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Ancient tomb in Egypt is first found in area since 1922

Sarcophagi discovered at King Tut burial site

CAIRO -- The first tomb to be discovered in the Valley of the Kings since King Tut's in 1922 contains five sarcophagi with mummies, breaking the nearly century-long belief that there is nothing more to find in the valley where some of Egypt's greatest pharaohs were buried.

The tomb's spare appearance suggests it was not dug for a pharaoh, said US archeologist Kent Weeks, who was not involved in the University of Memphis team's find but has seen photographs of the site. ''It could be the tomb of a king's wife or son, or of a priest or court official," he said yesterday.

So far, authorities have not had a close enough look to know who is in the tomb. Workers have been clearing rubble to allow archeologists to examine it.

Egypt's antiquities authority has said only that the single-chamber tomb contains five wooden sarcophagi, in human shapes with colored funerary masks, surrounded by 20 jars with their pharaonic seals intact -- and that the sarcophagi contain mummies, probably from the 18th Dynasty, about 3,300 to 3,500 years ago.

Further details were expected today when antiquities chief Zahi Hawass was to unveil the tomb.

Officials were tightlipped yesterday, a day after announcing the find. Calls to Hawass and other officials were not answered. American archeologist Otto Schaden, who headed the team that uncovered the site, declined to answer any questions when contacted by the Associated Press.

Photos released by the Supreme Council of Antiquities showed the interior of the tomb -- the bare stone walls undecorated -- with at least five sarcophagi of blackened wood amid white jars, some apparently broken. What appeared to be a sixth sarcophagus was set on top of two of the other coffins, though the council's statement mentioned only five.

The tomb may provide less drama than the famed opening of King Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922 by British archeologist Howard Carter, a discovery that revealed a treasure trove of gold artifacts along with the boy-king's mummy.

But it raises hopes that more is to be found in the Valley of the Kings, which, for 83 years, specialists believed held only the 62 previously known tombs, labeled KV1-62 by archeologists.

''I wouldn't be surprised if we discover more tombs in the next 10 years. For a long time, people thought there was nothing left to find and excavations seemed unlikely to produce much. So instead, they concentrated on recording what was already there," Weeks said.

Weeks made the last major discovery in the valley. In 1995, he opened a previously known tomb -- KV5 -- and found it was far larger than expected: more than 120 chambers, which he determined were meant for sons of the pharaoh Ramses II.

''It's ironic. A century ago, people said the Valley of the Kings is exhausted; there's nothing left," he said. ''Suddenly Carter found Tutankhamun. So then they said, 'Now there's nothing to find.' Then we found KV5. Now we have KV63."

The 18th Dynasty, which lasted from about 1500 B.C. to 1300 B.C., was the first dynasty of the New Kingdom, the pharaonic empire that lasted until about 1000 B.C. and made its capital in Thebes -- the present-day city of Luxor, 300 miles south of Cairo. Tutankhamun is believed to be the 12th ruler of the 18th Dynasty.

The Valley of the Kings was used as a burial ground throughout the New Kingdom, though not all the tombs are of kings.

Schaden's team uncovered shafts leading to the tomb -- about 15 feet from Tut's tomb -- while conducting ''routine digs," the antiquities council said in a statement Wednesday. The haphazard placement of the jars and coffins suggested the burial was completed quickly, it said.

The fact that the tomb is a single chamber probably means it was meant for only one mummy, Weeks said. It is likely the tomb was used as a storeroom for sarcophagi moved from other tombs later -- either by priests to protect them from thieves, or by thieves to stash before removing them completely. The jars, he said, appear to be meat jars for food offerings.

Archeologists will have to determine not only the date of the tomb's creation but also the dates of the individual sarcophagi and mummies to find which -- if any of them -- is the tomb's owner.

The tomb's architecture will give hints on when it was dug. Early New Kingdom tombs have doors of different width and height than later ones, Weeks said. Inscriptions on the sarcophagi -- if present -- and the wrappings and other materials used in the mummies help determine their age.

''The objects in the tomb don't necessarily date to the original tomb," Weeks said. ''The objects could be 200 to 400 years later than the original cutting of the tomb."

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