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The Mummy Cache

Mummies sure do turn up in the oddest of places! Today, we're going to be talking about "mummy caches," hidden tombs and caves used for the express purpose of concealing and protecting the remains of Egyptian pharaohs. Because this is Thutmose Tuesday, we'll be talking about one (very famous) cache in particular: DB320.

Officially discovered in 1881 and located in the cliffs behind Hatshepsut's temple at Deir el-Bahri, DB320 (also referred to as TT320) appears to be no more than a hole in the ground. In reality however, this 30-foot deep shaft marks the entrance to a series of underground chambers and corridors housing the bodies of over fifty New Kingdom pharaohs, queens, and nobles. The roster for DB320 is a veritable "who's who" of the 18th and 19th Dynasties, including the likes of Ahmose I, Amnehotep I, Queen Ahmose-Nefertari, Seti I, and Ramesses the Great. Also interned in the cache were not one, not two, but three Thutmoside pharaohs: Thutmose(s) I, II, and III. The question is, why were they here? If you'll recall, Pharaoh Thutmose I was originally buried alongside his daughter Hatshepsut in tomb KV20, and was later moved to KV38. How did he and his descendants end up in DB320?

The answer is, in fact, quite simple. Beginning in the 18th Dynasty and continuing throughout the Late and Roman Periods of Egyptian history, tomb robbers were a major issue. During periods of economic crisis or political unrest, pharaohs would even endorse "state-sponsored" tomb robbery, sending out their own men to open the tombs of their predecessors in search of gold and jewels to fund their political agendas. Caches like DB320 were created as a protective measure, often by members of the priesthood, to safeguard the bodies (and, by extension, eternal souls) of Egypt's pharaohs from damage and desecration. Sometimes these priests would dig the shafts and tunnels themselves, or sometimes (as was believed to be the case with DB320), they would co-opt an abandoned or unfinished tomb for their purposes. Thanks to the efforts of these ancient guardians, Egyptologists today have a greater insight into the lives and reigns of many New Kingdom Pharaohs, information which could have been lost to the ages had their bodies not been preserved. The three major Thutmoside mummies discovered in DB320 are especially significant, and have been priceless assets in DNA testing and research processes used to ID other mummies from their family tree (like the mummy of Maatkare Hatshepsut identified in 2007).

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