History Files


Ancient Egypt

Tutankhamun's Wet Nurse Found

BBC News, 7 December 1997

Archaeologists in Egypt have made a discovery that has shed more light on the mysteries surrounding the famous boy-pharaoh, Tutankhamun.

A team of French archaeologists has discovered the tomb of his wet-nurse in an acropolis at Saqqara, just south of Cairo.

There are many unanswered questions about both the birth and the death of the 18th Dynasty king, whose golden coffins and burial treasures have fascinated generations.

One of the archaeologists, Alain Zivie, said he hoped the tomb could provide clues about the identity of Pharaoh Tutankhamun's parents.

Tutankhamun's father is widely believed to have been the Pharaoh Akhenaten. As for his mother, "there are all sorts of theories, but she is not known," said Mr Zivie.

Archaeologists now know that his wet-nurse was named Maya and that she was a woman of some stature.

She was found in her own tomb at the Saqqara burial site for the courtiers and high-ranking officials of ancient Egypt's New Kingdom, which prevailed from about 1580 BC to 1090 BC.

Most of the pharaohs, Tutankhamun included, were buried in the Valley of the Kings near Luxor.

An engraving on the rock wall shows her holding the boy Tutankhamun, with his pet dog underneath a chair, flanked by as yet unidentified senior officials.

The young pharoah's name is written in hieroglyphics, as is an inscription indicating that Maya was a woman favoured by the pharaoh.

The archaeologists have cleared two of the five known chambers. A third is filled with rubble, and two others are sealed off with masonry.

They have not yet found any gold or funerary objects, nor have they found Maya's coffin.

"This is the beginning of the story," Mr Zivie said. "There may be discoveries inside the discovery."

He added: "We can hope that this tomb ... has escaped modern robbers and that we will be able to find interesting historic and artistic material, but clearly we cannot promise anything."

The discovery coincides with celebrations marking 75 years since the British explorer Howard Carter found the tomb of Tutankhamun.

The anniversary has revived questions about the possibility that Tutankhamun was murdered before he was twenty years old.

Egyptologists have welcomed the discovery, expecting it to shed light on this period of political turmoil and religious revolution.



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