Ancient Egypt: The Discovery of Queen Tiye’s Mummy


By Bob Brier, Long Island University

Egyptologist Victor Loret discovered the tomb of Amenhotep II and three mummies, including a woman speculated to be Queen Tiye, Tutankhamun’s grandmother. Hair analysis confirmed that the elder lady’s hair matched a lock of hair found in Tutankhamun’s tomb, possibly identifying Queen Tiye’s mummy. When the high priests of Amun in the south gathered together the bodies in the tomb of Amenhotep II in the Deir el Bahri cache, all the mummies were brought together by the high priest and moved for safety.

Statue of Amenhotep III and his wife, Queen Tiye
Queen Tiye’s mummy is one of the most remarkable remnants of Dynasty XXI. (Image: Radosław Botev/Public domain)

Victor Loret and the Tomb of Amenhotep II

That was not the only time that happened. There was another time. And this was another discovery of royal mummies. 

Victor Loret in an ancient Egyptian temple
After becoming Director of Antiquities, Loret was quick to start an investigation on Valley of the Kings. (Image: Unknown/Public domain)

The excavator was Victor Loret. He was made Director of Antiquities because the previous director resigned suddenly to go back to Paris. And Loret was the man who was there, so he was quickly promoted. He was a good archaeologist. And he decided to investigate the Valley of the Kings in 1898.

In 1891 he found the tomb of the pharaoh Amenhotep II. He enters the tomb, and in a side room, he finds three mummies lying on their backs. There’s a mummy of an old woman, a mummy of a young prince, and one of a young woman. Their heads have all been smashed in. Loret’s mind is racing. He’s thinking about human sacrifice and other things that could’ve happened. What he doesn’t realize is the tomb has been robbed; the robbers have used their axes to take the bandages off, smashing through their heads. But he didn’t realize this.

This is a transcript from the video series History of Ancient Egypt. Watch it now, on Wondrium.

The Identification of Queen Tiye’s Mummy

The mummies had been robbed, and any jewelry they had was taken off. Everybody thought they would remain unidentified forever. However, when the priests preserved these bodies, they may have really been preserving the grandmother of Tutankhamun. 

The older woman became known as the “elder lady” around the Egyptian Museum in Cairo because she was an old lady, but nobody knew who she was. She had her left arm placed across her chest, which is a sign of royalty. 

An Egyptologist looked at this and said this woman’s probably royal. That makes sense. It’s a royal tomb. You have all these mummies of kings around. And the question then became, who’s missing? Which royal, older lady would be missing? Now, in this tomb was Amenhotep III, and his wife, Queen Tiye, was missing. Is it possible that this woman is really Queen Tiye, who would be the grandmother of Tutankhamun? She’s the mother of Akhenaten, who is probably the father of Tutankhamun.

"The Elder lady," AKA Queen Tiye's mummy
The mummy of Queen Tiye used to be known as the “elder lady”. (Image: Victor Loret/Public domain)

Is there any way to prove that the “elder lady” is Queen Tiye? Probably. In Tutankhamun’s tomb was a small coffinette, and it had on it the name of his grandmother, Queen Tiye. In the coffinette was a little gold statue, but also a lock of the hair of Queen Tiye. A keepsake of grandma. 

Now, hair can be analyzed, and we can match hair samples. Is it possible that the hair on the “elder lady” matches the hair on the lock from Tutankhamun’s tomb? James Harris did a lot of x-raying of the pharaohs. His specialty was x-raying pharaohs. But he also wondered if the hair might match. He got permission from the Egyptian government to take one hair from the “elder lady.” One hair from the lock from Tutankhamun’s tomb, and compare. He concluded that the hair matched.

That spectra analysis showed that it seemed as if this hair matched. So because of these priest-kings of the XXIst Dynasty, and their attempt to preserve the mummies of the royal families, we may have located the grandmother of Tutankhamun. 

Common Questions about the Discovery of Queen Tiye’s Mummy

Q: How did Victor Loret discover Queen Tiye’s mummy?

After Victor Loret became director of antiquities, he decided to investigate the Valley of the Kings, where he found the tomb of Amenhotep II. In this tomb he found three unidentified mummies that had been looted: an old woman, a prince and a young woman. The mummy of the old woman was later identified as Queen Tiye’s mummy.

Q: Why was Queen Tiye’s mummy previously known as the “elder lady?”

Before the identification, Queen Tiye’s mummy was known as the “elder lady.” This was because the mummy could not yet be identified due to the looting and the only thing known about this mummy was that it was the mummy of an old lady

Q: How was Queen Tiye’s mummy identified?

Queen Tiye’s mummy had her left arm resting on her chest. This was a sign of royalty.  Egyptologists were looking for the royalty that was missing. In Tutankhamun’s tomb, they found a coffinette with Queen Tiye’s name on it. In the coffinette was a lock of the queen’s hair, which was later examined and compared with the hair of the “elder lady.” The results showed that the hair of the unidentified mummy matched that of Queen Tiye, Tutankhamun’s grandmother.

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