Tuesday 14 February 2012

Ancient Egyptian Queens – The Mystery of Kiya

Canopic Jar of Kiya - Metropolitan Museum of Art

Have you heard of an Egyptian queen called Kiya? Many of us know the names and a little bit about the lives of the most famous of the ancient Egyptian queens, such as Cleopatra, Hatshepsut and the beautiful Nefertiti, but how much do we know about the scores of other women who once wore the crown of Egypt?  An Egyptian pharaoh could have more than one wife, and he would usually have one senior queen who was called his ‘Great Royal Wife’, as well as several secondary wives and ladies of the harem, or ‘royal ornaments’. In order to consolidate his claim to the throne and carry on the royal blood line, a pharaoh would usually marry a royal princess who was quite often also his sister or half-sister.  

There are also instances where a pharaoh married his own daughters, but whether these were merely political unions undertaken for reasons of State or real marriages is still open to debate. Also, sometimes foreign princesses were sent to Egypt as a wife for pharaoh, in order to cement alliances and strengthen international relations. We do not even know the names of many of these shadowy women who lived out their lives within the walls of pharaoh’s palaces, but sometimes history does reveal fragmentary details and scraps of evidence that give us some tantalising hints and a glimpse into the life of one of these more obscure Egyptian queens, such as the mysterious Kiya who was a secondary wife of the heretic pharaoh Akhenaten.

Akhenaten was a pharaoh who reigned towards the end of the 18th dynasty during Egypt’s New Kingdom.  He is infamous for breaking away from the traditional Egyptian gods and promoting a new religion that contained only one deity, the Aten or the sun disc.  Akhenaten tried to erase all traces of the old religion, shutting the temples, getting rid of the priests and erasing inscriptions and images of the gods.  Initially he built new temples dedicated to the Aten in traditional centres like Thebes, but after ruling for several years he uprooted the whole administration of Egypt and relocated to a new city he had built on the banks of the Nile.  

He called this new city Akhetaten or ‘Horizon of the Aten’, now known as Amarna. This new capital city was lavishly decorated with images of Akhenaten, his Great Royal Wife Nefertiti and their growing family of six daughters worshipping the Aten and also with many relaxed, informal scenes of daily life within the royal family.  These depictions of the royal couple being affectionate with each other and the young princesses were rendered in a completely new, natural manner that had never been seen in Egypt before, as all art had previously been very formal and based on tradition.

However, although Amarna had been explored and excavated by many Egyptologists the existence of another important wife of Akhenaten was not even suspected until around 1959 when William C Hayes made note of an inscription on a small cosmetic container housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York that gave the name and titles of a royal favourite called Kiya.  It is believed that it had been purchased from Howard Carter, the famous discoverer of the tomb of Tutankhamun, about thirty years before then, but it had no provenance so it could not be verified where it had been discovered.  The short inscription reads:
‘The wife and greatly beloved of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Living in Truth, Lord of the Two Lands, Neferkheperure Waenre, the Goodly Child of the Living Aten, who shall be living forever and ever Kiya’.

She was also often referred to as ‘the Favourite’ and these were the titles that, with some minor variations, would always be used on monuments and artefacts dedicated to Kiya, and they seem to show that she had not been born an Egyptian princess or a member of the royal family. She was never referred to as ‘Heiress’, ‘King’s Daughter’ or ‘Great Royal Wife’ on monuments which she would have been if she had had royal blood. In addition, her name was also never written enclosed in a cartouche and she was never depicted wearing a royal uraeus. 

So if Kiya was not royal then who was she and where did she come from?  Kiya is not a common Egyptian name which has led to some Egyptologists speculating that she may have been a foreign princess sent to live at the court of Akhenaten as one of his minor wives.  In 1887 some 300 baked clay tablets inscribed in cuneiform were discovered by a peasant woman at Amarna, who had been digging for ‘sebakh’ or ancient, decayed mud brick to use as fertiliser.  These proved to be the diplomatic archives of Akhenaten’s administration, written mainly in Akkadian, and were the correspondence between Egypt and foreign courts.  

Some of this correspondence related to a daughter of King Tushratta of Mittani, who had been sent as a wife to Pharaoh Amenophis III during the latter part of his reign and on his death was inherited by his son Akhenaten.  This Mittanian princess was called Tadukhipa, and it has been suggested that Kiya was a shortened version of this foreign name.  However, this remains just a theory as there is no hard archaeological evidence that links these two royal ladies.

Talatat - Kiya and her Daughter

Kiya may well have been an Egyptian and Cyril Aldred in his book ‘Akhenaten’ suggests that her name could have been derived from the Egyptian word for a monkey ‘Ky’. In fact, the only archaeological evidence of Kiya’s life comes from Amarna during the middle years of Akhenaten’s reign, and from some articles of usurped funerary equipment found in the mysterious tomb KV55 in the Valley of the Kings.  

