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Tomb 55

Amarna Period

Tomb 55


Akhenaten? Smenkhkare? (c. 1350?/1336?-1334? B.C.)
18'th Dynasty
Provenance: KV 55 (links to the Theban Mapping Project website.)
See Ian Bolton's pages on KV 55.
Discovery Date: January, 1907, by Edward Ayrton & Theodore Davis
Current Location: Cairo Museum CG61075
Click here for biographical data on

Biographical Data on Smenkhkare:
Ephemeral 18'th Dynasty king who ruled for only
a few years after the death of Akhenaten. He
was married to Meritaten, a daughter of
Akhenaten and Nefertiti, and was probably an
elder brother of Tutankhaten/Tutankhamen, who
succeeded him on the throne. Click here for more biographical data on Smenkhkare. (This site has an artist's reconstruction of the KV 55 mummy's face.)

Details: Only a skeleton remains today of what has proven to be the most controversial mummy ever found in Egypt. Discovered by Edward Ayrton and Theodore M. Davis in January, 1907, the sole occupant of KV 55 was already badly damaged, perhaps by water which had slowly dripped through a crack in the tomb's ceiling during the occasional torrential floods which scour the Valley of the Kings. The coffin in which the mummy lay had once rested upon a wooden bier which, according to Ayrton, had collapsed, dropping the coffin, knocking the lid partly off, and displacing some of the articles which had been laid on the mummy. (ToQT, 10 and PSBA 29 [1907], 279. This was also Maspero's view, as recorded by J. L. Smith, TTAA, 60.) But as Bell pointed out, "The putative fall of the coffin due to the collapse of the 'rotted' bier is unproven." She further noted that it cannot be established with certainty that the lid of the coffin was not left ajar in ancient times, and believed that most of the damage to the coffin lid occurred when
a section of the ceiling had fallen onto it, breaking it into three sections (JARCE 27 [1990], 133.) To compound the ancient damage, Davis, eager to settle an argument with Arthur Weigall and Maspero concerning the mummy's identity, had the body hastily exposed in the tomb so that its gender could be determined by two visiting doctors from Luxor. Davis's account of the mummy's "examination," published in The Tomb of Queen Tiye (London [1910], 2), describes how one of the teeth of the mummy fell to dust when he touched it and relates that the bandages, rendered extremely fragile (supposedly by the water
damage), were simply removed from the body piecemeal in the tomb itself. American artist Joseph Lindon Smith, who Maspero nominated to remove the bandages, described them as crumbling to dust in the process: "No sooner had my hand touched the surface of the mummy than it crumbled into ashes...nothing remained except a pile of dust and disconnected bones..." (TTAA, 64.) Egyptologists today are dismayed by such hasty and careless methods, which destroyed more valuable historical evidence than they revealed.
Accounts concerning the mummy as it was first discovered are all vague and often contain inconsistencies. An examination of the published literature reveals several salient points about the mummy and the objects primarily associated with its burial. This information may be viewed by clicking on the following:

The So-called "Crown" (Vulture Pectoral)

