American archaeologists have uncovered a pharaonic-era tomb in Egypt's Valley of the Kings, the first uncovered there since King Tutankhamun's in 1922, Egypt's antiquities chief announced.
The 18th Dynasty tomb included five mummies in intact sarcophagi with colored funerary masks along with more than 20 large storage jars still with their with pharaonic seals intact, Zahi Hawass, head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said in a statement Wednesday.
Still unknown is who was the owner of the tomb. U.S. archaeologist Kent Weeks, who was not involved in the discovery but has seen photographs of the tomb's interior, said its appearance suggested it did not belong to a king.
"It could be the tomb of a king's wife or son, or of a priest or court official," he told The Associated Press on Thursday.
No matter, its discovery shatters the nearly century-old perception that there was nothing left to discover in the Valley of the Kings, where it had long been believed that the 62 previously known tombs were all there was, he said.
Weeks made the last major discovery in the valley. In 1995, he opened a previously known tomb and found it was far larger than expected: more than 120 chambers, which he determined were tombs for sons of the pharoah Ramses II.
The newly discovered tomb is a single chamber, meaning it was likely intended for one mummy, he said. Other sarcophagi — or even all of them — may have been put in later, Weeks said.
In later dynasties, high priests fearing grave robbers took mummies from their original sites and stashed them elsewhere. Even after the pharoanic era, mummies were moved either to protect them or to hide them, he said.
Hawass did not specify who was believed buried in the tomb. The antiquities chief was scheduled to visit the site Friday to announce more details.
A University of Memphis team of archaeologists led by Otto Schaden found the tomb 12 feet below the ground, buried under rubble and stones 15 feet from Tut's tomb, Hawass said. The statement didn't say when the tomb was found.
Inside the rectangular tomb, the five wooden sarcophagi were surrounded by the jars, which appeared placed haphazardly, suggesting the burial was completed quickly, Hawass said.
The 18th Dynasty, from around 1500 B.C. to 1300 B.C., was the first dynasty of the New Kingdom, the pharaonic empire than lasted until around 1000 B.C. and made its capital in Thebes — the present day city of Luxor, 300 miles south of Cairo. The Valley of the Kings was used as a burial ground throughout the New Kingdom, though contrary to its name not all the tombs are of kings.
The new tomb will be called KV63, adding to the previously known sites labeled from KV1 to KV62, which is the tomb of Tutankhamun, uncovered by Howard Carter in 1922. KV5 is the tomb of Ramses II's sons.
"It clearly proves that the Valley of the Kings is still not exhausted," Weeks said. "There are probably more tombs to be found in it."