The so-called Royal Cachette TT 320 was not the grave of Ahmose Nefertari!

Posted July 22nd, 2014 by Dylan

The so-called Royal Cachette TT 3201 was not the grave of Ahmose Nefertari!

Erhart Graefe in collaboration with Dylan Bickerstaffe

D. A. Aston has in GM 236, 2013, 7-20 tried to prove that TT 320 was the grave of Ahmose Nofretari and has been uncritically followed by A. Dodson in GM 238, 2013, 19-20.

The starting point for Aston is that in the burial chamber, at least some of the large vessels – now predated to the 18th Dynasty – the contents were still liquid when broken by a rock fall; and the tomb can then be identified as that of Ahmose Nofretari.

However, there is the ‘flaw’ that Aston more precisely dated the ceramics to the time of Hatshepsut-Tuthmosis III – later than the time of death of the queen in the years 5/6 of Thutmose I.2 Aston therefore proposes as a solution that this type of ceramic could possibly have been in fashion a generation earlier. It is also important for Aston that the four Canopic vessels of Ahmose Nofretari came (probably) from TT 320, before it was surrendered by Mohammed Abder Rasul and emptied by Brugsch. There were no further canopic jars from any of the other royal persons in the Cachette.

That the coffin of Ahmose Nofretari should have stood or lain in the burial chamber in 1881 is based only on the “memory protocol” of the journalist and photographer E. L. Wilson, who visited the burial chamber with Maspero and Brugsch in 1882, and let Brugsch himself report on the discovery.3 This reads (quoted by Wilson as from Brugsch in the first person) as follows:

“…Plunging on ahead of my guide, I came to the chamber where we are now [EG: 1882] seated, and there standing4 against the walls or here lying on the floor, I found even a greater number of mummy cases of stupendous size and weight. Their gold coverings and their polished surfaces so plainly reflected my own excited visage that it seemed as though I was looking into the face of my own ancestor. The gilt face on the coffin of the amiable queen Nofretari seemed to smile upon me like an old acquaintance.”

After him, what Maspero discovered from Brugsch reads (in relation to Nofretari or the burial chamber) as follows:5

“Along the main corridor was the same confusion and the same disorder: it was necessary to advance on one’s hands and knees. The coffins and the mummies, rapidly glimpsed by the light of a candle bore historic names: Amenhotep I, Thutmose II, in the niche by the stairs, Ahmose I and his son Siamun, Seqenenre, the Queen Ahhotpe, Ahmose Nefertari, Pinudjem we had long sought,6 and others. In the end chamber, the confusion was at its height, but it was possible to see at first glance that the style of the XXth dynasty and XXIst dynasties predominated.”

116                                                                                                           GM 239, 2013

Nothing here can be taken literally, and ambiguity exists because of the absence of any known written report of findings from Brugsch. E. Thomas had wanted to draw from the text of Maspero, that there was a ‘Hall E’ provided for the coffins of the 18th Dynasty; and Aston from the text of Wilson, that the coffin of Ahmose Nofretari had been (in contrast to the narrative of Maspero) in the burial chamber.

It must raise suspicions with Wilson’s report, that the face the coffin of Ahmose Nefertari-was no longer gilded.7 This brings us to a weighty argument against the assignment of TT 320 to this queen: her coffin was found stripped of gilding and incrustations of semi-precious stones and coloured glass, as were a number of other contemporary royal coffins in the Cachette; and, as in the case of the coffin of Ahmose, the gold had been replaced by yellow colour.

No one has ever claimed that all this work was conducted in the Cachette. It is also strange that Wilson on the same page of text labels a small image of the golden face of a coffin, namely that of Maatkare, as of Ahmose Nefertari. Her coffin, as with that of Ahhotep, did not have a separate cover, but an upper body part (about 1.17 m x 0.48 m8) could be removed to ‘fill’ the coffin. This certainly did not contain a second coffin with the mummy of the queen, but a female mummy without coffin, unmarked, and a smaller cartonnage coffin. The female mummy developed such a stench in the magazine in Cairo that it was examined or unwrapped, whereupon it fell apart. Unfortunately, there is no precise description of the state at retrieval.