The Gold Foil Sheets

The Gold Mummy Bands --Updated June 1, 2001

The Bandages

The Mummy's Appearance and Condition

The Feminine Position of the Mummy

The Gold Bracelets

The Necklace

The Coffin

Conflicting Evidence
Along with the mummy and the objects discussed above, KV 55 contained disassembled panels from a shrine (similar to those found surrounding the sarcophagus of Tutankhamen) that had been inscribed for Queen Tiye. Four calcite canopic jars found in a large wall niche all had stoppers carved in the likeness of a woman shown wearing a wig identical in style to that which appeared on the coffin. (See photo of canopic jar [from EMC-87, no. 171.]
Additionally, Tiye's name (as well as that of her husband, Amenhotep III) appeared on several of the smaller items scattered throughout the tomb (TTAA, 60.) Davis concluded that the mummy was that of Queen Tiye herself, and became infuriated when Weigall disagreed with this identification (and also when Maspero refused to take a side in the argument.) In order to prove his point, Davis called in a Dr. Pollock and an unidentified American obstetrician to examine the mummy and help determine its gender. (For Dr. Pollock's name, see Reeves, DRN, 44, and n. 170.) The doctors briefly examined the skeletal remains and pronounced them to be those of a woman. Feeling vindicated, Davis announced to the world that he had discovered the tomb of Queen Tiye. Weigall, however, had noticed some things about the burial which Davis preferred to discount or ignore. The cartouches on the golden bands which he claimed were found around the mummy (JEA 8 [1922], 196-197) had all been neatly excised. The coffin and the shrine panels also had cartouches erased, and a scene on one of the panels depicted Queen Tiye facing another figure which had been completely obliterated. (See E. Harold Jones's
drawing of shrine panel [from TVK, 215.]) From the context, it was easy to determine that this had been the figure of Akhenaten, the famous Heretic Pharaoh, who had been Queen Tiye's royal son, and whose name and image had been expunged from the official historical record by later rulers. Magical "bricks" of the sort normally placed at cardinal points in the walls of 18'th Dynasty tombs were found, and two of them bore the name of Akhenaten, another bit of evidence which, taken with the rest, convinced Weigall that the mummy was that of the Amarna King, cached in KV 55 after being removed from his original tomb at Akhetaten (JEA 8 [1922], 193ff.; C, [74: 5, Sept. 1907], 727-738.)

Akhenaten or Smenkhkare?
When G. E. Smith finally examined the remains, he immediately recognized them to be the bones of a man, thereby effectively refuting Davis's theory that the mummy was that of Tiye. All subsequent examinations of the remains have supported this conclusion. Aldred believes that the two doctors who had first inspected the body in KV 55 had probably mistaken it as female because the bones of the pelvic region had been dislocated and then obscured in some fashion by the remains of the bandages and other debris
when the coffin had fallen. (AKoE, 199.) Smith, who accepted Weigall's identification of the mummy as Akhenaten, reported that he had to reconstruct the skull, which had been broken into several sections, and he also noted that some of the bones were missing when the remains reached him in Cairo. He remarked that the large size and thinness of the cranium were pathological and indicated hydrocephalus, a conclusion which A. R. Ferguson of the Cairo School of Medicine supported, but which Douglas Derry rejected when he later examined the skull. Derry argued that the skull was platycephalic but non-pathological, and also noted its close similarity to the skull of Tutankhamen, whose mummy he had also examined. (ToT [vol. II], 153f.) Smith himself revised his opinion in 1924, and offered the alternative diagnosis of Frohlich's Syndrome as an explanation for peculiarities in the skull, and also for the condition of the epiphyseal closures which had originally caused him to estimate an age-at-death of 25-26 years for for the mummy. (Frohlich's Syndrome delays epiphyseal fusion, thereby obscuring the actual age of the person whose bones are being examined by causing them to appear younger than they actually are.) Although Smith himself did not think the evidence in favor of his earlier age assignment was weighty enough to prevent identifying the mummy as the Heretic Pharaoh, others (who perhaps attached undue importance to interpretations of epiphyseal data and other anatomical dating methods) point
out that Akhenaten had to have lived beyond 25-26 years, and so have looked elsewhere for the identity of the KV 55 mummy. Douglas Derry (ASAE 31 [1931], 115ff.) intensified doubts about the mummy's identification as Akhenaten by giving it an age estimate of 23 years, an estimate even younger than that originally provided by Smith. Thorough radiological examinations of the KV 55 mummy, conducted in 1963 by R. G. Harrison, A. Batrawi, and M. S. Mahmoud (JEA 52 [1966], 95-119) pushed the age-at-death estimate for the mummy to 20 years, much too short a span of life for Akhenaten but one quite consistent with the few known facts about Smenkhkare's brief life. The similarities between the skulls of the KV 55 mummy and Tutankhamen strengthened the argument that KV 55's mysterious occupant was the young man who many experts believe was Akhenaten's co-reagent and Tutankhamen's older brother. Norman de Garis Davies had been the first to propose that the KV 55 mummy was Smenkhkare (cf. AKoE, 200,) a suggestion which was consistent with the mummy's age estimates as given by Smith (and, later, Derry). Harris and Weeks also favored identifying Smenkhkare as the KV 55 mummy, and state that their examination revealed the bones to be that of a young man with no signs of hydrocephalus or any other pathological condition that could complicate anatomical age estimates. (XRP, 143-149). Serological testing indicates a first-order (brother-to-brother or father-to-son) relationship between Tutankhamen and the KV 55 mummy (Nature 224 [1974], 325f.), and the balance of the medical evidence strongly suggests that Smenkhkare was the person found in KV 55. However, not everyone believes that the KV 55 mummy is that of Smenkhkare, the most notable dissenter to this view being C. N. Reeves, who has argued that "estimates of age at death based upon anatomical development are of quite doubtful reliability," (DRN, 49; see also Robbins in GM 45 [1981], 63ff.) Reeves contends that Akhenaten was the person found by Davis in KV 55.

