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Excavations in KV-63

Dr. Otto Schaden, is the director of excavations at KV-10 and KV-63 in the Valley of the Kings, on the west bank of the Nile, at Luxor in Egypt.

Dr. Schaden opened his lecture by acquainting he audience with the location of the tomb numbered KV-10 in the Valley of the Kings, the tomb of King Amenmesse, and describing his desire to clear the chippings, debris and other deposits from in east front of the tomb area in hopes that it would shed additional light on when Amenmesse became king.

As soon as excavation began the remains of workmen’s huts were encountered. The whole King’s Valley contains the remnants of these huts which were used by the tomb builders during their sojourns in the valley. Each time a new tomb was started, a new set of huts were erected to provide temporary living quarters for the workmen.

It quickly became clear that sections of the huts adjoining the tomb of Amenmesse had not been touched in modern times, so Dr. Schaden’s objective was to be very thorough in excavating to and through them to the bedrock in order to be sure nothing had been overlooked. At the time, no tomb was suspected but whenever one moves debris in the Valley of the Kings there is always the possibility of a surprise. As the workmen’s huts did not sit directly on the bedrock the excavators decided early on that they would check all the way to the bedrock of the gebel to be sure they didn’t miss anything significant. They were well aware of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb UNDER workmen’s huts and did not want to just scratch the surface then have someone else make a later find where they had already worked. Thus, Dr. Schaden’s aim was to be thorough. As we now know, he was rewarded on the last days of examining the remains of the workmen’s huts, for the area directly above KV-63 was the last spot to be examined.

The tomb of Amenmesse is located in the center of the valley, near the tombs of Seti I and Tutankhamen. Dr. Schaden compared the configuration and topography of the valley today and when he first began work in the tomb of Amenmesse 12 years ago. When work began on KV-10, the hill just to the east of the entrance was composed of 1920s era debris. Under all that debris is where the huts began to emerge. Theodore Davies had dug into the area on the east side of the tomb and Dr. Schaden’s team found the remains of his work. They also found a wine bottle which, from it’s labeling, proved to be of roughly 1910 vintage, and a scrap of the New York Times with a date of February 1907, both of which confirmed that Davies had dug out part of the area but did not examine all of it.

The area which produced the remains of workmen’s huts is fairly large and was excavated in sections. It was – as it turned out - in the last section of the hut area that the remains of KV-63 were discovered. A number of ostraca and pottery shards were found in the clearance of the huts, some containing sketches or inscriptions and even a painted fragment containing a lovely relief of the goddess, Meretseger. One inscription describes the funerary procession for a workman during the 9th year of the reign of Merenptah. All are datable to the late 19th dynasty. It has also been possible to identify the names of many of the workmen.

Dr. Schaden described in detail the excavation of the huts and noted the excavation layers that resulted from Howard Carter’s excavations in the valley. Beneath a beaten earth floor, dubbed by the excavation “Howard Carter-2” and rock chips, the excavators found a dark layer which in nearby areas was always found to be resting directly atop the bedrock (gebel). This was the last section, Dr. Schaden and his team planned to excavate, but below it, instead of bedrock, they found yet another earthen floor (HC-3) and more rock chips which suggested that the excavators had an unusual situation before them. It was when this layer was cleared and the bedrock was exposed that the outline of the shaft which ultimately became KV-63 gradually emerged.

As soon as the sides and a corner of the shaft opening had been clearly defined, the Supreme Council for Antiquities (SCA) was notified. The opening, when fully excavated proved to have an unusual overhang on the left side, such as have been found in KV-46 and KV-55, both of which are late 18th dynasty in origin. This overhand appears to be a “signature” of one of the tomb builders of the era. Thus, KV-63 probably also bears the signature of that particular chief workman, working in the valley at about the end of the reign of Amenhotep III. Once the team began excavating the shaft, its archaeological setting with rock chip deposits and floors associated with the latter part of the 19th Dynasty, indicated that there had been no human interference in the new tomb in the past 3200 years.

As is often the case, the tomb was discovered just as the work season was coming to an end. Because its location is at the very center of the valley, Dr. Schaden determined that the best course of action was to back-fill and level the area until the following year. As there had not yet been an “official” announcement of a new tomb, nor a number assigned, the excavators referred to it only as an “un-tomb” in correspondence among the staff and in their proposal they requested permission to examine an “architectural feature”!

Back in the valley in December of 2005, the backfill was cleared and excavation of the shaft began in earnest. The excavators found that one side of the shaft was always filled with loose chippings but the other contained large rocks. When the bottom of the shaft was reached, the opening into the chamber proved to be filled with about 40 centimeters of chippings on top of which were loosely piled rocks. Inside, the presence of mud-dauber wasp’s nests made it evident that the tomb had stood open for some period of time before the entrance was blocked and the shaft filled.

Just at the entrance to the chamber – which is 4 meters below the surface - termite tunnel were discovered, so it was certain that there was going to be wood in the chamber. As it happened, these invaders had done considerable damage to the wooden coffins inside. Upon entering the chamber for the first time, Dr. Schaden found a pile of coffins, many many pot shards and a number of very large, white-washed, storage jars (28 as it turned out). Most were still sealed and were very heavy. One jar which was broken but retained its configuration proved to contain natron. To date 12 of the jars have been opened and their contents evaluated, but there are still 16 to be opened and analyze in the next work season.