In any case, Maspero believed that the separate mummy had (only) been put in the coffin when this was brought in the Cachette:

“We all that thought that the mummy without a case had been introduced into the coffin when the bodies were one transported to the cachette, and that the other mummy represented the queen Nofretari.”9

The cartonnage coffin contained, however, as was later revealed by inscription, the mummy of Ramses III. The single mummy was now held to be that of Nofretari.

The rational conclusion from the above is that: the coffin of Ahmose-Nofretari was not in the state which one would expect if TT 320 had been her original grave. Whether the female mummy found in it was that of Ahmose-Nofretari, remains uncertain because quite obviously the coffin contents have been changed.10 After a robbery, the former golden parts had been painted yellow. As the coffin is so large (3.08 m without the crown), one can expect that originally at least one cartonnage (if not an inner coffin?11) existed, which contained the mummy. There was indeed enough space, because the restorers, or those who brought the coffin into the Cachette in the 21st or 22nd Dynasty, were able to add the cartonnage coffin containing the mummy of Ramses III.

117                                                                                                        GM 239, 2013

When TT 320 was stocked as a Cachette with the coffins and mummies of the 18th Dynasty, there is no doubt that – due to the weight of coffins – individual troughs, lids and mummies, were as often as possible lowered down the shaft separately, which brought with it the opportunity for permutations (just as, conversely, occurred during the clearance by Brugsch ) .

If the large vessels date from the 18th dynasty, and TT 320 was a queen’s tomb, the question is, which queen’s tomb was it? If it was originally such a tomb, the presence of an original coffin and an accompanying mummy would be expected. However, there are at most two queens(?) mummies without original coffins. I have discussed the problems which are connected with this – and, in addition, Astons article in total – with Dylan Bickerstaffe, and we add here some further remarks.

The potential queens’ mummies are the following:

Unknown woman A, Dynasty 18?, Cairo CG 61052, Smith, CGC, The Royal Mummies, 1912, 6-8, Plate 4. Wrappings with the name of the King’s Daughter and King’s Sister Meritamun. Because of the miserable state of the mummy, the mummy’s identity is doubted. Reeves, Valley of the Kings, 1990 , 206: ‘Superficially intact, type A docket on breast. Beneath, fragment of linen inscribed pr mwt, ‘temple of Mut’, and inner shroud with extracts from the Book of the Dead inscribed for a HAty-a named Mentuhotpe . Body wall broken in, right arm pulled off and left forearm separated. X-rays reveal beads in pelvic area.’ Referred to as Meritamun in: R. B. Partridge, Faces of Pharaohs 2nd edition 1996, 66-67.

Unknown woman B , Dynasty 18?, Cairo CG 61056, Smith, CGC, The Royal Mummies, 1912, 14-15, pl 9-10 ; Reeves, Valley of the Kings, 1990, 207 : ‘( Tetisheri?)’. Bandages for the most part removed, and mummy wrapped in matting. Head broken off trunk, right hand missing’. R. B. Partridge, Faces of Pharaohs 2nd edition 1996, 28-30 (without a document as a mummy of Tetisheri viewed).

Unidentified Mummies: Maspero, MMAF I, 1889, 582, including a woman in a coffin, of 18th Dynasty type. Maybe it is CG 61056 (Smith’s opinion). It was designated by Maspero pp. 551-552 as a nude man and identified with Ramses I. This is clearly wrong by comparison with the text Maspero p. 582. This man possessed in the Cachette no coffin. Smith inferred CG 61056 was from a coffin. Probably we have (again) an exchange problem.

Following Aston’s analysis, only three vessels dateable to the 21st Dynasty remain –  precious little when you consider how many other objects for the deceased (meat etc.12) were provided for the burials of the 21st Dynasty.