Various scenarios have been proposed to account for the unusual assortment of objects found in KV 55. Aldred's reconstruction (AKoE, 206ff.) explains the tomb as a cache which at one point contained the mummies and some of the burial equipment of Tiye, Akhenaten and Smenkhkare, all placed there by Tutankhamen sometime after the abandonment of Akhetaten. At some point, the decision was made to remove Tiye and Akhenaten, and so KV 55 was entered again. Tiye's shrine (which Aldred feels had been erected and put in place around Tiye's coffin) was disassembled, defaced, and partly moved out of the burial chamber. Meanwhile, an attempt was made to erase Akhenaten's name from other objects remaining in the tomb, including the coffin which was eventually found by Ayrton and Davis. This coffin (which Aldred believes contained the mummy of Akhenaten at this point in his narrative) had its cartouches cut out and its golden face ripped off. Aldred proposes that Akhenaten's mummy was then removed from the coffin and replaced by the mummy of Smenkhkare. The shrine, either because its sections were were too difficult to remove or had already sustained water damage, was left behind in KV 55 along with Kiya's/Akhenaten's coffin, the mummy of Smenkhkare, the defaced canopic jars, and other small artifacts. Tiye's mummy, coffin, and other funerary objects were taken out of the tomb, along with the coffin of Smenkhkare, presumably now containing the mummy of Akhenaten, and the tomb was resealed and forgotten. A major problem with Aldred's account is his seemingly ad hoc substitution of Smenkhkare's mummy for the mummy of Akhenaten which he claims originally lay in the KV 55 coffin. If the intent had been to remove Akhenaten from the tomb at all, why not carry him out in his own coffin? And why leave Smenkhkare behind in the dismantled and ritually desecrated tomb? Akhenaten would seem to be the most logical choice for abandonment in such a sepulcher, unless, of course, his mummy was removed from KV 55 so that it could be destroyed. Admittedly, Aldred's scenario accounts for the confusing disposition and nature of the objects found in KV55, but raises other questions that seem equally baffling. The reconstruction of events in KV 55 given by Reeves (DRN, 42-49) eliminates the "Third Man" (Smenkhkare) from the argument altogether, and focuses exclusively on Tiye and Akhenaten. Like Aldred, Reeves dates the initial employment of KV 55 for the caching of Tiye to the reign of Tutankhamen due to the numerous clay seals bearing Tutankhamen's name which were found in the tomb. Akhenaten's mummy, contained in Kiya's modified coffin, was later placed in KV 55, along with Akhenaten's magical "bricks" and (presumably) Kiya's reused canopic containers. At a later date (which Reeves places at sometime before the end of the 20'th Dynasty based on KV 55's overlay of rubble from the quarrying of later tombs) the tomb was entered and Tiye's mummy, coffin, pall, and other small funerary
items were removed for caching elsewhere. The shrine was defaced and abandoned in KV 55 along with Akhenaten's mummy in Kiya's reused coffin, from which the cartouches had been cut. Although the simplicity of Reeves' account has appeal, it seems unable to account for anatomical data derived from detailed examinations of the KV 55 mummy. As stated above, this data indicates that the mummy was of a man who died between the ages of 20 to 26 years. Most historians are unable to compress the life of the Amarna king into such a short span.

