Royal Mummies, Robbers and Caches

Thanks as always to everyone who came along to this talk. What follows is the usual guide to further reading including the sources I used to put the talk together. Where possible I’ve tried to use sources that are freely (or at least relatively cheaply / easily) available online so that you can follow up any of the themes discussed from the comfort of your desk / armchair etc.

*FOR ANYONE WHO MISSED THE TALK a recording is available via YouTube for the standard £6 fee (payable via PayPal or Monzo). If this is of interest please drop me a line via this page. Thanks!

On 3 April 2021 the world watched the ‘Pharaohs’ Golden Parade’ in Cairo, Egypt. The bodies of the kings of the New Kingdom – the Royal Mummies – were being transferred from the Egyptian Museum on Tahrir Square in Cairo to their new home at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC) where they will be the star attraction. Isn’t it incredible that the bodies of these famous pharaohs including Thutmose III, Amenhotep III, Sety I and Ramesses II have survived, and in such good condition…? How is it that we have the bodies of so many important people – kings, queens and others – of the 17th to 21st Dynasties, but hardly any from before or after that time? The answer is an incredible story of tombs, robbers, a country desperate for cash (in ancient times!), and two of the most spectacular archaeological discoveries ever made…

First of all, my slides are here:

The single best volume on TT 320, the so-called ‘Royal Cache’, is the report produced by the team that throughly reinvestigated the tomb in the 1990s and early 2000s:

Graefe, E and Belova, G (eds.), The Royal Cache TT 320: A Re-Examination

Those of you have heard the talk will know that virtually no records were made of the tomb, the position of the objects as found or the process of clearance at the time and until the recent work it was only rarely visited. this volume is enormously important therefore in publishing some of the first photographs and plans etc of the interior, and it also includes a detailed account of the history of the discovery, a catalogue of the objects (excluding the coffins and mummies etc. which were comprehensively published elsewhere in volume of the Cairo catalogue général – see below), essays on the historical background to the cache and a full bibliography of course. It’s a very useful book and has already become very influential among scholars who are still trying to piece together the history of the cache.


Despite visiting the entrance to the tomb while making a film in 2014 I have never been inside TT 320 myself so I found the photos in Graefe & Belova’s book brilliantly helpful!

Belova has made an overview article, ‘The “Royal Cache” and the Circumstances of an enigmatic burial’ available online here. Dylan Bickerstaffe, who wrote the sections on the history of the discovery in Graefe & Belova, also wrote this article which is also freely accesible on the same subject which is also very useful and freely accessible. There’s also a very useful summary of the discovery, the various different types of evidence recovered and the historical background including the late New Kingdom tomb robberies in Reeves & Wilkinson, The Complete Valley of the Kings. The following also provide useful overviews and were the source of some of the photos I included in the talk:

Forbes, D, Tomb. Treasures. Mummies. Book One: The Royal Mummies Caches
Romer, J, The Valley of Kings

Gaston Maspero’s account of the discovery, including his realisation that the appearance of a series of spectacular items on the market in the 1870s meant something big had probably been discovered, is Les Momies royales de Deir El-Bahari which is available as a modern re-print (not recommended as the quality of reproduction is often very poor) or an e-book (much better, and cheaper!) – see here.


Shabtis of the Chief Priests of Amun Pinudjem I, Masaharta and Pinudjem II and members of their family which appeared o the antiquities market in the 1870s and are now in the British Museum. © The Trustees of the British Museum

For photos and further information about the objects from the tomb which ended up in the British Museum – via the art market – you can visit the brilliant ‘Explore the collection’ section of the Museum’s website, here. I recommend searching for the museum accession number (I included these in my slides so you could do this; enter the digits only, not the letters such as ‘EA’) – this usually returns a number of hits but not so many that you won’t be able to find what you’re looking for!


Part of the exquisite Book of the Dead papyrus of Herihor’s wife, Nodjmet, now in the British Museum (EA 10541) – taken from the ‘Explore the collection‘ section of the Museum’s website. © The Trustees of the British Museum

The Louvre in Paris provides a similar facility so if, for example, you wanted to look up ‘‘Tablette Rogers’ – a writing board which almost certainly came from TT 320 and belonged to Neskhons A, the wife of Pinudjem II – you can do so via this page.

