- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 6, 2006

LUXOR, Egypt

Egyptologists are holding their breath over the mystery surrounding the first tomb discovered in Luxor’s Valley of the Kings since that of the boy king Tutankhamen in 1922.

News of the surprise discovery in February by an American team from the University of Memphis has had repercussions far beyond this famous necropolis from the time of the pharaohs.

Could the small tomb, designated KV63, hold a royal mummy, perhaps that of Tutankhamen’s widow or even his mother?

The theory is being discussed openly — and argued over — by American and native Egyptologists.

“It’s very exciting; it’s the joy of this unique discovery. But let’s be very cautious,” Lorelei Corcoran, the director of the University of Memphis Archaeology Institute, told Agence France-Presse.

Mansur Boraik, director of antiquities at Luxor, is optimistic about the find.

“I think there is a 70 percent chance that is a royal mummy in the last coffin,” he said, referring to the last of seven wooden coffins that lay for 3,000 years amid 28 earthenware urns.

The weekend announcement of the discovery in the tomb of three small gilded sarcophagi supports Mr. Boraik’s theory, even though they were at first thought to contain only materials used in the mummification process.

Otto Schaden, the man who found them, leads the American team. He believes they may have located the mummy of Tutankhamen’s widow, Ankhesenamen, after traces of her name were found on the seal of one urn.

The secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, thinks the final coffins may contain the remains of the pharaoh’s mother, whose identity is unknown, and not the wife of Tutankhamen, the boy king who died at age 18.

“Tutankhamen’s widow married again, to the high official Ay who later became pharaoh at the end of the 18th dynasty,” Mr. Hawass said.

“She certainly lived long enough to be buried in a more dignified” tomb than this vault, he added.

When it was found, the sepulcher was buried under 13 feet of rubble. It lies just 24 feet from KV62 — the tomb of Tutankhamen himself — which contained a hoard of extraordinary treasures.

The pharaoh Ikhnaton the Heretic was thought to have fathered Tutankhamen, but the identity of his mother is not known for sure.

It may have been Nefertiti, a foreign princess or his wet nurse Maya, whose tomb was found in 1996 at Saqqarah by French Egyptologist Alain Zivie.

“This is exciting,” Mr. Zivie told AFP. “This discovery could shed some light on the end of this crucial period.”

The Egyptian and American archaeologists are airing their different opinions about the find in public; a dispute within the U.S. team is more muffled but no less real.

Mr. Hawass, the all-powerful antiquities supremo, has revealed that relations between Mr. Schaden and Ms. Corcoran are not the best.

He told the Al-Ahram Weekly magazine that their dispute centers on “the direction of the dig” and that these “excellent Egyptologists” also engage in acrimonious exchanges.

“Small curses have occurred [such] as the fight between the two fine Egyptologists Otto Schaden and Lorelei Corcoran. They both want to be director of the excavation. They even argue over who can give interviews,” Mr. Hawass told the magazine.

Ms. Corcoran told AFP: “People sometimes want to create a dramatic situation, but we have to focus on which is really important, and I don’t have a personal hypothesis” about the opening of the last coffin.

She said the permit for the excavation has been extended until the end of June.

Infighting within the American team is not the only controversy surrounding the discovery.

One of the top experts on the Valley of the Kings, British archaeologist Nicholas Reeves, says it was he who first located the tomb.

As the head of the huge Amarna Royal Tombs Project (ARTP), Mr. Reeves worked in the area of KV63 until 2002, when he was wrongly suspected of trafficking in Egyptian antiquities.

“ARTP thought long and hard about KV63 for many months,” Mr. Reeves wrote on his Web site. “Sadly we were given no opportunity to put our strategy into practice.

“Otto Schaden … stumbled upon the shaft and our project was presented with a fait accompli.”

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