A New Interpretation (Updated June 3'rd, 2001)
Another scenario accounting for the deposit found in KV 55 focuses on the reuse of some of Smenkhkare's grave goods in Tutankhamen's tomb. Any account of KV 55, the final resting place of the mummy which is most probably Smenkhkare's, should take these usurped objects into account. Rex Engelbach (ASAE 40 [1940], 137f.) argued that some of Tutankhamen's inscribed mummy bands, his four canopic coffins, and his third shrine were all originally designed for Smenkhkare. Tutankhamen's second coffin is seen by Dodson and Ikram as also deriving from Smenkhkare's funerary ensemble because it differs stylistically from his outer and innermost coffins (MiAE, 214. See also Partridge, KMT [8:1], 66; and Vandersleyen, AT, 74.) W. McLeod, in his study of the archery equipment from KV 62, attributes original ownership of some of Tutankhamen's bows to Smenkhkare (CBTT, 11, n. 1 and no. 4), and Reeves supplies a list of other KV 62 objects (including various boxes, sequins, a scarab chain, a shawl, and decorative bangles) that were once the possessions of Smenkhkare (CT, 168-169). These objects were described as "heirlooms" by Carter, and Reeves discerns in this assemblage an additional category which he defines as unused "surplus funerary equipment" that had been stored away for future use (CT, 168-169; DRN, 49.) But how can anyone be certain that these funerary furnishings were not used by their original owner? There are notable examples of Egyptian monarchs appropriating the used burial
equipment of earlier rulers (e.g. Pinudjem I reused the coffins in which Tuthmosis I had been buried.) It appears that Carter's original designation of the Smenkhkare KV 62 grave goods as "heirlooms" has influenced all subsequent discussions of these objects, and it is usually taken as axiomatic that they were never used by Smenkhkare. However, evidence is lacking which proves that the KV 62 Smenkhkare funerary furnishings had never been used by that king. If even one such item had been employed in Smenkhkare's burial, then the history of the deposit in KV 55 would require revision. Tutankhamen's second coffin, as we have seen above, is attributed by Dodson and Ikram to Smenkhkare. Their explanation for why this expensive and exceptionally fine piece of funerary equipment was supposedly never utilized by its original owner requires some juggling with the dates normally attributed to Smenkhkare's brief reign. Dodson and Ikram argue that Smenkhkare, the co-regent of Akhenaten, was not very devout in his Atenist beliefs, and had this coffin made as part of his plan to be buried at Thebes in a non-Atenist fashion. They then argue that Smenkhkare died before Akhenaten, and postulate that the older king had his younger co-ruler interred in full Atenist style within the coffin eventually found in KV 55. His lavish unused coffin was stored away, and eventually inherited by Tutankhamen (MiAE, 214.) This argument seems overly contrived, and employs a dating for the death of Smenkhkare that is not generally accepted. Most historians agree that Smenkhkare survived the heretical sun king and ruled independently for perhaps as many as three years (e.g. Murnane's chronology in Penguin Guide to Ancient Egypt [1983], and Baines & Málek's chronology in Ancient Egypt [1984.]) A less complicated solution to the problem of the KV 62 Smenkhkare coffin would propose that Smenkhkare had actually been buried in it. The coffin, which measures just over two meters in length (ToT, 249, pl. LXVIII) could have once easily contained the KV 55 coffin, which Daressy measured as 1.75 meters in length (ToQT, 16, no. 4.) Its colorful inlaid rishi design is quite similar to that appearing on the KV 55 coffin, and the two--in spite of the differences in wig style, and the fact that they were made for two different people, one of them being the female Kiya--would have complimented each other in an aesthetically pleasing fashion. A need to reuse this coffin (and some of Smenkhkare's other funerary equipment) arose when Tutankhamen died, and it seems reasonable to date a proposed reentry of Smenkhkare's tomb, and the subsequent removal of his mummy and burial equipment into KV 55, to this time. Such an action could only have occurred under the direct orders of Ay, a ruler normally not given a part in the currently-accepted KV 55 reconstructions. Ay could have taken advantage of the reopening of Smenkhkare's tomb to conduct a general round-up of grave goods from other Amarna royal burials. A general salvaging operation of this sort perhaps explains the presence of some of Tiye's burial equipment and Akhenaten's magical "bricks" in KV 55. The heretic pharaoh's tomb and mummy would most likely have been prime targets for desecration by members of the resentful Amen priesthood, who would have encountered no resistance at Akhenaten's gravesite after the Amarna capital had been abandoned sometime during Tutankhamen's reign. Ay's men, finding the sun king's tomb in shambles, would have gathered up the few undamaged items that remained, including the magical "bricks" (which may have had their amuletic figures still in place at this time.) As part of the general dismantling of the Amarna period royal burials, Smenkhkare's mummy bands, outer coffin, canopic "coffinettes," and perhaps other objects, were appropriated for reuse in KV 62, and his inner coffin and mummy were left in KV 55 with Tiye's deposit and the meager remnants of Akhenaten's burial. The numerous clay seal impressions found in KV 55, only five of which bore the prenomen of Tutankhamen (cf. Ayrton, ToQT, 10; DRN, 44, n.
160, and pl. II, no. 8, 10, 12-14), are not necessarily indicative of caching activity performed by him in this tomb, as both Reeves and Aldred assume. These seal impressions could have been associated with Smenkhkare's
original burial, attached to funerary gifts given to him by his younger brother, Tutankhamen. We know that participation in the deceased king's funeral was an integral part of the rituals designed to legitimize the succeeding king's claim to the throne (cf. Frankfort, KG, 110-122.) Tutankhamen, although only a child, would have played a major role in Smenkhkare's funeral, and it is to be expected that some objects buried with the deceased ruler would bear the name of his successor. These objects could have been moved into KV 55 along with the coffin and mummy of Smenkhkare. A combination of rough handling and water damage could have caused them to drop off the objects to which they had been attached, thereby obscuring their original significance. Other seal impressions from KV 55 supply further evidence that activity occurred within this tomb at the time of Tutankhamen's death. Reeves notes that four of the KV 55 clay seal impressions were made by the same seal ring used to make type "N" seal impressions in KV 62 (DRN, 44, n. 161; 64, 66, item N.) Reeves dates the usage of the type "N" seals found on objects in KV 62 to a time preceding Tutankhamen's death. He bases this dating on the fact that the KV 62 type "N" seals occur in conjunction with type "M" seals which he argues would not have been used after Tutankhamen's death. However, the theory that a seal bearing a ruler's name became immediately null-and-void upon the ruler's death (which is the implied view of Herbert Winlock [BMMA Egyptian Expedition 1934-1935, 28] and W. C. Hayes [JNES 10 [1951], 166]) is highly speculative and unproven. The time between a pharaoh's death and the conclusion of the funerary rituals which fully legitimized his successor was a kind of political limbo about which we know very little. A dead king's seal may very well have remained effective during this period, at least within a funerary context. It is hard to imagine that the administration of an entire country would have ground to a halt until seal rings bearing the new ruler's name had been fashioned and circulated. The most likelysignificance of identical type "N" seal impressions in KV 55 and KV 62 is that activities took place concurrently in both tombs. KV 55 might not even have been intentionally used as a cache, at least not in the same sense that DB 320 and KV 35 were used (i.e. as a place for an official "repetition of burial," or whm krs.) The tomb could have been primarily a work station established by Ay to recycle grave goods for use in Tutankhamen's burial, a procedure that would have been greatly facilitated by its close proximity to KV 62. Smenkhkare's appropriated grave goods had to be refurbished at some location within practical traveling distance from Tutankhamen's place of burial. Why not in near-by KV 55, the tomb in which Smenkhkare's mummy was eventually found? The presence of Tiye's funerary equipment in KV 55 might indicate that some of her grave goods were also targeted for recycling.

