Ancient Flowers Found in Egypt Coffin

John Roach
for National Geographic News
June 29, 2006
The last of eight sarcophagi from a recently discovered burial chamber in Egypt's Valley of the Kings revealed ancient garlands of flowers.

A gaggle of researchers and media had gathered for the opening of the 3,000-year-old coffin, which archaeologists had hoped would contain the famous boy king Tutankhamun's mother.

But instead the coffin contained strips of fabric and woven laurels of delicate dehydrated flowers.

"I prayed to find a mummy, but when I saw this, I said it's better—it's really beautiful," Nadia Lokma, the chief curator of Cairo's Egyptian Museum, told reporters gathered for the opening.

The flowers are likely the remains of garlands strung with gold strips that were worn by ancient Egyptian royalty (related wallpapers: treasures of Egypt).

"It's very rare—there's nothing like it in any museum. We've seen things like it in drawings, but we've never seen this before in real life. It's magnificent," Lokma said.

Burial Preparations

The Valley of the Kings is a desert region near Luxor (map of Egypt) that was used as a royal burial ground for several hundred years.

The newfound chamber is the first one discovered since King Tut's was found in 1922 (go on the scene at the excavation of King Tut's tomb in an interactive edition of National Geographic magazine).

Lanny Bell, an Egyptologist at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, told National Geographic News that finding any tomb in the Valley of the Kings is "really exciting," regardless of how it was used.

Bell said the newly discovered tomb, known as KV63, is "largely, if not exclusively, the remains of an embalming cache having to do with … the funeral-preparations process."

In ancient Egypt garlands were worn by loved ones of the deceased and also left at their tomb, just as many people leave flowers at a cemetery today, Bell says.

Richard Wilkinson, an Egyptologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, said that "this tomb is quite bizarre, very mysterious."

But, he says, the discovery of the garlands supports the theory that the tomb was a workshop for preparing royal burials.

"Clearly a lot of supplies for making royal burials were found there," he said.

In addition to the garlands, researchers studying the tomb have found embalming materials, pottery shards, and fabric.

Family Burial Ground?

Stephen Harvey is an assistant professor of Egyptian art and archaeology at the University of Chicago in Illinois.

He says the findings at KV63 shed light on the very human activity surrounding the preparation of an elite burial.

While an embalming cache was also found associated with Tut's tomb, scientists are for the first time carefully recording such a scene at KV63.

"It's just a wonderful kind of human moment—a window into this very intimate process," he said.

According to Harvey, the embalming cache for King Tut was found before his tomb was discovered. KV63, he said, is very similar to this earlier embalming cache.

"It's exciting, maybe a harbinger of a future find. Or alternatively one might tie it into Tutankhamun's burial itself," he added.

Zahi Hawass, head of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, opened the coffin in front of the cameras. He says he still believes the tomb belongs to Tutankhamun's mother.

"It would make sense. His tomb is so close that it looks like he chose to be buried next to his mother," Hawass told the AP news service.

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