National Geographic News
A photo of mummified remains.

The newly opened KV 40 tomb contained smashed and broken mummies, grave goods, coffins, and funeral materials.

PHOTOGRAPH BY MATJAZ KACICNIK, UNIVERSITY OF BASEL/EGYPTOLOGY

Dan Vergano

National Geographic

Published May 1, 2014

Offering hopes for tracing the family secrets of the ancient pharaohs, more than 50 royal mummies have emerged in Egypt's Valley of the Kings from a tomb long sealed by rubble and little suspected of harboring royalty. (Related: "Valley of the Kings—Gateway to Afterlife Provides Window on the Past.")

Egyptian antiquities officials, working with archaeologists from Switzerland's University of Basel, reported this week that the royal mummies date from the reigns of the pharaohs Thutmose IV and Amenhotep III in the 14th century B.C. Both pharaohs were members of the 18th dynasty, which included the famous King Tutankhamen, or King Tut, who was buried nearby. (Related: "Replica of King Tut's Tomb to Open in Egypt.")

"They were the royal sons and daughters buried over several decades in this tomb," said Egyptologist Susanne Bickel of the University of Basel's Kings' Valley Project.

The find points to the history, and surprises, still buried in the ancient tombs of Egypt's long-gone rulers, who reigned during one of the high points of the realm's influence and power. (Related: "Tomb of Ancient Egyptian Physician Discovered.")

"It really was a golden age for ancient Egypt," says Egyptologist Salima Ikram of the American University in Cairo. "They had a huge empire that stretched from Syria to Nubia. They were not just a military power but an arbiter of culture."

Rubble Clearing

The tomb, dubbed KV 40, was first discovered and opened in 1899 by a team led by French archaeologist Victor Loret. But Loret seems to have not ventured into the tomb, Ikram suggests.

The Egyptian and Swiss team reopened the boulder-choked tomb in 2011. Over the past three years they've dug a 20-foot-long (6 meter) shaft and revealed five rooms.

The rooms were littered with smashed and broken mummies, grave goods, coffins, and funeral materials. The main room and three of the side rooms held the scattered remains of the mummies, including some infants.

Inscribed pottery identified more than 30 of the dead by name. Although the site was long considered unlikely to hold royal remains, it harbored at least eight royal princesses and four princes, as well as foreigners to the court of the long-vanished pharaohs.

The remains of pharaohs of the era have also been discovered in other tombs, and analysis of their ancient DNA may reveal family relations among the royal children.

"They are not just names and fragments now, but real people who we can see lived and we can feel a connection to," Ikram said. The discovery should shed light on social distinctions and mummification practices for the royal of that era.

A photo of a robbed grave.
The tomb walls and much of its contents have a heavy coating of soot, probably from the torches of grave robbers.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MATJAZ KACICNIK, UNIVERSITY OF BASEL/EGYPTOLOGY

Tomb Robbers

The archaeologists weren't the first visitors to the tomb. Members of a priestly family from the 9th century B.C. were also buried in the tomb.

But the smashed remains attest to looters sacking the tomb in antiquity and later in the 19th century, Bickel says. The tomb walls and much of its contents have a heavy coating of soot, which was probably left by the torches of grave robbers.

In 2011, Bickel's team also discovered KV 64, the first new tomb discovered in the Valley of the Kings since Howard Carter's discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922.

"For us, the excavations are done. Our work is ahead in the lab," Bickel says. "It actually wasn't the mummies themselves that interested us, as much as the materials and inscriptions that we found with them."

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32 comments
Ramón Morales
Ramón Morales

Surya ask the British that used to bring mummies back to England to burn as fire wood 

talk about lack of respect.

Surya Koturan
Surya Koturan

I love this! It's a wonderful reminder to how human beings have evolved through civilization. Makes you feel like you're a part of a monumental event. It's pitiful how people don't appreciate its cultural value and historic significance, and even go to great lengths to desecrate something as priceless as this find to make a quick buck.

Fernando Hartwig
Fernando Hartwig

Is there any chance to trace the Pharaons family DNA to the present?

Bunny Music
Bunny Music

I love this history! But I despise the fact that grave robbers made such a mess of the historic materials.

Maren Swakei
Maren Swakei

Black African pharaohs from the Kingdom of Kush, a region to the Douthern part of the Nile ruled Egypt. They were genius. It takes a lot of ingenuity and strategy to rule another Empire successfully. Over 3 dynsties have been recorded..Pharaoh Kashta, Pharaoh Piye or Piankei, Pharah Taharka, and Pharaoh Tantamani. Some of these Pharaohs even ruled from Kush headquarters of Napata and Meroe...They helped take Egyptian art and civilization to the next level.

