It’s not a king’s tomb, nor even a queen’s. It doesn’t belong to any member of any royal family. It’s not even very old, by Egyptian timelines. It appears to be a recycled tomb. All of that makes the newly found KV64 a unique find.
Nahmes Bastet lived during the 22nd Dynasty, during which Libyans ruled Egypt from 950 B.C.E. to 720 B.C.E. Luxor, where the Valley of the Kings is located, existed outside the kingdom of Egypt during this period. For reference, King Tut was 1361-1352 B.C.E. and Ramses II the Great was 1304-1237 B.C.E.
Nahmes’ tomb was found by accident, according to the press release from Elena Pauline-Grothe, Swiss director for excavation at the Valley of the Kings for Switzerland’s University of Basel. “We were not looking for new tombs. It was close to another tomb that was discovered 100 years ago.” The tomb was built about 400 years before Nahmes’ death, according to the tomb drawings and artifacts inside the tomb. Reusing tombs is not too unusual in the Valley of the Kings, in fact there is evidence that many tombs originally thought to be robbed in antiquity were actually emptied intentionally and their mummies moved to prevent them being damaged by robbers. Some tombs are warrens of burial chambers for generations of relatives of the primary inhabitant. But what makes Nahmes’ tomb so unique is the fact that she was a court singer, not a member of the court.
Mansour Boraiq, of the Ministry of Antiquities office in Luxor, said that it is the only tomb of a woman not related to a member of a royal family every found in the Valley of the Kings. Nehmes was the daughter of a high priest, and performed at Karnak Temple. Like most tombs, hers contains the story of her life in its wall paintings, and because it is 22nd Dynasty, it is relatively easy to read the hieroglyphics. Boraiq said they expect to find an intact mummy when they open her coffin later this week.
Nehmes’ name indicates that she was dedicated to the God Bastet, the cat-like god, and her father may have belonged to a Bastet temple group.
Tombs in the Valley of the Kings are numbered according to when they were found, not in the order in which they were built. Nehmes’ tomb will officially be known as KV64 – King’s Valley tomb number 64. The modern city of Luxor is at the site of the ancient city of Thebes (as in “THEBES, city of kings, home of the High Priest Imhotep, birthplace of Anck Su Namun…”) It is second only to the Pyramids of Giza as Egypt’s greatest tourist attraction. Any new tomb, no matter how obscure, only adds to the allure of the site. Limited excavations continue at the Valley for two reasons. One is the possibility that someone will find another tomb to rival Tut’s, probably by falling through a hole, and the other is that some larger tombs have never been fully excavated because it was unknown when first found that they had side tunnels which had filled with silt and rubble over the centuries.
The presence of a commoner’s tomb in the Valley of Kings has doubtlessly excited Dr. Zahi Hawass whose focus for the past couple of decades has been the villages and graves of ordinary people. It raises the possibility that there are many more small tombs in the Valley built for court or temple dignitaries.
It will probably be at least a year before one of the major museums mounts an exhibit of the artifacts from KV64. Modern techniques will make it possible to fully examine Nehmes without disturbing her wrappings and gather evidence about her life and death.