Argentine researchers reopen 3,500-year-old Egyptian tomb, makes major archeological discoveries

With a blocked entrance, we crawled through a very small hole measuring 50 by 39 centimeters, from a nearby tomb. Every time we entered; we passed by a pile of mummy boxes. I felt no fear as I made my way in first. Experts warned us about vermin or toxins, since the tomb remained closed for 40 years. Despite this, I felt eager and excited to go in.

  • 1 year ago
  • April 18, 2023
6 min read
Andrea Zingarelli is a 55 year old doctor with a background in history and Egyptology. She serves as a professor of General History 1, teaching Ancient Orient and Egypt at the National University of La Plata in Argentina. She has played a lead role in uncovering and excavating ancient Egyptian tombs.
The Amenmose project brings together researchers from CONICET and national and foreign universities, including archaeologists, historians, and curators, who set out to study the tomb of Amenmose, in Luxor, Egypt.

The project was financed by the Faculty of Humanities and Educational Sciences (FaHCE) of the National University of La Plata, and by individuals, largely through the Amenmose Egypt Civil Association, a non-profit organization. The team consists of Andrea Paula Zingarelli, Eva Amanda Calomino, Liliana M. Manzi, and Maria Belen Castro, Silvana Yomaha, Silvana Fantechi, Pablo Rosell, Myriam Hara y Claudia Kohen.

LUXOR, Egypt — I took part in three of four expeditions Argentina made to Egypt. Today, I lead a team working in the tomb of Amenmose in the Valley of the Nobles. Always interested in history and myths, I became fascinated by the idea of searching through the past. I live the life I always dreamed of.

From the moment we uncovered our first artifact, I knew I couldn’t go back

I spent my entire childhood and early adulthood studying ancient Egypt. Everything about it intrigued me: its construction of the afterlife, representations of the gods and the pharaohs, and the system of ideographic phonetic writing. Egypt remains one of the first cultures in the history of humanity to last as long as 3,000 years. I knew, someday, I wanted to lead my own expedition to uncover its secrets.

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By 1995, four of us arrived in Qantara, a town that crumbled under bombings. Our group – comprised entirely of women – stayed Tell el-Ghaba, 15 kilometers away. By the following year, our group became larger, and we set up a trench 10×1 meters, spending days digging until the angle of a fortification appeared. We felt so much excitement, we could barely believe it. We jumped up and down, embracing one another. That find gave us the motivation to continue.

Shortly after, we discovered amulets, loom basins, ceramics, and a piece of gold. The news made the front page of all the newspapers in the world. I felt so proud. Returning to Buenos Aires afterward proved difficult. It felt like a different part of my life. All I wanted was to be back in Egypt, doing more.

From then on, I went to every expedition carried out in Sinai until 1998, when a project was set up in Luxor in the tomb of Neferhotep. Eventually, I became a mother and dedicated my time to other things. I attended international congresses, directed a project to study stelae, and worked on the book Tales of Ancient Egypt.

Discovering the Tomb of Amenmose

In 2019, I resumed my fieldwork on the Amenmose project. At the time, I knew very little about Amenmose, the Theban nobleman, but remembered seeing a drawing of one of the agricultural scenes that decorated his walls in a manual. His sarcophagus or coffin had never been found. A rush of adrenaline overtook me as I made my way to the location. 

Amenmose lived from around 1479 B.C. to 1458 B.C. and worked as the stonemason for Amun, the most important God of the time. His tasks included decorating the tombs. An important person at the time, he was granted a tomb of his own. On the walls, he is pictured as young, controlling agricultural work with a cane and worshiping the gods. According to the drawings, his wife stood taller than him, something atypical to find in a representation. We also discovered he had a son, and later in 2020, that he had a daughter, whose image someone took down.

The space we worked in consisted of two rooms, all decorated. Our first task was to protect the paintings. With a blocked entrance, we crawled through a very small hole measuring 50 by 39 centimeters, from a nearby tomb. Every time we entered; we passed by a pile of mummy boxes. I felt no fear as I made my way in first. Experts warned us about vermin or toxins since the tomb remained closed for 40 years. Despite this, I felt eager and excited to go in.

We found a hidden entrance, buried under the dirt and rocks 

We used protective mamelukes and masks with activated charcoal to protect ourselves from fungi and other particles. My team worked in groups of two or three people, due to the limited space. One team took care of digital photography, another surveyed the damage and deterioration of the walls while planning a system to protect them, and a third collected texts so the writing could be translated and published. We managed to make the bright colors reappear in many of the paintings by treating them. 

Our main task remained excavation and finding the original entrance of the tomb. The latter proved difficult due to seven meters of sediment covering it, but we managed anyway. We also found two jambs with inscriptions on them: the name of Amenmose and scriptures of an offering, as well as an image of him with an offering table. In addition, we found Egyptian clothing the mummies wore, made of linen, with representations still on them. We also discovered a painted wooden ear from the Late Period, dry flower garlands, funerary cones with inscriptions of the names of the tomb owners, remains of painted cartonnage with hieroglyphics, mummified human remains, and remains of painted faience with a Coptic inscription

Time froze as we looked around the room 

Along with copies of pharaonic objects, we found items belonging to the Qurnawi inhabitants, such as a seal from a family from 1927, coins of various origins from the 1970s, remains of a bullet, glass bottles, and the birth certificate of a man who was born in 1957. It felt so magical to see it all. I completely lost my breath when we stumbled on the bedrock. Time felt frozen for a moment. We stopped and stood in front of it, noticing remnants of adobe. Tears started streaming down my face. We all felt so proud, we cried with excitement. Our hard work finally paid off.

Now, we must open the main entrance to the tomb completely so our restoration machines can enter. I feel beyond happy to do this job, and to ensure future generations can study our discoveries. During the last expedition, in 2022, we found remains of human and animal mummies. We photographed them and left them in Situ. Still, we lack the proper information to establish whether they are Amenmose’s remains or those of his family. With time and more experience, a clearer idea will begin to emerge. 

All photos courtesy of Andrea Zingarelli’s team.

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