These funerary articles from KV55 included a badly damaged, but elaborately decorated gilded coffin in the ‘rishi’ or feathered style that had originally been inscribed for an Amarnan royal woman and also an exquisite set of alabaster canopic jars carved with the head of a beautiful Egyptian woman wearing a Nubian style wig that was very fashionable during the latter years of Akhenaten’s reign.  The inscriptions on the canopic jars had also been altered, but there is enough evidence to show that they had originally been inscribed for Kiya and had been made for her for use in her own tomb.

Her name has also been discovered on several carved blocks from Amarna, and there are also a few vases and pieces of kohl-tubes that bear her inscriptions.  Aside from the carved faces on the canopic jars, it is also thought that some of the sculptor’s studies found in the remains of the house of the sculptor Thutmose when it was excavated at Amarna bear Kiya’s likeness.  However, the existing evidence also points to Kiya having mysteriously disappeared from the royal court a few years before the death of Akhenaten.  

A wine docket from one of Kiya’s estates has been found that is inscribed with Year 11 of Akhenaten’s reign, but there is no other evidence of her after this date.  It is not known what happened to Kiya; whether she died naturally or whether a darker fate overtook this beautiful queen.  There have been several theories put forward as to what could have happened to Kiya, and there is some evidence that she could have fallen into disgrace, which might have led to her being sent from the Court or even killed.  Was Akhenaten’s Great Royal Wife Nefertiti jealous of the love and attention that her husband showered on Kiya, and so plotted to get rid of her beautiful rival?

One location at Amarna where Kiya’s name and titles had been prominent was at the temple known as the Maru-Aten that once stood in the southern part of Akhenaten’s glittering new city.  However, in the last years of the heretic pharaoh’s reign her inscriptions and images were usurped and re-carved with the names and titles of the Princess Meritaten, who was the eldest daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti.  Elsewhere in the city, a small ‘sunshade’ temple at the Per-Aten the largest temple in the city that had been dedicated to Kiya was re-inscribed for Meritaten and her younger sister Ankhesenpaaten.

Some Egyptologists believe that Kiya may have died in childbirth.  She had been shown in one carved image with a daughter, and there is also a decorated wall in the royal tomb at Amarna depicting the death of an Amarnan royal woman, where there is a nurse shown carrying away a newly born infant, that indicates that she may have died giving birth.  We do not know the name of this infant princess, but some experts think that Kiya’s daughter might have been Princess Baketaten even though this little known royal child is usually thought of as a daughter of Amenophis III and Queen Tiye.  

Kiya was also once thought to have been the mother of the boy king Tutankhamun and her ability to produce a son and heir was thought to be one of the possible triggers for Nefertiti’s jealousy and fury, as she had only produced six daughters. However, in recent years Dr Zahi Hawass and Carsten Pusch have undertaken genetic studies on the Egyptian royal mummies.  These studies have shown that Tutankhamun’s natural mother was someone only known as the ‘Younger Lady’, as her unidentified mummy was found in the cache of royal mummies discovered in KV35, the tomb of Amenophis II in the Valley of the Kings.  

However, the DNA evidence also showed that the ‘Younger Lady’ was a daughter of Amenophis III and Queen Tiye and therefore a sister of Akhenaten.  This would tend to eliminate the possibility of Kiya being the mother of Tutankhamun, as she is never referred to in inscriptions as being a ‘King’s Daughter’ or a ‘King’s Sister’.  However, there is also no archaeological evidence that has yet come to light to show that Akhenaten ever married one of his sisters, so the sands of Egypt still has many secrets to reveal from the Amarna period.  The ‘Younger Lady’ could potentially be Sitamen, Henuttaneb, Isis or Nebetah or a royal daughter of Amenophis III and Tiye that is still unknown to history.

Valley of the Kings

So if the mummy of the ‘Younger Lady’ is not that of Kiya, then where was she buried and where is her mummy now?  There is some evidence that she was initially buried in the royal tomb at Amarna, and while it was thought that she was Tutankhamun’s mother there was a theory that after he moved the royal court back to Thebes that he brought his mother’s mummy and funerary equipment back to the Valley of the Kings for a secret burial close to his own tomb.  Before it was proved that the newly discovered tomb KV63 was a cache used for storing the linen and equipment used during mummification, Dr Zahi Hawass stated in a press release that it was his belief that KV63 was the tomb of Kiya, as it is situated just across from Tutankhamun’s tomb, KV62, in the Valley of the Kings.  

However, there were no artefacts or inscriptions found in KV63 to link the tomb to Kiya, and her final resting place still remains a mystery.  As her usurped coffin and canopic jars were found in KV55, having being used for another burial, does this mean that her mummy was destroyed in antiquity?  If it was, this would support the theory that she had been disgraced at some stage, and that her superb funerary equipment was taken and reused as an act of revenge.

So will we ever unravel the mystery of Kiya?  Hopefully, future excavations in Egypt will bring more evidence to light that gives us further information about this fascinating period of history.  There is still so much to learn, and maybe one day the tomb and mummy of Kiya will be discovered and her secrets revealed.