The tomb of the man who kept count of the gold and jewels of the famous Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamen has been discovered after a 10-year search at a desert site near Egypt's oldest pyramid.
Unlike Tutankhamen's tomb, that of his treasurer Maya was robbed in ancient times and doesn't contain any spectacular bounty of the sort that made "King Tut" famous. But archeologists here say the find is an important one and could provide clues to some of the secrets of ancient Egypt.
The tomb, entered by an ancient grave robber's shaft, was discovered Saturday by two members of a team of British and Dutch archeologists: dig director Geoffrey Martin of the Egypt Exploration Society and Jacobus van Dijk of the Leiden (the Netherlands) Museum of Antiquities.
Van Dijk, interviewed at the excavation site today, said they had not expected to reach their goal on Saturday when they climbed down a rope ladder to a chamber about 60 feet below the desert surface.
"We started reading the hieroglyphs," said van Dijk, recalling their first moments in the tomb. "I remember I exclaimed 'My God, it's Maya!' And then there was a deep silence."
Standing yesterday among buckets of ancient skulls and bones from a nearby excavation, van Dijk said the tomb contains large limestone blocks covered in "vivid yellow," reliefs of Maya and his wife Merit worshiping the gods of the underworld. He said that the reliefs, dating to about 1350 B.C., are in "pristine condition."
In their 10-year pursuit of Maya's tomb, the team has found several other tombs, including those of Pharaoh Horemheb and Princess Tia, sister of Pharaoh Ramses II. They discovered Maya's chambers when they followed a grave robber's shaft leading from the tomb of an unknown figure.
The two men spent only about one hour in the "very damp and hot" chambers before their one light went out and they had to find their way in the dark back to the surface. They will return with new lights tomorrow to begin an excavation that could take six to seven years, according to van Dijk.
During that time, they hope to find evidence of why many nobles like Maya were buried in Saqqara, the necropolis of the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis near present-day Cairo, while Pharaohs of the same period, such as Tut, were buried at Thebes, or present-day Luxor.
They also hope to find texts or records that will enable them to further map the history of the tumultuous 18th dynasty of ancient Egypt, and to better understand Tutankhamen, the famous boy-pharaoh of whom relatively little is known.