Many of the coffins found in the chamber contained such things as natron, blocks of stone, broken storage jars and alabaster bowls. The shards of the jars had lost their whitewashed color due to the natron. Though the coffins contained natron bags of various sizes, one coffin had a number of very tiny, natron filled linen bags tied in pairs that are believed to have been prepared as nose plugs. Most of the coffins were so badly damaged by termites that they were falling apart. The outer and inner surfaces of two of the coffins were completely covered with black resin, and included more embalming remains and a piece of a cavetto cornice similar to that on the lid of Tutankhamun’s canopic chest. Some of the coffins had only the resin shell left as termites has devoured all of the wood. The largest of the coffins was filled with floral collars, similar to those found in KV-54. Beneath the collars were more natron and two stone pieces, which when fitted together, appears to be a miniature of a much larger device used for supporting the body during embalming.

The gem of the collection, per Dr. Schaden, is the face mask of Coffin F. The face on the coffin lid is most beautiful, detailed and interesting. The workmanship is very fine and similar to some artifacts found in Tutankhamun’s tomb so this beautiful face mask was probably fashioned by the same craftsman. Coffin G, the best preserved of the coffins in the tomb, on the other hand, has a more stylized, less individual and animated face with an expression sometimes referred to as “staring into eternity”. It too is covered with resin, but Dr. Schaden is hopefully that when the resin is cleaned away it will prove to be decorated. This coffin was stuffed with pillows and beneath them a small coffinette was discovered. When the resin was cleaned away it proved to have gold leaf over its entire surface. There are not inscriptions or insignia on this small coffin so it cannot be identified to any specific individual.

Inside one of the large storage jars, a smaller, lug-handled jug was found. Also “blue ware” vessels – both jars and bowls were found stored in the large jars. One jar contained 40 miniature vessels. Much of the pottery found in KV-63 is like that found in KV-54. Dr. Schaden believes that most of the broken jars were probably broken in the chamber. Pot marks have been found on both broken and unbroken jars. Part of a wine jar contains a text which identified both jar and wine as “Year 5, Wine of Tjaru” (from the Sinai). From Tutankhamun’s tomb we also have an example of “Year 5, wine form the estate of Aten in Tjaru”, perhaps more than a mere coincidence.

A number of seal impressions have been found particularly during excavation of the shaft. One contains the cartouche of Thutmosis III (Menkheprere). Unfortunately such a seals are not useful for dating as they continue to show up for many years after that king’s reign. Another seal contains a crocodile and a lion with its feet resting on a human, which is the seal of the supply officer of the West Bank; he who provided materials for the workmen. Another seal containing a good luck charm which includes the symbols for Upper and Lower Egypt and the symbol for gold, is a parallel to charms found in KV-54, KV-55, and KV-62.

Dr. Schaden believes that the material in KV-63 was probably placed there near the end of or just after the close of Tutankhamun’s reign, and it’s similarity to the materials found in KV-54, KV-55 and KV-62 has led to his strong feeling that the tomb will ultimately be dated to either the end of the reign of Tutankhamun or early in the reign of Ay.

The “tomb” is made up of only one chamber at the bottom of a straight shaft. Though it has no passages or niches it probably started out to be a tomb – though not a royal tomb. It was never finished, as is the case with most of the tombs in the valley. As there were absolutely no human remains in the tomb, it clearly was never used for burial. What it was used for was to store embalming material. The material seems to have been saved because it wasn’t proper to put into the burial chamber, but it was too sacred to just throw away. Some appears to have been used, and other is new. Some has gotten wet, though not necessarily through use. The tomb was probably opened and closed more than once, and stood open for some period of time (evidenced by the mud-dauber wasps nests), then was closed again, a new doorway installed and the shaft refilled, but not before rubble washed into it. By the latter part of the 19th Dynasty a dark surface layer (HC-3) had developed above the tomb shaft, then the necropolis workmen piled morer rock chips and eventually a new floor level formed (HC-2). This area was again laden with slabs and more rock chips as the workmen’s huts were abandonded. With occasional flooding through the millennia and then much shifting of debris in modern times, these actions resulted in the formation of the present level of the KV surface.

Once all the material had been removed from the tomb and stored in KV-10 for study, the final act of the expedition at the end of the 2006 season was to put a locked, iron grate over the entrance to the shaft and build a water diversion wall to assure that no flood water would course through the valley and into the tomb. The workmen’s huts will also be back-filled to preserve them when study is completed. Dr. Schaden is hoping for some names and dates from the 16 large storage jars yet to be emptied when the contents are evaluated.

Dr. Schaden closed his remarks by noting that he first worked in Egypt and the Sudan in 1962-63, and has for years been “cleaning up” behind Belzoni and Theodore Davies, so thought to strike out for a new area. When he found the undisturbed workmen’s huts, he knew he would be working in an area heretofore, unexcavated and, therefore, all his own!

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