Missing Mummies Of The Amarna Period
By Cynthia Marsh
In the late 18th dynasty of Ancient Egypt's New Kingdom, a pharaoh came to the throne who was to throw a thousand years of tradition out of the window and turn the establishment on its head. His name was Amenophis IV, the son of Amenophis III and his Great Royal Wife Tiye. Amenophis IV introduced a new type of religion into Egypt; the worship of the Aten, the sun disc. The old gods were to be abandoned; the vast temples with their scores of priests and great wealth were to be closed. Atenism was one of the first examples of monotheism, and the Aten was declared not to be just the supreme god, but the only god.
By year 5 of his reign Amenophis IV had changed his name to Akhenaten which means 'he who is beneficial to the Aten' and was planning to move his wife, daughters and court to a new city called Akhetaten, known in modern times as Amarna. Akhetaten was planned along grandiose lines with temples, palaces, wide processional ways, windows of appearance and elegant villas for the nobles and high officials. The Valley of the Kings, the traditional burial place of 18th dynasty pharaohs, on the West Bank of the Nile at Thebes was abandoned, and a new royal necropolis was begun in a lonely valley that became known as the Royal Wadi. The Royal Wadi was also a departure from tradition as it was located on the East bank of the Nile, where the sun rises, rather than on the West Bank.
Akhenaten was married to the beautiful Queen Nefertiti and they had six daughters - Meritaten, Meketaten, Ankhesenpaaten (later Ankhesenamen) Neferneferuaten, Neferneferure and Setepenre. He also had several lesser wives, notably Kiya, and probably many women in his harem. The princes who were later to become pharaohs, Smenkhare and Tutankhaten (later Tutankhamen) were probably born and certainly raised in Akhetaten. So what became of them all?
The last verifiable reference to Akhenaten and his whole family is dated to year 12 in the tomb of Meryre II. After this date the evidence becomes fragmentary and what happened to the key players at Amarna, when they died and how they died becomes a matter for speculation and debate.
It is widely accepted that Akhenaten himself died in year 17 of his reign. However, there is little evidence that he was ever buried in the royal tomb that he had prepared for himself. So if not in the royal tomb at Akhetaten, where was he interred? No mummy has been discovered that has been positively identified as his. There has been speculation that the mummy found in the mysterious tomb KV55 was his, but modern studies have shown that body to have been too young to be that of Akhenaten. In addition, blood tests have shown that the body is either the brother or father of Tutankhamen and the shape of the skull is also
very similar, which has led to a wide belief that the body is that of Smenkhkare, Akhenaten's shadowy successor. Was Akhenaten buried briefly in the Royal Tomb at Akhetaten, and then moved back to Thebes, possibly for safety and buried in the Valley of the Kings? If so, his tomb may still be waiting to be discovered. It is also possible that in the ensuing years, his burial and mummy were totally destroyed. Horemheb led a campaign to erase the Amarna period and it's rulers off the face of history, with inscriptions being chiselled out and temples and statues being destroyed. Would this campaign go as far as destroying the burial of a king?
Nefertiti, also, has no known tomb or identified mummy. She disappears from the historical record in year 14, although there is speculation that she changed her name and acted as co-regent or even pharaoh in her own right. There is a mummy in a side chamber of the tomb Amenophis II (KV35), which has recently been linked with her and has caused fierce debate. It is a mummy of a female with the characteristics of a late 18th dynasty mummy, possibly a royal mummy, but there is no absolute, concrete evidence that it is the mummy of Nefertiti. With a lack of inscriptions and no DNA evidence, it is likely that this mummy will never be positively identified.
Of the daughters of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, the only one who we know definitely survived her father and lived on is Ankhesenpaaten, who was married to the young king Tutankhamen and changed her name to Ankhesenamen. At the death of her young husband, she is famously linked to the letters written to the Hittite ruler Suppiluliuma I, begging him to send one of his sons to Egypt to marry her. A prince, Zannanza, was eventually sent but either died or was murdered en route. She then was probably married to her husband's successor, the elderly Ay, who reigned for around four years. She fades out of view during the reign of Ay and there is no further historical record of her after his reign. Again, she has no known tomb and or mummy. She was not buried in either the tomb of Tutankhamen or the tomb of Ay. It has been speculated that the newly discovered KV63 was designated for her, but again there is no real proof and KV63 seems to be another cache of embalming materials and unused grave goods dating from the end of the 18th dynasty.
The eldest daughter, Meritaten, also has several mysteries surrounding her. She bore the title 'great royal wife', so is believed to have either been married to her father Akhenaten and/or to his successor Smenkhkare. Her titles have also replaced those of another female member of the royal family on several monuments; at first it was thought that it was Nefertiti's titles that had been erased, but now they are believed to be those of Kiya. Meritaten's tomb is not known and we do not know where her body is.
The second daughter Meketaten appears to have died in year 13 or 14, and there is some evidence that she was the only member of the family to be buried in the royal tomb. There is a theory that she died in childbirth, as there is inscription showing Akhenaten and Nefertiti mourning over what appears to be a recently dead daughter, with a nurse carrying away an infant. However, there is also a strong possibility that she died of the plague that swept through the Middle East at this time.
We know even less about the fate of the youngest three princesses. Neferneferuaten is the only one of the three to be shown on the inscription of her sister Meketaten's death, but there the historical evidence ends. Neferneferure disappears from the scene around year 14, and little Setepenre a little earlier. Were they all victims of the plague? Or were there more sinister forces at work? There are no recorded burial places for any of these three royal princesses, and we have no mummies or funerary equipment.
Kiya was the most prominent of the lesser wives of Akhenaten. She is a candidate for being the mother of Tutankhamen, and possibly Smenkhkare, but again there is no concrete proof. She appears to have fallen from grace in some way, as her name and titles on inscriptions have been erased and replaced with those of Meritaten and Ankhesenpaaten. She is last mentioned on a wine docket of Year 11. She has also been connected to the mummy of the 'Younger Lady' found in KV35, but this cannot either be proved or disproved. Some of her funerary equipment was found in KV55; four canopic jars and probably one of her coffins, that had been modified for use by a male and the inscriptions altered.
So where are all these missing mummies and burials? Have they all been destroyed because of the taint of the Amarna heresy? Were they buried in Akhetaten, and the brought back to Thebes for reburial? Or are they waiting to be discovered? Certainly, there is a lot more to be excavated in Egypt and surely some of these mysteries will be resolved?