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Ancient Egypt

Tutankhamun's Wet Nurse Found

Edited from BBC News, 7 December 1997

Archaeologists in Egypt made a discovery which helped to shed more light on the mysteries surrounding the famous boy-pharaoh, Tutankhamun.

A team of French archaeologists 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, hoped that 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 knew 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 pharaoh's name was written in hieroglyphics, as was an inscription indicating that Maya was a woman who was favoured by the pharaoh. By the end of 1997 the archaeologists had cleared two of the five known chambers. A third was filled with rubble, and two others were sealed off with masonry.

They had not yet found any gold or funerary objects, and nor had they found Maya's coffin. This was only the beginning of the story, according to Zivie. He expected other discoveries to be made inside the main discovery. '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 coincided with celebrations marking seventy-five years since the British explorer Howard Carter found the tomb of Tutankhamun (see The Tomb of Tutankhamun, via the sidebar link). The anniversary revived questions about the possibility that Tutankhamun was murdered before he was twenty years old (since disproved once and for all - see Tutankhamun Died Hunting).

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



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