Tomb of Queen


4th Dynasty

The empty tomb of Queen Hetepheres

Who was Queen Hetepheres?
Hetepheres was closely bonded within the royal family (she is thought to have been the daughter of Huni (last ruler of the 3rd dynasty)), she was also the sister and wife of Sneferu and the mother of Khufu. The queen must have been a prominent royal and must have had considerable power in her own right).

The view of the tomb as it first appeared

The tomb
She is thought to have died during the reign of her son (Khufu) and was initially buried at Dahshur. Soon after her burial, however, her tomb was plundered by tomb robbers. Her surviving funerary goods along with her sarcophagus was transferred to a more secure tomb near to Khufu's pyramid.
Hetephere's tomb remained safe and undiscovered until 1925 AD. By a stroke of good fortune, the tripod leg of a photographer's camera broke through the ceiling of the tomb (the photographer was part of the expedition led by George A. Reisner, an American archaeologist). The tomb itself consisted of a deep shaft (99ft) which then led into a single chamber (this chamber at the time of its discovery was still sealed with limestone blocks. Inside this chamber were the grave goods of queen Hetepheres (an inscription on one of the chairs in the tomb gave her name to the excavators: 'The mother of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, follower of Horus, she who is in charge of the affairs of the harem[?] whose every word is done for her, daughter of the god [begotten] of his body, Hetepheres'), these goods included:
a large, dismantled, canopy bed; two armchairs; a bed; a carrying chair; smaller items in gold. copper and alabaster (including a manicure set); and perhaps most excitingly an unopened sarcophagus and canopic chest.

furniture of the tomb under the canopy also found in the tomb

Work on clearing the tomb moved very slowly - most of the wood in the burial furniture had decayed almost completely, it was only through the patient work of Reiner and his team that later reconstructions were possible. Reisner delayed opening the sarcophagus and canopic chest until the rest of the tomb was cleared and properly recorded. And then on March 3 1927, before a group of distinguished gentlemen, the order was given to raise the sarcophagus lid - within a few moments disapointment struck - the sarcophagus was empty! (At this point Reisner rose and announced that

'I regret Queen Hetepheres is not receiving...'

The canopic chest, however, was not empty - it contained four packets of viscera. So if her canopic chest was there, why wasn't her mummy? Reisner himself suggested a possible reason - if her original tomb had been robbed and her mummy destroyed at that time, her sarcophagus was sealed and the truth withheld from Khufu about mother's fate (to prevent him from suffering further grief).

More recently Mark Lehner has suggested that the tomb discovered by Reisner was Hetepheres' original tomb - her mummy was removed a later stage to a burial in a satellite pyramid (of Khufu's pyramid) where it was destroyed in antiquity:

(picture from the tomb - museum of fine arts Boston, pictures of objects from the tomb - Cairo Museum).