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Unraveling the Mysteries of Thuya: A Noblewoman’s Life and Afterlife in Ancient Egypt

The discovery of the mummy of Thuya offers a remarkable glimpse into the life and times of a prominent figure from ancient Egypt. Yuya and Thuya, who were the parents of Queen Tiye, the beloved Great Royal Wife of King Amenhotep III, were buried in the famous Valley of the Kings. Their tomb, known as KV46, was discovered in February 1905 by British Egyptologist James E. Quibell during excavations funded by the American millionaire Theodore M. Davis.

2. Origins and Family

2.1. Noble Origins and Titles

Yuya and Thuya hailed from Akhmim, a city in the modern Sohag Governorate of Upper Egypt. To the ancient Egyptians, it was known as Ipu, the capital of the Ninth Nome of Upper Egypt. While the couple were not of royal status, they were of noble origins. Some Egyptologists propose that Thuya might have been a descendant of Queen Ahmose-Nefertari, adding to her prestige.

2.2. Connection to Queen Ahmose-Nefertari

Despite their non-royal origins, Yuya and Thuya held significant titles. Thuya, for instance, was known as the “Chief of the Entertainers” of both Min and Amun, and “Singer of Hathor.” These titles suggest her involvement in various religious and ceremonial activities, indicating her high status in society.

Yuya and Thuya were ancient Egyptian aristocrats who flourished during the middle of the Eighteenth Dynasty.

3. Descendants and Influence

3.1. Queen Tiye and Anen

Yuya and Thuya had at least two known children: Queen Tiye and a man named Anen. Tiye became the Great Royal Wife of Amenhotep III, one of the most powerful pharaohs of the Eighteenth Dynasty. Anen held several important priestly titles, including “Chancellor of Lower Egypt,” “Second Prophet of Amun,” and “Sem-Priest of Heliopolis.”

3.2. Possible Connection to King Ay

It is also proposed that King Ay, who ruled Egypt towards the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty, may have been a son of Yuya and Thuya. This connection, although not definitively proven, suggests the family’s lasting influence on the Egyptian royal lineage.

4. Burial and Preservation

4.1. Discovery and Initial Examination

The mummies of Yuya and Thuya were remarkably well-preserved when their tomb was discovered. Thuya’s body, in particular, provides a wealth of information about the mummification practices and the physical characteristics of the era. Her mummy was found lying serenely within her coffin, covered with a large linen shroud knotted at the back and secured by four bandages, leaving her feet and face exposed.

4.2. Mummy Mask and Artifacts

Thuya’s mummy mask, along with other artifacts found in the tomb, is housed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The mask is exquisitely crafted, reflecting the high level of artistry and craftsmanship of the time. These artifacts offer invaluable insights into the burial customs and material culture of ancient Egypt.

Mummy mask of Thuya

5. The Condition of Thuya’s Mummy

5.1. Physical Characteristics and Condition

The well-preserved mummy of Thuya shows a woman aged around 50-60 years. Measuring at 145 cm (4 ft 9.1 in) tall, her body displays several notable features. Her arms lay alongside her body with her hands flat, and her ears are double pierced. Thuya’s gold foil sandals, discovered on her feet, were a significant find, indicating her noble status.

5.2. Dental Health and Scoliosis

Thuya’s dental health was poor, as she was missing several teeth and had a damaged molar. These dental issues likely caused her significant discomfort during her lifetime. Additionally, C.T. scans revealed that she had thoracolumbar scoliosis, a curvature of the spine, which would have affected her posture and mobility.

6. C.T. Scan Findings

C.T. Scan of Thuya's mummy in profile view.

6.1. Scans and Observations

C.T. scans of Thuya’s mummy provided detailed insights into her physical condition. The scans showed a smooth lateral curve of the spine, confirming the presence of scoliosis. Additionally, the scans revealed an empty skull cavity, as the brain had been removed during the mummification process. The embalmers had placed balled linen within her orbital sockets to give her a lifelike gaze and hide the sunken eyes of death.

6.2. Embalming Practices and Techniques

Thuya’s body showed evidence of typical Egyptian embalming practices. A resin-soaked pack was placed within the usual left inguinal incision, though no amulets or gold plating were found near the wound. Her heart was left intact within her chest cavity, as it was believed to be the seat of the soul and necessary for the afterlife. The torso was filled with resin-soaked linen folds and wraps, as well as heterogeneous sawdust or soil, to maintain its shape and prevent collapse.

C.T. scan revealing Thuya's metallic sheet sandals still upon her feet. Likely made of gold sheet.

7. Analysis of Embalming Practices

7.1. Linen and Resin Packing

The embalmers took great care to ensure that Thuya’s body remained as lifelike as possible. Both her eyes and nose were packed with linen, which prevented the collapse of these features during decomposition. The linen balls placed in her eye sockets even appeared to have pigment added to give the appearance of irises, enhancing the lifelike gaze.

These gold sandals were among the burial trappings of an Egyptian queen of Thutmose III.

7.2. Preservation of Facial Features

Thuya’s nose was also packed with linen to maintain its shape. This attention to detail preserved the prominent features of her face, which would have been important for the spiritual beliefs of the Egyptians. Despite these efforts, her nose showcased a deviated septum to the right, which she might have had in life, and a crooked nose bridge, possibly due to decomposition or the embalming process.

8. The Outer and Inner Coffins

8.1. Description and Materials

The outer coffin of Thuya is made of wood carved and covered with stucco gilt. It is mummiform in shape with finely modeled features. The inner coffin, also made of wood covered with stucco gilt, features an elaborate broad necklace with inlays of colored glass. The craftsmanship of these coffins reflects the high status and reverence given to Thuya.

8.2. Scent and Preservation Observations

During the opening of Thuya’s coffin on the Channel 5 show “The Nile, Egypt’s Great River,” historians Bettany Hughes and Salima Ikram noted the strong scent of perfumes and resins. This suggests that the embalming materials used were of high quality and have remained effective over millennia.

Outer coffin of Thuya

9. Cultural and Historical Significance

9.1. Impact on Understanding Egyptian Mummification

The discovery and study of Thuya’s mummy provide valuable insights into the mummification practices and religious beliefs of ancient Egypt. The meticulous embalming techniques and the preservation of her body highlight the Egyptians’ advanced knowledge of anatomy and their spiritual emphasis on the afterlife.

9.2. Legacy of Thuya and Her Descendants

Thuya, as the mother of Queen Tiye and grandmother of King Akhenaten, holds a significant place in Egyptian history. Her well-preserved mummy and the artifacts found in her tomb offer a tangible connection to the past, enriching our understanding of the Eighteenth Dynasty and the lineage that led to Tutankhamun.

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