Smenkhkare's Original Burial?
Although nothing conclusive can be stated at this time about Smenkhkare's original place of burial, some tentative speculations may be ventured. As Akhenaten's co-regent, Smenkhkare most probably had begun a tomb at the new royal necropolis at Akhetaten. His co-regency was brief, and his tomb at the Amarna capital was most likely abandoned in favor of one at a Theban location,especially in view of Smenkhkare's position of appeasement toward the reinstated Amen cult. He may have taken over WV 25, the Theban tomb begun by Amenhotep IV, and left unfinished by this ruler after his name change and move to Akhetaten. (For identifications of this tomb as Amenhotep IV-Akhenaten's, see Elizabeth Thomas [RNT, 83], John Romer [TVK, 59], and C. N. Reeves [DRN, 40-42; AEFP, 127]). In a 1979 report of his excavations in WV 25 (ASAE 63 [1979], 164ff.), Otto Schaden recorded finding fragmentary remains of traditionally royal funerary objects (small parts of a flail made of wood, fragments of royal ureaus serpents and guardian statues) which dated to a time earlier than the eight 22'nd Dynasty intrusive burials also found in the tomb (by Belzoni in 1817.) These could indicate that the tomb had once contained a royal burial. The abandoned tomb of his deceased senior co-ruler would have provided Smenkhkare with with a convenient burial option, already partly constructed deep in the Theban heartland of the Amen cult. Perhaps the fragments of royal funerary equipment found by Schaden in WV 25 originally belonged to Smenkhkare, and represent objects that were left behind, for reasons unknown, by those whoconducted the Amarna grave goods recycling campaign postulated above.

