Members of an 18th Dynasty pharaoh's court are likely buried in the first new tomb uncovered in Egypt's Valley of the Kings in more than 80 years, one of the archaeologists involved in the find said yesterday.
So far, archaeologists have not entered the tomb, having only opened part of its 1.5m-high entrance door last week. But they have peered inside and have seen that that the single-chamber tomb contains five wooden sarcophagi, believed to contain mummies, surrounded by some 20 pharaonic jars.
US archaeologists discovered the entrance to the tomb by accident while working on a neighboring tomb, Edwin Brock, co-director of the University of Memphis team, told reporters.
"It was a wonderful thing. It was just so amazing to find an intact tomb here after all the work that's been done before. This was totally unexpected," Brock said.
The new tomb did not appear to be that of a pharaoh, he said.
"I don't think it's a royal tomb, maybe members of the court," he said.
"Contemporaries of Tutankhamen are possible -- or of Amunhotep III or even Horemheb," he said. Based on their style, the jars appear to date to the late 18th Dynasty.
Yesterday, Egyptian antiquities authorities allowed journalists a first look into the tomb through the opening in the door, located at the bottom of a 10m shaft. It is located near the tomb of Tutankhamen -- the last new burial site to be discovered in the valley, in 1922 by British archaeologist Howard Carter.
The discovery has broken the long-held belief that there's nothing left to dig up in the Valley of the Kings, the desert valley near the southern city of Luxor used as a burial ground for pharaohs, queens and nobles in the 1500BC-1000BC New Kingdom.
The 18th Dynasty lasted from around 1500BC-1300BC and included the famed King Tut.
Photos released by the Supreme Council of Antiquities showed the interior of the tomb -- the bare stone walls undecorated -- with at least five sarcophagi of blackened wood amid white jars, some apparently broken.
The coffins appear to have some damage from termites, Brock said.
"Its going to take a lot of conservation work to consolidate these things before we can take them out," he said of the sarcophagi.
The team, led by Otto Schaden, will continue its excavations of the site for the remaining five months of the dig season, he said, though he did not say when they would completely open the door so archaeologists can go inside. "We're going to be very meticulous in our excavations," he said.
The archeologists were working last year on the neighboring tomb of Amenmeses, a late 19th Dynasty pharaoh, when they found the remains of ancient workmen's huts.
They then discovered a depression in the bedrock that they suspected was a shaft.
When they returned to work during this excavation season, they opened the shaft and found the door, which was opened last week, Brock said.
Since the discovery of Tut's tomb, experts believed that the Valley of the Kings contained only the 62 previously-known tombs -- labelled KV1-62 by archeologists.
"I wouldn't be surprised if we discover more tombs in the next 10 years," US archaeologist Kent Weeks told reporters.
Weeks made the last major discovery in the valley. In 1995, he opened a previously known tomb -- KV5 -- and found it was far larger than expected: more than 120 chambers, which he determined were meant for sons of the pharaoh Ramses II.
"It's ironic. A century ago, people said the Valley of the Kings is exhausted, there's nothing left," he said. "Suddenly Carter found Tutankhamen. So then they said, Now there's nothing to find. Then we found KV5. Now we have KV63."
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