Aston also dated three vessels to the 8th and 7th centuries BC13 without drawing any conclusion from this. Previously the consensus of opinion, based on the evidence of dockets, was that the cachette was last opened for Djedptahiufankh in or after the 10th or 11th year of Shoshenk I. That would be the end of the 10th century BC or later. No one would have previously thought that it would have been several hundred years later – for what purpose? It could only mean that the New Kingdom coffins were only brought into the Cachette during the 25-26th Dynasty.14

According to his text on p.10 – 11 (see also page 13), Aston has misunderstood my description of the finding of the grave chamber with respect to the rock falls. He quotes that 2/3 of the ceiling were found fallen.15


118                                                                                                      GM 239, 2013

But this is the collapse that must have occurred after 1882, not the partial one which took place in the right rear corner of the chamber and destroyed the vessels. If 2/3 of the ceiling had already collapsed during the 18th Dynasty, the coffins of the 21st Dynasty could not have been deposited there centuries later.

Aston would also like to see boxes of the ‘18th Dynasty’ type deposited in the burial chamber from the statement … “whilst several of the wooden‚ knob-shaped handles, catalogue entries 127-140, probably come from such boxes rather than ushebti boxes …”. It would have been more precise to have noted that: of 14 such handle knobs, 4 came from the burial chamber, 3 from Corridor C, 6 from Corridor B, and 1 from shaft A. The find spots of the handle knobs is best explained by the careless and hasty evacuation in 1881. Can such quite coarse pieces be dated more exactly? The bigger piece (cat. 140), was considered by me, by the way, because of the size and material (ivory) as rather the knob handle of a cane and could originate from the New Kingdom as a further relic of one of the kings (see below). It was also found in Shaft A, so maybe dropped and left lying during the evacuation.

Aston dated the fragments of the chair cat. 080 in the 18th Dynasty, with the remark, that during the 21st Dynasty, it was not common for such objects to be given to the dead. He does not consider that it might have also belonged to the objects in the Cachette which came with the Kings: such as the former (jewellery) box of Hatshepsut, the box of Rameses IX etc.16, and the various canopic jars from individuals of the New Kingdom.17

Aston seems to have accepted the opinion of C. Sheikoleslami, that the coffins of the New Kingdom were in the burial chamber G, and those of the 21st Dynasty in the corridors. Her reasoning was that the Abder Rasuls had first sold (between 1871 and 1881) objects from the 21st Dynasty, because, deposited in the corridors, they were the most easily accessible. This is not convincing. They certainly first sold those objects that were easily transportable and sought on the market: papyri, uschabti, stelae, canopic jars, bronze vessels…

The fact that canopic jars exist only for Ahmose-Nofretere, but not for the other royal persons, is not, however, a convincing argument for TT 320 being her original burial place. From Meritamun, (probably daughter of Ahmose ), only an added (and unlabeled) canopic coffinette was found in tomb TT 358.18 According to the general consensus, it was her original tomb, which had been opened during the 21st Dynasty, looted and reassigned. Reeves, however, has argued that the presence of a (so-called grave robbers) shaft means the tomb had been designed as a royal grave, that of Thutmose II. Meritamun and later Nauny, the daughter Pinudjem I, had been buried there only secondarily (the former after robbery of their original tomb).19


119                                                                                                      GM 239, 2013

In TT320 canopic jars of private individuals were deposited without the associated coffins. Canopics could “wander” apart from their accompanying coffins and, so they stayed together with Ahmose-Nofretari by chance, as may be with the preservation of one of the four original vessels with Meritamun.

The pivotal point of any interpretation remains the big clay pots at the rear right in the burial chamber that were destroyed as a result of a partial rock fall from the ceiling, whilst their contents were still liquid; traces of which were clear on the external sides of shards, and fragments of a chair and a mat. If the vessels come from the time of the Hatshepsut and Thutmosis III, it is obvious, à la Aston, to seek a tomb owner from the 18th dynasty. As I said above, his candidate, Ahmose-Nofretari, is ruled out, and a different person from this period is not in sight. Thus it might still be that, during the 18th Dynasty, TT320 was planned for a funeral and was equipped with some of the grave goods, but was not used for a burial at this time because of the premature rock fall. Only Pinudjem II used it regardless.

