Daily Mirror quoted Hawass as saying, “An important discovery that we made was a discovery of the four foundation deposits. Near the four foundation deposits, we found graffiti and found working man’s huts, [and this] means there is a royal tomb in this area.”
Indeed, foundation deposits have apparently long been an indication that a royal tomb hides somewhere nearby. Hawass went on, “We know, according to some scholars, that when the Egyptians construct a royal tomb they make four or five foundation deposits.” In addition, some of the tools within the worksite could have been used to either build tombs or in the process of mummification.
So, in early October 2019, Hawass had high hopes that he and his team would shortly uncover a tomb – perhaps even the final resting place of one of Ancient Egypt’s more well-known leaders. And those aspirations were well-founded, too, as within a week, archaeologists in the area did indeed stumble upon something spectacular.
This time, though, the dig took place just behind the Asasif necropolis. And, as it happens, the archaeologists who coordinated the excavation effort had had no intentions of sifting through the sands in that spot; instead, they had trekked to the Asasif area to oversee a separate, unrelated dig. Ultimately, though, someone noticed something intriguing.
To begin with, the mound looming over the back of the Asasif necropolis seemed to be just that – a pile of earth and sand. Yet one detail made it clear that the unusual feature had so much more to offer the archaeological team. It appeared, you see, that a face was sticking out from the bank of dirt.
On closer examination, the face belonged to a coffin that had been hidden within the mound. Archaeologists therefore diverted their attention to the strange discovery and began to excavate it. And as the group did so, they realized that they hadn’t just found one sarcophagus – but a whole two-layer stack of them.
In total, the team found 30 coffins – all hidden just feet below the sand that they had been walking on. Even more surprisingly, the sarcophagi appeared to have remained in good condition during the centuries that they had spent beneath the surface. And as a result of this preservation, archaeologists could instantly see the intricate paintings that brightened the coffins’ exteriors.
Strokes of red, white, black and green brought color to the wooden boxes, which also featured inscriptions on their exteriors. Yet it seemed that these intricate designs hadn’t brought undue attention to the coffins, as all 30 had remained untouched after their burial.
In fact, the discovery of the coffins was itself cause for celebration, as more than a century had passed since such a major find had come out of Egypt. That was just the beginning, too. After all, experts would have to unseal the coffins to see what each contained, and perhaps there was even more information about the people buried inside.
So, the archaeologists started slowly, all slipping on gloves before they opened the first two of the 30 coffins. Then, after prying the sarcophagi open, they found a mummy within each one. And owing to their hand positions, the well-wrapped bodies could be gendered. It seemed that one set of remains had once belonged to a man, while the other had belonged to a woman.
How did the researchers know this so quickly? Well, it’s been determined that while male mummies were typically interred with their hands closed, women reposed for eternal rest with their hands open. According to the BBC, some of the discovered coffins contained the bodies of children, too. And all of the boxes seemed to come from a time long ago – an era that actually predated the Asasif necropolis itself.
Yes, while most of the tombs contained within the Asasif necropolis housed bodies from the Late Period – which concluded in 332 B.C. – the stack of 30 coffins were even older in origin. Experts estimated them to be remnants of the 22nd Dynasty, which took place from 945 B.C. to 715 B.C.
What’s more, the coffins’ random placement in the sand seemed to be the main reason why they had stayed in such good shape over the centuries. At the very least, their position had left them relatively safe from marauders who may have otherwise chosen to empty the sarcophagi and their surrounds of all their valuables.
Tomb burials also exposed wooden coffins to termites that may have irreparably damaged the artifacts. Owing to their concealment in the sand, then, the sarcophagi were seemingly kept safe from both insects and criminals – leaving them in prime condition for excavation nearly 3,000 years later. And as it happens, the coffins’ intricate inscriptions were also likely to have been connected to their strange burial.
Experts hypothesized, for instance, that each sarcophagus boasted a gorgeous, complex design as a form of recompense for the deceased’s burial in relatively insalubrious surroundings. In addition, as the coffins boasted such similar markings, it was thought that they had all been produced by the same artisans.
And, of course, such special boxes indicated that the people encased within had lived privileged lives. One theory posits that all of the men, women and children buried behind the Asasif necropolis had once been relatives of the ancient Egyptian high priests. From 1080 B.C. to 943 B.C. high priests had exerted an enormous amount of power over Thebes and Upper Egypt, so it would make sense that their families would receive such treatment.
But what of the strange placement of the coffins in two underground layers? Well, there’s yet another potential explanation. It’s been said that a priest may have gathered up the ornate boxes and hidden them beneath the ground in the fear that they would otherwise be looted at some point.
And while not every question about the Asasif necropolis coffins can be answered, one thing wss for sure: the team responsible for the discovery were ecstatic with the results of the dig. The country’s Supreme Council of Antiquities secretary-general, Mostafa Waziri, also made plain his sense of pride at the find.
Waziri told NBC News, “I’m very happy we found this discovery with Egyptian hands.” A statement from the Antiquities Ministry echoed Waziri’s delight, too, referring to the fruit of the excavation as “one of the largest and most important” discoveries that the country has had as of late. And given the apparent glee that surrounds the unearthing of the artifacts, it’s perhaps no surprise that the coffins will be shown off in public. In time, the sarcophagi will go on display in Giza’s Grand Egyptian Museum, which is slated to open in 2020.
In the meantime, archaeologists continue their hunt for more historic treasures in the Valley of the Kings, hoping that they may yet find tombs of some of Ancient Egypt’s greatest rulers. And if the results of the recent string of digs are any indication, then there’s every chance of more success in the near future.