Reeves, along with Geoffrey Martin, is currently engaged in excavation work in the Valley of the Kings, motivated largely by the conviction that other members of the Amarna royal family are cached in the Valley. (Go directly to The Amarna Royal Tombs Project website to learn about breaking developments in the Valley of the Kings.) Discoveries which these excavations might make probably offer the only real (although slim) chance of finally resolving questions about KV 55 and its mysterious occupant. To learn about objects that were stolen from KV 55 and how some of them have been rediscovered, see KV 55's Lost Objects on the menu bar at left. (Source Bibliography: AEFP, 127; AKoE, 195-218; ASAE 31 [1931], 98ff., 11fff.; ASAE 40, [1940], 137-138, 148ff.; ASAE 63 [1979], 164ff.; BB, 117-127; BIFAO 12 [1916], 149; BMMA Egyptian Expedition 1934-1935, 28; C, [74:5, Sept., 1907], 727-738; CBTT, no. 4; CT, 168-169; CVK, 117-121; DRN, 42-49; EEFAR, [1907-8], 9; EM, 95ff.; EMC-87, no. 171; GC, [Moscow, 1978]; GM 45 [1981], 63ff.; GP, 137; JARCE 25 [1988], 123, 125; JARCE 27 [1990], 133.; JEA 8 [1922], 193ff.; JEA 10 [1924], 255; JEA 43 [1957], 10ff.; JEA
47 [1961], 25ff., 40ff.; JEA 52 [1966], 95-119; JNES 10 [1951], 166; KG, 110-122; KMT, [1:1], 48-53, 60-61; KMT [1: 2], 43-51; LToA, 231-242; MDAIK 42, [1986], 76-77; MiAE, 85-86, 213-214, 285, 324-325; Nature 224 [1974], 325f.; NL, 294; PSBA 29 [1907], 85f., 277ff.; RM, 51ff.; 146, 154; ToQT [London, 1910]; ToT [vol II], 153f., 249, pl. LXVIII; TTAA, 54-75; TVK, 211-219; XRP, 143-149.)

Photo Credit: RM (Cairo, 1912), pl. XXXVI
For high resolution photos of this skull see the University of Chicago's Electronic Open Stacks copy of Smith's The Royal Mummies (Cairo, 1912,) Call #: DT57.C2 vol59, plates XXXVI, XXXVII

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