It’s one of the saddest and strangest love stories ever … although perhaps it might not be if it were in a modern soap opera or in some remote parts of the U.S. A 12-year-old girl is forced to marry her own father; then, after he dies, her half-brother. Then, after the half-brother dies, she marries her own grandfather. She disappeared shortly after the last marriage and, despite (or perhaps because) she belonged to the most powerful family in the area, her body was never found in any of its well-known tombs.
If that story sounds familiar, you’re up on your ancient Egyptian history. The girl, of course, was Ankhesenpaaten, daughter and future wife of Akhenaten (a.k.a. Amenhotep IV, Pharaoh of the 18th dynasty) and Nefertiti. It was apparently common at the time for daughters of pharaohs to marry their fathers and father their children – she is believed to have had at least one daughter with Amenhotep IV, who also cheated on Nefertiti since she bore him daughters only -- no male heirs. One of those trysts with a woman identified only as “The Younger Woman” (take that, Nefertiti) resulted in a boy named Tutankhamun who, when his father died, became King Tut and married his half-sister/stepmother Ankhesenpaaten.
Got it so far?
She changed her name to Ankhesenamun and had two stillborn daughters, whose remains are most likely the mummified fetuses found in Tut’s tomb. When Tut himself died at 18 (she was 21), she married Ay – Tut’s successor, her own maternal grandfather and the second-to-the-last pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty. As you may have guessed, Ay already had at least one other wife, Tey, who is depicted on most paintings of him. Ankhesenamun apparently lived with Ay through his four-year reign but died or disappeared soon after his death. Ay’s successor tried to erase the memories of Ay and Tut and may have succeeded in doing the same for Ankhesenamun.
Until now. Egyptologist and former minister of state for antiquities affairs Zahi Hawass announced last week on his website that he has begun new excavations at the West Valley or the Valley of the Monkeys at a site believed to be a tomb near the tomb of Ay. It was discovered last year using underground radar, which showed what appeared to be the entrance of a tomb 16 feet underground. Funding for the project comes from the Discovery Channel and Hawass leaves no doubt as to what he’s looking for:
“It is believed that the location of the tomb of Ankhsenamun, Tutankhamun's widow, who married Ay after Tutankhamun's death, is still hidden somewhere in the Valley of the Monkeys.”
With a story like Ankhsenamun’s this excavation and subsequent documentary might be better suited for HBO.