In 1908, an undisturbed ancient Egyptian burial was discovered by Flinders Petrie in Qurna Thebes. It came to the museum the following year when it was described as containing "the largest group of gold work that had left Egypt." The contents of the burial have interested researchers ever since they were discovered but the identity of the two people in the grave still remains a mystery.
Believed to be from late 17th or early 18th dynasty, 250 years before Tutankhamen was buried
In 1908 by Flinders Petrie
Coffin made from
Tamarisk wood, gilt
Purchased from the British School of Archaeology in Egypt
Ancient Egypt Rediscovered, Level 5, National Museum of Scotland
Did you know?
The Qurna burial is thought to be the only intact royal burial group on display outside Egypt.
The burial was discovered in the first valley to the north of the road to the Valley of the Kings.
A letter from Flinders Petrie dated 18 January 1909 to an unnamed correspondent gives an insight into the discovery of the burial:
"We have been about six weeks at Thebes. Our main purpose was to search the northern valleys, where it is was reported that there might be tombs. We settled therefore at a small hill north of the road up to the Kings Tombs where some rock-tombs served for our workmen and my wife and myself, while some brick huts were built for dining rooms and bedrooms.
"Though we have cut innumerable trenches about the valleys, and on one spot kept 24 men and boys for over a month, yet only one tomb has been found in the desert valleys. That is a perfect burial of about the XVII dynasty. There was no valuable article in it, but the whole was an unusual and good group.
"A coffin of the Aahmen style, ten pots in beautifully made string mats, most of which have more or less preserved with collodian. A blue marble dish with four apes. A horn with ivory bird-head spout. An obsidian and an alabaster khol pot of fine work. Two bead net pouches with handles. A head rest with inlaid stem of ivory and ebony. Two baskets, and sundry…"
The coffin contained the mummified body of a slender woman, around five feet tall, aged about 18-25. The mummy wore a magnificent collar of gold rings, a pair of gold earrings, two pairs of gold bracelets, and a girdle of fine electrum rings as well as a scarab and an electrum button.
With her was the white-painted rectangular coffin of a 2-3 year old child. The child’s mummified body wore a necklace of gold rings, a pair of gold earrings, a girdle and pair of anklets made from blue-glazed rings, and three ivory bangles, two on the left arm and one on the right.
There is no inscription naming the woman and child, but it is thought that they were members of the royal family at Thebes. The grave was excavated in an area where other royal burials had already been found, the grave goods are rich and the length of the inscription is so long that it suggests being interpreted as ‘King's Great Wife’. The inscription has been damaged and the text that would reveal the identity of the adult female is gone - we can only suggest who she might have been.
Looking at records, the kings and King’s Wives at Thebes during the 17th Dynasty were thought to be as follows:
Rahoptep = ?
Sobkemsaf I = Nubkha’as
Inyotef V =
Inyotef VI = Sobkemsaf
Inyotef VII = ? Ha’ankhes
Sobkemsaf II = Nubemhat
Senakhtenra = Tetishery ?
Taa = ? Ahhotep (+ Sitdgehuty + Inhapy)
Kamose = ? Ahhotep II
Ahmose = Ahmose-Nefertiry
Our queen could be Ha’ankhes or Nubemhat, both of whom correspond well with the dating of the material from the burial, or she could be the unnamed wife of Rahoptep or Inyotef V.
The burial also suggests a connection with Nubia. Some of her grave goods could be gifts from a Nubian ruler to the Theban royal family. The woman could have been ethnically Egyptian or from many other ethnic backgrounds. Alternatively, she could have been a Nubian princess given as a wife to the King of Thebes.
The coffin is the only contemporary portrait of the queen's face but because it is stylised and gilded, it is no guide to her appearance in life. However, examination of the skeleton has been used to make a facial reconstruction, which may give us an indication of how she might have looked.
Our queen would have had a great deal of leisure time which included being bathed, attending the wigmaker, manicurist or make-up artist. Egyptian women loved to adorn themselves with make-up and fine clothes.
As ‘Great Royal Wife’ she would also be expected to take part in royal functions, state events and ceremonial religious duties. There is evidence from the bone examination that our queen spent a great deal of time kneeling which suggests her extensive religious duties!
The woman and child found at Qurna were buried with grave goods that indicate exceptional wealth. Explore the slideshow below to view some of these outstanding objects from Ancient Egypt.
Female coffin: an exceptionally tall coffin with decoration in the rishi-style. The lid has feathered patterning painted in blue with black details on a yellow ground. The owner’s face is framed by a striped linen nemes-cloth, a beaded collar with falcon terminals, and a vulture-pectoral.
Gold earrings: consisting of four penannular hoops soldered together, the two inner hoops having a smaller gap so forming a tongue for penetrating a hole in the ear-lobe.
Gold Shebyu collar: consisting of four rows of gold rings threaded on a pad of fibre.
Headrest: made of dark brown wood with a tripartite based and octagonally faceted pillar. It has curved neck support fitted to the base by tenon, the pillar is decorated with ebony and ivory inlays which splits in the base.
Kerma ware pots: one of four Kerma ware pots of incredibly fine ceramic ware associated with Nubian burials.
Kerma ware pots: one of four Kerma ware pots of incredibly fine ceramic ware associated with Nubian burials
Khol pot: made from obsidian volcanic rock kohl-pot with a squat body and a foot-rim and a lid with a boss for fitting.
Red burnished flask: one of eight pottery vessels suspended from a stick. Closed, wheelmade flask with out-turned rim, flaring neck and bag shaped body. It is contained in a net bag woven to imitate bead work with two plaited handles and tassels at the bottom.
Red ware jar: one of two closed wheelmade jars with triangular outward sloping rim, short narrowish neck and low sloping shoulder and rounded base.