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Tomb found in Valley of the Kings reveals flowers, but no mummies

LUXOR, Egypt -- The first tomb discovered in Egypt's Valley of the Kings in 80 years doesn't have any mummies, but arch eologists opened the last of eight sarcophagi yesterday to reveal something even more valuable: embalming materials and ancient woven flowers.

Hushed researchers craned their necks and media scuffled inside the stiflingly hot underground stone chamber as Egyptian antiquities chief Zahi Hawass slowly cracked open the coffin's lid -- for what scientists believe is the first time in more than 3,000 years.

But instead of a mummy, as arch eologists had expected, the coffin contained a tangle of fabric and rust -colored dehydrated flowers woven together in laurels that looked likely to crumble to dust if touched.

``I prayed to find a mummy, but when I saw this, I said it's better -- it's really beautiful," said Nadia Lokma, chief curator of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

The flowers were probably the remains of garlands, often entwined with gold strips, that ancient Egyptian royals wore around their shoulders in both life and death, she said.

``It's very rare -- there's nothing like it in any museum. We've seen things like it in drawings, but we've never seen this before in real life -- it's magnificent," Lokma said.

Dug deep into white rock, the tomb is known by the acronym KV63 -- the 63 d tomb found in the Valley, a desert region near the southern city of Luxor used as a burial ground for pharaohs, queens, and nobles between 1500 and 1000 B.C.

The burial chamber was discovered accidentally last year by US archeologists working on the neighboring tomb of Amenmeses, a late 19th Dynasty pharaoh. It was the first uncovered since the tomb of King Tutankhamen in 1922.

``For decades, archeologists have been cleaning up tombs that were found earlier, so it's very exciting to discover something new," said Otto Schaden, an Egypt scholar from the University of Memphis, who found the tomb and heads excavations there.

Scientists cut a hole in the tomb's door and got their first glimpse into the 12-foot-by-15-foot chamber in February.

At the time, they believed it contained seven sarcophagi, but Lokma said a total of eight were inside.

Since then, the lids of seven of the coffins -- including a tiny one built for an infant and filled with feather-stuffed pillows -- were peeled back one by one, revealing pottery shards and fabric but no mummies.

With the last opened yesterday, the tomb still had more mysteries than answers.

Lokma hoped hieroglyphs would help scientists identify whom the coffins and tomb were made for and what happened to the bodies.

The discovery broke the long-held belief that nothing is left to dig up in the Valley of the Kings.

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