It is curious, however, that seven of the ten large vessels from the burial chamber (which are placed by Aston in the 18th Dynasty), are missing their upper parts (including parts of the walls).20 Who may have taken the sherds, remains speculation.


1. Evidence concerning the objects mentioned in the following can be found easily in the Cachette Database:

2. GM 236, 2013, 13. The ‘later’ dating of the ceramics comes from I. Hein after confirmation of similar ceramics from Tell ed-Dab’a (conversation during a visit to Münster in summer, 2013).


The Century Magazine 34,1, 1887, 7. It is accurate in showing (p.6) that the series of coffins began only in corridor C, not as Brugsch himself wrote, in corridor B. See Graefe , MDAIK 67, 2011 (2012), 107-110.

4. ” standing” can hardly be taken seriously, because the ceiling height was generally about 1.80 m and only the coffin of the Ahmose and four children’s coffins were smaller. Coffins leaned at an angle against the walls would have blocked the passageway. In corridors mostly only 1.10 m to 1.30 m wide the vertical position or even sloping position of the coffins would have been very impractical or difficult, especially if they had to be re-assembled after separate lowering down the shaft of tubs, lids and mummies and then had a lot more weight.

5. MMAF 1, 1889, 518.

6. What is meant is probably the search for his tomb after the appearance of his shabtis on the market. His mummy was in 1881 (or later in Cairo?) in the coffin of Ahhotep. The mummy of this Queen has not been found.

7. This is also already noticed by C. Sheikholeslami (CASAE 37, 2008, 383). She believes (still) that the 18th Dynasty coffins were deposited in the burial-chamber.

8. After the photo at Daressy, CGC, Cercueils, Plate 5.

9. MMAF 1, 1889, 536.

10. Aston p.13 writes: “… the fact that Ahmose-Nofretari was found in her own coffin …”, but it is only a more or less great probability, not a “fact”.

11. For the details see Eaton-Krauss, in CdE 65,130, 1990, 200, according to which a normal internal coffin could not be introduced.

12. See S. Ikram , in: Studi di Egittologia e di Papirologia 1 , Pisa / Rome 2004 , 86-92 . See 25 documents in : with input ” food ” sv ” object” .

13. GM 236 2013 11.

14. Or [DB], that in the NR (Late Period) the cachette was opened again for worship reasons leaving behind votive? ceramics, or water vessels of the workers.

15. “Within the burial chamber, G, it was noticed that two thirds of the ceiling had fallen in, the rock falls landing on a chair and a number of pottery vessels which had clearly broken whilst the contents were still liquid …”

16. List in Maspero, MMAF 1, 1889, 584.

17. List in Maspero, MMAF 1, 1889, 583.

18. Aston speaks in GM 236, 2013, 12 erroneously of canopic jars in the plural. Winlock, The Tomb of Queen Meryet-Amun, 1932, 71, No. 16, 24, Plates 3-1-. Regarding the identity of Meritamun (daughter of Ahmose, wife of Amenhotep I?) against Winlock see Logan – Williams, Serapis 4, 1977-78, 23-30; see Aston, GM 236, 2013, 12, note 36 (statement of Taylor). Bickerstaffe also points to Wysocki in MDAIK 40, 1984, 338-340, with Plan 335, Figure 4, towards underpinning the early dating of archaeological Meritamun, but Winlock’s identification with the other Meritamun thus maintains that TT 358 can be explained as an older tomb reused for her. For the various women named Meritamun see Robins, GM 56, 1982, 79-87.

19. Reeves, Valley of the Kings, 1990, 18-19 (Plan at Wysocki (Note 18)). See also Reeves in Strudwick-Taylor (eds ), The Theban Necropolis, 2003, 69 with note 6.

20. On which, see my point in Graefe – Belova (eds.), The Royal Cache: a re-examination, 2010, 60.