Musée du Louvre, Département des Antiquités égyptiennes, E 6858 – https://collections.louvre.fr/ark:/53355/cl010002386https://collections.louvre.fr/CGU

The brilliant work of reconstructing what is known of the objects from the cache that were sold on the market before the tomb became known to the antiquities service was was the responsibility of Cynthia Sheikholeslami. Her article on the subject is ‘A LOST PAPYRUS AND THE ROYAL CACHE IN TT 320 BEFORE 1881’ in Hawass et al (eds.), The realm of the pharaohs: essays in honor of Tohfa Handoussa. 2 vols. (Cairo, 2008). This isn’t available online as far as I know but this provides me with a good opportunity to say thank you to Cynthia for sending me a copy!


Ahmed Abd er-Rassoul from from Forbes, The Royal Mummies Caches

The objects had been discovered by the Abd er-Rassoul brothers of course and sold, at least in some cases, by the British, Belgian and Russian consul and dealer in antiquities, Mostafa Aga Ayat. Marc Trumpour’s article ‘Canadians Collect Ancient Egypt: Captains, the Curious and a Famous Scoundrel’ which includes a reproduction of the only known photograph of Mostafa Aga Ayat is freely available via academia.edu, here.

The family tree of the Twenty-first Dynasty kings in the Tanis and the Chief Priests in Thebes is taken from Aidan Dodson and Dyan Hilton’s brilliantly useful book The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt.


The family tree of the Twenty-first Dynasty kings in Tanis and Chief Priests in Thebes, as it appeared in my slides. After Dodson and Hilton, The Complete Royal Families…

The story of the discovery of the tomb involves a number of the best-known and most important figures in Egyptology in the second half of the nineteenth century including Gaston Maspero, Emile Brugsch, Ahmed Kamal Pasha and the Abder Rassoul Brothers. The single best source information on such figures is Who Was Who in Egyptology, a fifth revised edition of which has recently been published by the Egypt Exploration Society. In addition this excellent article on Ahmed Kamal, who is only belatedly receiving the credit he deserves, appeared in el-Ahram online – here – earlier this year (2021).

‘Al Mummia’ / ‘The Night of Counting the Years’ – the wonderful Egyptian film fo 1961 which dramatises the discovery of the royal cache is freely available via archive.org. I highly recommend it!


A scene from ‘The Night of Counting the Years’ in which Ahmed Kamal (left) and a colleague inspect the coffins as found in TT 320

The coffins and mummies from the two royal caches (TT 320 and KV 35) were all transferred to the Egyptian Museum, Cairo of course, and they were subsequently published in two volumes of the Museum’s catalogue général, as follows:

Coffins: Daressy, G, Catalogue général des antiquités égyptiennes du Musée du Caire N° 61001-61044. Cercueils des cachettes royales (1909)

Mummies: Smith, G E, Catalogue général des antiquités égyptiennes du Musée du Caire N° 61051-61100. The Royal Mummies (1912)

Both are freely accessible via Archive.org (click the titles above). In addition The Royal Mummies was reprinted for the Duckworth Egyptology series a few years ago and is available as an affordable reprint (of good quality!), here.


The coffins of Pinudjem II as they appear in Daressy’s volume

The most comprehensive analysis of the ‘dockets’ – the short inscriptions on the coffins and mummy wrappings indicating when the mummy was rewrapped or moved from location to another, which have been so crucial in helping us to understand how the caches were formed – is Reeves, Valley of the Kings. The Decline of a Royal Necropolis (1990). This is difficult to get hold of now it seems but Reeves’ PhD thesis on which the book is based is freely available via the University of Durham here.


Coffin of Sety I in the Egyptian Museum, with a ‘docket’ inscription visible beneath the hands

A number of articles interpreting certain aspects of the cache have been published in recent years, and are freely available online.

On the question of the history of TT 320, the arguments that it was originally an early 18th Dynasty tomb, and perhaps the qay of Inhapy even the tomb of Ahmose-Nefertari (wife of Ahmose I and mother of Amenhotep I), are articulated in:

Aston, D, ‘TT 320 and the of Queen Inhapi – A Reconsideration Based on Ceramic Evidence‘ (2013)

The following article by the same author deals with similar themes – the tombs of 18th Dynasty queens in the vicinity of Dei el-Bahri including TT 320 – and the identity of the qay of Inhapy:

Aston, D ‘TT 320, TT 358 and KV 39. Three Queen’s Tombs in the vicinity of Deir el-Bahari‘ (2015)


Deir el-Bahri, looking approximately north from the route up to TT 320, looking out across the temples of Mentuhotep II (foreground) and Hatshepsut (beyond).

If you have any questions about anything else in the presentation or any of the themes discussed please let me know via this page. Thanks for reading!