Ramesses, Thutmose or Nerfertiti? The Search for KV64

ExcavationThe designation KV is part of the naming convention used for tombs in the Valley of the Kingsinthe necropolis across the Nile from Luxor. Tombs discovered in the Kings Valley are given a KV number, in the order of their discovery, and tombs found in the West Valley receive a WV number. The most recent royal tomb, KV62, is that of King Tutankhamun, discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter.

So why do we skip from KV62 to KV64? That can be chalked up to an embarrassing lesson on how early one should summon the international press, detailed below. The story of KV64 begins with a survey conducted by the Amarna Royal Tombs Project (ARTP) from 1998 to 2002 in the central area of the Valley of the Kings. The location is fertile ground for Eighteenth Dynasty tombs, and Nicholas Reeves, director of the project, was specifically looking for the Tomb of Nefertiti, along with other family members of the heretic king, Akhenaten.

Are two tombs to be revealed – some as-of-yet unnamed royal in October (KV64), and Nefertiti in the winter (KV65)?

In the autumn of 2000 Reeves appeared to hit the jackpot. During surveys conducted with ground-penetrating radar (GPR) his team discovered no less than nine anomalies that showed the tell-tale signs of being tombs. Unfortunately, before Dr. Reeves could begin excavating his discoveries in earnest he suffered the first of a series of discouraging setbacks. False charges of antiquities smuggling were leveled against him and in 2002 his license to survey and excavate was suspended.

Reeves decided to hold off on publishing his discovery until he returned to the Valley of the Kings, but it was never to be. Although he was cleared of all charges by the Supreme Council of Antiquities in 2005, he was denied permission to resume his work.

Good Storage, but no Tomb

Meanwhile, another dig was underway in the area of Reeves survey. Dr. Otto Schaden of the University of Memphis was conducting excavations in the central valley as part of his Amenmesse Tomb Project. Schadens team was clearing the rubble away from some Nineteenth Dynasty workers huts when they found a straight edge that could only be worked stone. The edge turned out to be the opening of a vertical shaft. Without knowledge of Dr. Reeves survey, the team had independently discovered an entryway exactly where Reeves had detected one of his anomalies.

zahi hawass in the valley of the kings

The discovery occurred on March 10, 2005, which was too late in the digging season for excavation. The following year, however, work resumed and sure enough Dr. Schaden had discovered an underground chamber. On February 8, 2006, with the international media in attendance, Zahi Hawass visited the site and credited Dr. Schaden with discovering the first tomb in the Valley of the Kings sinceCarter found Tutankhamun.

The finding was dubbed KV63, but its declaration as a tomb was premature. Although seven wooden coffins were found in the chamber, all were empty but one, which was packed with pillows. There were also embalming tools and jars of natron, the salt used in mummification, and so it was determined that KV63 was actually a storage room. The trophy for the most recent tomb discovery would remain with Howard Carter.

The Buzz Begins

At this point Reeves decided to reveal that his survey had indicated that a tomb, or in this case, a storage room, would be exactly where KV63 was found. According to an August 3, 2006, interview with Archaeology Magazine (“Another New Tomb in the Valley of the Kings?“), Reeves claimed that his decision to come forward was to protect the site itself: I don’t want to see it damaged in a random, aimless hunt for more tombs. In other words, he knew the discovery of a storage room would raise expectations of finding a tomb, and rather than have the site destroyed by willy-nilly treasure hunting, he hoped his maps would urge caution.

Dr. Reeves revealed his own detailed analysis of the 2000 survey when he posted it to his website in 2008. His maps showed the anomalies, labeled Features 1-9, with KV63 being labeled Feature 6. The area where he believed KV64 would be discovered was labeled Feature 5.

Nicholas Reeves wasnt the only person to suggest that the location of his favorite anomaly, Feature 5, might conceal a tomb. In February 2006 a geologist named Stephen Cross was studying ancient flood patterns in the Valley of the Kings. Judging from concentrations of flood debris, Cross determined that a good place to look for undiscovered tombs would be the area east of Tutankhamuns tomb, close to where Reeves claimed KV64 should be located.

The Buzzkill – More Storage Buildings

Since 2007 Zahi Hawass has been working with the first all-Egyptian archaeological team in an effort to locate the tomb of Ramesses VIII. His focus is the area between the tombs of Ramesses II (KV7) and Merenptah (KV8), but in the 2008-09 digging season he decided to divert some of his resources to exploring Reeves Feature 5 anomaly. The dig succeeded in unearthing the foundations of several small storage buildings dating from the Ramessid Period, but no tomb.

The excavation also revealed that the floor of the valley in that area was about six meters down, which is probably too deep for the GPR used by Reeves. Dr. Hawass concluded that the anomalies detected in that area were nothing more than a reflection of one or more of these [storage buildings] stone foundations. After examining more of Reeves anomalies, Hawass concluded that his analysis failed to account for naturally occurring geological formations and interference from such modern artifacts as electrical wires. (For the full story, read In Search of the Truth About KV64, by Zahi Hawass.)

The Search Continues


For now, the placard of KV64 remains reserved and unclaimed. Potential contenders would include other Eighteenth Dynasty personalities such asThutmose II, or the Twentieth Dynasty pharaoh Ramesses VIII, but one intriguing possibility is Nefertiti. In his August 7th lecture at Clowes Hall in Indianapolis, Zahi Hawass stated that a new tomb would be revealed in October, 2009, and the location of Nefertiti would be disclosed sometime in the winter of 2009-10. After all, this whole story began with a search for the elusive queen and her family.

The ambiguity (possibly intentional) of these statements has lit the fires of conjecture and speculation. Are two tombs to be revealed – some as-of-yet unnamed royal in October (KV64), and Nefertiti in the winter (KV65)? Or will KV64 and Nefertitis tomb be one discovery stretched out over two press conferences? Only time, and Dr. Hawass, will tell.

Images (top to bottom): “Excavation” by drewnoakes; “Zahi Hawass in the Valley of the Kings” by FAMSF; and “Berlin” by rachie5. All rights reserved.