Kiya – The Most Mysterious Woman of Amarna

Kiya - The Most Mysterious Woman of Amarna

The only thing we really know for certain about Kiya is her name, written in the forms kiya, kiw, kia, kaia, and that she was a wife of Akhenaten titled The Great Beloved Wife .  Much information about Kiya was lost over time and nowadays information about her is mixed with the biographies of Nefertiti and other women of Amarna, leading to an air of mystery about who Kiya really was.

Where did she come from?

The secret of Kiya starts with the topic of her origins. Between many speculations are two main theories. It is known that one of Akhenaten’s wives came from the North Syrian state of Mitanni. Her name was Tadukhepa and she was a princess who had been sent to Egypt as a diplomatic bride. According to Aidan Dodson this mysterious princess was Kiya. In his book Amarna Sunset he wrote ”Kiya is known from a range of monuments and objects, but in most cases they have been usurped by other persons during Akhenaten’s reign: her coffin was adapted for a pharaoh’s burial, while most of her relief representations were recut and relabeled for Princess Meryetaten (or on occasion Ankhesenpaaten), implying disgrace”

The exact date of Kiya’s death is unknown, but the last trace of her was around the 12 th or 13 th year of Akhenaten’s reign. Therefore, researchers have tried to reconstruct the events surrounding Kiya and her disappearance around known facts. Here appears the second theory about Kiya’s origins, which is connected to the results of a recent DNA analysis.

Kiya was known to be a wife of Akhenaten, pictured in this relief carving

Kiya was known to be a wife of Akhenaten, pictured in this relief carving ( public domain ).

The mummy revealed the truth

The most fascinating part of the research about Kiya is connected with the mummy of the Younger Lady discovered in tomb KV35. It was the second ”cachette”, after DB320, found with royal mummies inside. The tomb, which was reopened in 1907, was the final resting place for two women known as the Younger Lady and the Elder Lady, who were found lying next to each other.

Dr Joann Fletcher, the famous Egyptologist from York University, announced in 2004 that the Younger Lady was the beautiful Queen Nefertiti. French researcher, Marc Gabolde, in his recently published theory, follows Fletcher’s opinion.

DNA tests, which were carried out on 11 mummies by the team of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, the National Geographic Society and Siemens, revealed the following: Tutankhamun’s father is very likely the man found in tomb KV55 – Akhenaten; the Elder Lady is Queen Tiye, mother of Akhenaten and wife of Amenhotep III; the mother of Tutankhamun is the Younger Lady, the daughter of Tiye and Amenhotep III; and Tutankhamun’s parents were brother and sister.

Mummy of the Younger Lady

Mummy of the Younger Lady ( public domain )

Regarding the inscriptions found in the tomb of Pharaoh Ay, Nefertiti was his daughter and the sister of Mutnedjmet – wife of Pharaoh Haremhab. This means that Nefertiti was in fact a niece of Queen Tiye. According to inscription from the Theban tomb of Ay, the results of research by Joann Fletcher are incorrect. It is unknown which of the several sisters of Akhenaten the Younger Lady is, but the role and special title of Kiya could be a hint. Currently the majority of Egyptologists, including Zahi Hawass, believe that Younger Lady was The Great Beloved wife of Akhenaten – Kiya.

What is even more interesting is that latest scans of the mummy showed another part of forgotten history – this woman was murdered. The radiologist, Dr. Ashraf Selim, argues that if the mummy’s face had been smashed after embalming, one would expect to see bits of dried bone and flesh within the wound.  The CT-scan performed by the Egyptian Mummy Project revealed very few pieces of the relevant broken bones within the sinus cavity, suggesting that the damage to the mummy’s face occurred before embalming, most likely even before death.

The puzzle of the artifacts

The researcher who started to analyze artifacts connected with Kiya experienced a painful lack of information about her. Apart from the mysterious mummy, the most important artifacts connected to Kiya are four canopic jars found in tomb KV55. Currently one of her jars is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the other three are in Cairo. They are impressive examples of New Kingdom art, with the face of the lid carved as a portrait.  The lid of the jar represents one of the royal women of Amarna, variously identified as Nefertiti, Tiye, Merytamen or Kiya. Analysis of the erased inscriptions on the jars showed that the face of the woman with a long slender nose, sensuous lips and sloe eyes probably belonged to Kiya. There are also several reliefs with her name or appearance, fragments of statues, amulets, vases, fragmentary kohl-tubes, a wine-jar docket and other types of artifacts.  There is a sarcophagus, currently located in the Cairo Museum collection, which possibly belonged to Kiya. If it is true, it is very significant fact that it was later adapted as a sarcophagus of Akhenaten.

Canopic jar with the head of a carved woman, variously identified as Nefertiti, Tiye, Merytamen or Kiya

Canopic jar with the head of a carved woman, variously identified as Nefertiti, Tiye, Merytamen or Kiya ( public domain )

What happened to Kiya?

As mentioned, the majority of sources we have are just pieces of broken monuments, reliefs, and inscriptions. Therefore, it is a very big challenge to find the truth about Kiya. First of all, it is known that pictures of Kiya have been re-cut into portraits of other members of the royal family, mostly Merytamen. As Dodson believes, the idea of a disgraced Kiya seems to be a reasonable explanation for her sudden disappearance. Otherwise, it is hard to understand what happened to Kiya. All evidence found at archaeological sites and the obscure title suggest that Kiya was an important person at the royal court of Amarna. Her name Hm.t mry.t aA.t, which means ”The Great Beloved Wife”, is a unique title in the history of Egypt. It shows her special place in the heart of Pharaoh, and a very special role of this woman in Amarna Palace. No other woman around Akhenaten would have a similar name.

We cannot find evidence that Kiya held a social, political or religious role in the life of the Amarna court. It is possible that these aspects were in the hands of ”The Great Royal Wife” – Nefertiti.

Relief of Queen Kiya. Credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Relief of Queen Kiya. Credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art

The second opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb

Two of the biggest collections of objects connected with Kiya are in Cairo and New York. It is possible that further analyses of the artifacts from tomb KV63 will bring more information about the women of Amarna.

Based on the research of archaeologist Nicholas Reeves, tomb KV62 – the tomb of Tutankhamun – is currently being investigated for the possibility of a hidden chamber. It is theorized that it may hold the burial chamber and remains of Queen Nefertiti. If he is right, many questions about the women of Amarna, along with the mystery of Kiya, may well be revealed

Featured image: A relief of Kiya, remade from Amarna limestone. Glyptotek Museum, Carlsberg, Copenhagen, Denmark.

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