The Royal Tomb at Akhetaten

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The royal tomb at Akhetaten stands as a silent monument both to the destruction wrought in the Anti-Atenist backlash, and the destruction caused in modern times by man's greed and ignorance.

The tomb is yet another example of how the condition of ancient monuments has deteriorated more in the last 100 years than in the previous three millennia.

The tomb itself is of the 'rock cut' type, it is a tunnel which descends into a rock face in the royal wadi at Amarna. The original plan appears to have been modified at least three times during it's construction.

Initially the tomb started as a fairly typical royal burial place. It is unusual in that it was the first of it's type to have a steep ramped entrance. There are two major modifications to the main corridor, a suite of rooms used for the burial of Meketaten was excavated off the main passage, and a long curved corridor which may have been intended to lead to another burial area was added.

The royal tomb layout

The archeological evidence shows that Akhenaten was originally buried in the tomb. Fragments of his granite sarcophagus and his canopic chest were found both inside the tomb and in an associated dump. There is also evidence of a second sarcophagus, that of Meketaten. Interestingly in view of the prominence of Nefertiti at this time, there is insufficient space in the main burial chamber for it to have been intended for two sarcophagi.

Another unusual feature of this tomb is that the pillared hall contains only two pillars, instead of the usual four. It was originally thought that two were removed after the tomb was completed, but there is no evidence of this work on either the floor or the ceiling of the chamber. It does appear that there were plans to extend the tomb on and probably to situate the burial chamber further down the corridor.

One interesting hypothesis was that the angle of descent of the tomb passage would allow the light of the Aten to penetrate down as far as the burial chamber, to where the Sarcophagus lay.

Side view of the tomb tunnel (Not to scale

One possible hole in this theory is that in previous 18th dynasty tombs a second passage would have descended from the pillared hall to the burial chamber and this would not have been in line with the first, so if the tomb had been completed the light of the Aten would not have penetrated to where the sarcophagus lay.

The archaeologists who excavated the tomb described the damage as 'systematic'. The shabti figures and sarcophagi were smashed and broken to such an extent that few fragments remained more than a few centimeters in size. Most of the cartouches in the main corridor and burial chamber were hacked out in antiquity, but the vast majority of the damage done to the 'Meketaten Annexe' occurred in 1931, when locals removed the plasterwork from the walls for sale on the antiquities market. It is unfortunate that no detailed study of these reliefs was carried out prior to their destruction as a great deal of information was lost.

One famous find made at the tomb was a small cache of jewelry. It is thought that this was removed when the tomb was officially dismantled, perhaps by someone who intended to hide the gold and collect it later.

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Akhet © 1997 - 2008 Iain Hawkins