The Coffin
JdE 39627
KV55coffincolor.jpg (86151 bytes)
Restored KV 55 coffin lid.  Below left: detail of coffin lid showing
excised cartouche. Below right: detail of damaged coffin face
showing where gold mask had been torn off. (From CVK, 121.)

    Found on the floor at the southern end of the burial chamber near the wall niche which held the canopic containers, the wooden coffin in which the mummy rested was the first example of the royal rishi-style ever found in the Valley of the Kings. An object of intensive study over the years, the coffin with its excised cartouches and other unusual features has been attributed to several different owners. The names of the person who originally owned the coffin, and also of the body which eventually came to rest within its gilded interior, were effectively erased in antiquity, and can only be inferred indirectly from examinations of the remaining evidence, which is sadly scattered throughout several museums and private collections.
     Originally described by Ayrton as covered with gold leaf and inlaid with carnelian and glass, the coffin was not intact, and had fallen in on one side, exposing the mummy's head (ToQT, 8-9.) Davis's description of the coffin (ToQT, 2) adds nothing substantial to Ayrton's account, but J. L. Smith provided more detail, noting that the damaged lid had a "feathered design in semi-precious stones, resembling the scales of a fish." Smith also reported that the entire coffin had been lined with gold foil which had "loosened from the wood." Intentional damage was evident: in addition to the cut-out cartouches, the gold face on the coffin had been mostly torn off, leaving only the forehead and one eye, and J. L. Smith claimed that pieces of gold had also been torn from sections of the wig and parts of the crossed hands. A uraeus decorated the head of the coffin, and a band of inscriptions running down the center of the lid and gilded feet was described by Smith as "very clear cut." (TTAA, 58, 63.) Weigall stated that inscriptions on the coffin, with their hieroglyphs made of inlaid stone, gave "the titles of Akhenaten," and translated one of these as "the beautiful child of the Sun." (GP, 137.) The coffin was in a very fragile condition (TTAA, 60) and the early writers all comment on damage which they attributed primarily to rainwater leaking through a crack in the ceiling. J. L. Smith theorized that the coffin had actually floated in water at some time (TTAA, 58) but Martha Bell (JARCE 27 [1990], 132) has argued that actual rainwater damage to the coffin, mummy, and other objects in the tomb has been exaggerated. Different causes for other types of damage have also been hypothesized. Ayrton found gilded boarding under the coffin, and (as noted above) interpreted this as a bier which had collapsed, probably splitting the coffin lid. (ToQT, 10.) He stated that the lid  had split into two halves "from the feet to the neck," but then said that the lid was removed from the tomb in three pieces. (ToQT, 9.) J. L. Smith claimed that the coffin lid had been carried out of the tomb in two pieces, and that it had collapsed inward after being touched (presumably by one of the excavators.) (TTAA, 63.) Maspero thought the lid had been split by a stone which fell from the ceiling and dropped onto it. (TTAA, 60.) 
    The anomalies of the coffin (the unusual wig, the excised cartouches, and its apparent modifications) have fallen under close scrutiny over the years, beginning with Georges Daressy's 1916 suggestion that the coffin had originally been made for Queen Tiye and then adapted for a king's burial. (BIFAO 12 [1916], 145ff.) Reginald (Rex) Englbach's detailed 1931 study of the coffin's inscriptions indicated that the coffin had originally been made for Smenkhkare and then subsequently modified when the young man ascended the throne as sole ruler. (ASAE 31 [1931], 98ff.) This interpretation was called into question by Sir Alan Gardiner in 1957, when his own study of the inscriptions led him to conclude that the coffin had been made expressly for Akhenaten. (JEA 43 [1957], 10ff.) Cyril Aldred (JEA 47 [1961], 40ff.) and H. W. Fairman (JEA 47 [1961] 25ff.) disagreed with Gardiner, arguing that the coffin had originally belonged to a woman, possibly Meritaten, and had then been altered for use by a man. Aldred identified this man as Akhenaten, but Fairman believed it was Smenkhkare. Speculation about the original owner of the coffin has seemed to stop since Perepelkin's study of Amarna texts demonstrated (to the satisfaction of most scholars) that the remaining inscriptions on the coffin and the minimal traces of inscriptions left on the canopic jars contain elements from the titulary of Kiya, one of Akhenaten's lesser wives. (GC [Moscow, 1978].) The coffin and canopics are now generally accepted as hers, but the identity of the mummy which finally employed these funerary objects is still a matter of heated debate. (For a beautiful color photograph of the whole KV 55 coffin lid, see Ian Bolton's Egypt: Land of Eternity website: "Tomb 55--Who Was The Owner?" Scroll down the page a bit to see the image on the left hand side.)

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