Archaeologists hoped the first tomb discovered in the Valley of the Kings in 80 years would hold the mummy of King Tut’s mother.
They opened the last of eight sarcophagi on Wednesday, revealing no mummies but finding something almost as valuable: embalming materials and ancient woven flowers.
Hushed researchers craned their necks and media scuffled inside the stiflingly hot underground stone chamber as Egyptian antiquities chief Zahi Hawass slowly cracked open the coffin’s lid – for what scientists believe is the first time in more than 3,000 years.
But instead of a mummy, as archaeologists had expected, the coffin revealed a tangle of fabric and rusty-coloured dehydrated flowers woven together in laurels that looked likely to crumble to dust if touched.
“I prayed to find a mummy, but when I saw this, I said it’s better – it’s really beautiful,” said Nadia Lokma, chief curator of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The flowers were likely the remains of garlands, often entwined with gold strips, that ancient Egyptian royals wore around their shoulders in both life and death, she said.
“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.
Dug deep into white rock, the tomb is known only by the acronym KV63 - the 63rd tomb found in the Valley, a desert region near the southern city of Luxor used as a burial ground for pharaohs, queens and nobles between 1500 and 1000 BC.
The burial chamber was discovered accidentally last year by U.S. archaeologists working on the neighbouring tomb of Amenmeses, a late 19th Dynasty pharaoh. It was the first uncovered since the famed tomb of King Tutankhamun in 1922.
Though the new discovery did not compare with the marvels of golden masks, jewels and statues found in Tut’s tomb, experts said it was a major scientific discovery that could ultimately catapult understanding of ancient Egypt.