Mildred Cameron
Mildred Cameron

Ancient Egypt, incredible. The cradle of civilization

Dawn Mueller
Dawn Mueller

History will always be debated and each person will interpret it their own way. However, while archaeologists keep discovering amazing finds such as these, science itself will take over and help give us a more reliable knowledge of the past!

Edward Boss
Edward Boss

It is good that all these things are put into museums and hopefully they will be safer there than in the ground.  considering the government of Egypt now I wonder though if the museums are safe.  The accuracy of all this is astonishing when Christianity can not find anything from only a few thousand years back as documentation of anything. 

Fernando Zevallos
Fernando Zevallos

SERIA IMPORTANTE QUE CONSIDEREN AMPLIAR LOS ESTUDIOS REALIZADOS POR EL CIENTIFICO SENEGALES CHEIK ANTA DIOP, SOBRE LOS ORIGENES AFRICANEGROS DE LOS ANTIGUOS EGIPCIOS, INCLUSO EN LA IMAGEN QUE MUESTRAN DE LA CABEZA DE LA MOMIA EXPUESTA SE EVIDENCIA CARACTERISTICAS DE UN HOMBRE DE RAZA NEGRA...

Glenn Johnson
Glenn Johnson

It is interesting to see, what greed will do to people. You see it in the past and you see it now in our time. I guess thats part of being human? 

chuck naulty
chuck naulty

This is really interesting but what is the morally correct timeline to digging up someone's grave?  They dug up Sammy Davis Jr. within a year to get his jewelry to pay the liens on his estate which seemed a bit crude.  At least we usually avoid desecrating native american burial sites in this country.  There was a reason for the Egyptian form of burial and we are destroying it. 

Manjunath G
Manjunath G

DNA of Royals??? wow its really awesome....


Bob Osburn
Bob Osburn

The discovery should shed light on social distinctions and mummification practices for the royal of that era.

Vic Pafundi
Vic Pafundi

@La Donna Singh  - Your supposition is not true at all.  Study their records, and educate yourself.  Black Africans, south of the Sahara, were were held in contempt by the earliest Egyptians.  Egyptians were not black negro as their sculptures, and written records, clearly show and tell us.  It sounds as if you have the racist streak.  Not the historians.

Michael Rocco
Michael Rocco

@La Donna Singh  You are wrong. Africa is a continent... they are quiet large. The race of those form Northern Africa of the ancients (i.e. Egyptians, Carthaginians etc) were not "Black" as you mention. They were people of the Mediterranean.  Black Africans as a race were much more south in origin. Leave the history to historians. We will leave the comment areas of NG posts to everyone else. Including the un-educated. 

craig hill
craig hill

@chuck naulty  There is zero respect for the dead so long as none of their relatives are alive with any power to interfere with our grave-robbing. When it comes down to it, humans have no principles we will not break.

Larry Edwards
Larry Edwards

@Vic Pafundi @La Donna Singh~Where did your misinformed information come from. Never mind, I already know.  The Arabs gradually chased the Dogon people away from Kemet (Eqypt). SPEAKING HISTORY. 

Where is the nose of the Sphinx and other noses shot off because they were broad as Black noses. 

Now, it was Black people who invented White people about 7500 years ago. Before then, these people could not be found anywhere on the planet. Your own ancestors were also invented by Blacks if you are not of aboriginal stock.

If Whites had been first on earth, no other color but white would be in existence today. But from Black the full range of colors can come forth. Don't hate, participate.

Larry Edwards
Larry Edwards

@Michael Rocco @La Donna Singh~ When you say historians, what you really mean is "White" people. Your people once had access to the proper information before they burned down the great libraries in an attempt to destroy history in order to rewrite it with a white superiority strategy.

Larry Edwards
Larry Edwards

Check back some time later and I'll be able to answer you correctly but right now I can't answer you because I think that I might still be alive.

chuck naulty
chuck naulty

@Allyson Tindall @chuck naulty  Once I'm dead I don't really care what happens to my remains,  I've considered donating my body to a medical school,  I posed the question to the people who consider it ok to desecrate tombs while holding their own spirituality as sacred.  Fancy funerals are to make undertakers rich and quell the guilt of people who weren't nice to the deceased before they died.

Larry Edwards
Larry Edwards

@craig hill ~Oh! Their relatives ARE alive; however they do not have the power to interfere with the grave-robbing because the corrupt officials of today are the ruling party. 

Many are alive and well, even a descendant of King Solomon resides today in either, South Carolina or Georgia.

Michele Dingman
Michele Dingman

@Larry Edwards @Vic Pafundi @La Donna Singh This is no doubt true...but so what? Should a medal be given out or somthing because Im confused why such importance is placed on this. It's an interesting fact  and all but i get the feeling you think then the whites owe something for this?? I will never understand racisim

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