Archaeologists unveil newest pharaonic tomb

Thursday, June 29, 2006

LUXOR, Egypt -- Archaeologists on Wednesday fully unveiled the first tomb discovered in Egypt's Valley of the Kings in more than 80 years, and cracked open the last of seven sarcophagi inside to reveal embalming materials and jewelry.

"This is even better than finding a mummy -- it's a treasure," said chief curator Nadia Lokma, beaming at the sarcophagus packed with fragile fabrics and other materials that would crumble into dust if touched.

"It will tell us about the religious plants and herbs used by ancient Egyptians, what they wore, how they wove it, how they embalmed the dead," she said.

Dug deep into the white rock, the tomb is known only as KV63 -- the 63rd tomb found in the Valley -- and was discovered accidentally last year by U.S. archaeologists working on the neighboring tomb of Amenmeses, a late 19th-dynasty pharaoh.

The tomb is believed to be more than 3,000 years old.

Scientists cut a hole in the tomb's door and got their first glimpse into the 12-foot-by-15-foot tomb in February. But Wednesday was the first time researchers and media were free to walk into the small square pit.

Dozens of researchers and journalists excitedly crammed into the site to watch officials crack open the last of seven sarcophagi found inside. Instead of the expected mummy, the coffin revealed embalming materials, dozens of necklaces made from woven flowers and various other religious artifacts.

Covered in resin cast to their owner's faces, all seven coffins were empty of bodies. Instead of mummies, they were found to contain mostly pottery shards.

The last tomb discovered in the valley was the famed King Tut's, in 1922.

Zahi Hawass, who heads the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, said he believed the new tomb could have belonged to King Tut's mother.

Closely related Egyptian royals tended to be buried near each other, and graves of the rest of Tut's family have already been found, he said.

"It would make sense, his tomb is so close that it looks like he chose to be buried next to his mother," who died years before the young king, Hawass said.

Though the new discovery did not compare with the marvels of golden masks, jewels and statues found in Tut's tomb, Hawass said it was a major scientific discovery and one that could boost tourism to Egypt.

"King Tut and new discoveries are our best publicity," he said.

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