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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 March 2006, 16:57 GMT
Egypt Pharaoh find 'not a tomb'
By Ian Pannell
BBC Middle East correspondent

Sarcophagus in a new tomb discovered in Egypt's Valley of the Kings
The sarcophagi did not contain mummies
Archaeologists in Egypt say that a chamber unearthed last month in the Valley of the Kings is not a tomb, as was first thought.

Instead, it appears the room was used by the ancient Egyptians for mummifying pharaohs.

The chamber was discovered in the Valley of the Kings by a team from the University of Memphis, US.

It contained seven wooden coffins and a number of sealed jars.

The find dates from the 18th Pharaonic Dynasty, the first of the New Kingdom which ruled between 1539BC and 1292BC and made its capital in Thebes, now Luxor.

Room for mummification

Last month, Egypt's head of antiquities, Zahi Hawass, speculated that the coffins belonged "to royals or nobles" moved from "original graves to protect them from grave robbers".

Zahi Hawass
This... is not a tomb for nobles or relatives of a king, as had been thought upon its discovery, but rather a room for mummification
Zahi Hawass

But further examination has revealed that the area was in fact an embalmers workshop.

Five coffins contained remnants of pottery, shrouds and materials used in mummification.

The sealed jars held other materials used in the embalming process.

Now, Dr Hawass has issued a brief statement saying "this... is not a tomb for nobles or relatives of a king, as had been thought upon its discovery, but rather a room for mummification".

Mystery maintained

Dr Salima Ikram, associate professor at the American University in Cairo, who was also part of the archaeological mission, denies this is an embarrassment for the Council of Antiquities.

It is like shaking a wrapped Christmas present and trying to guess what is inside
Salima Ikram

She told the BBC that the site still remained something of a mystery and represented an historic and important find.

"In terms of what it tells us, it provides important information about funerary rites and rituals," she said.

"But it is still a mystery as to who this belongs to, and it could lead to other discoveries in the valley."

Archaeologists have more work to do on the site. Out of seven coffins, two may still contain mummified remains.

Despite the advance of science, discoveries like this were often a variable combination of luck and serendipity, Dr Ikram said.

"It is like shaking a wrapped Christmas present and trying to guess what is inside".


SEE ALSO:
Pharaonic tomb find stuns Egypt
10 Feb 06 |  Middle East
King Tut's tipple 'was red wine'
26 Oct 05 |  Middle East
Face of Tutankhamun reconstructed
10 May 05 |  Middle East
King Tut 'died from broken leg'
08 Mar 05 |  Science/Nature
Egypt's 'Ramses' mummy returned
26 Oct 03 |  Middle East
Nefertiti mummy 'found in Egypt'
10 Jun 03 |  Middle East
Science lifts 'mummy's curse'
20 Dec 02 |  Health
Pharaoh puzzle persists
17 Sep 02 |  Middle East
Climate threatens Egypt's treasures
04 May 02 |  From Our Own Correspondent
Secrets of mummy's tomb
24 Oct 01 |  Science/Nature



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