Akhenaten’s plan, as stated in his Boundary Stelae, was that his courtiers and high officials would be buried in the ‘eastern mountain’ of Amarna. In due course many rock-cut tombs were started, as was their decoration. The preferred locations were in the cliff face towards the northern end of the Amarna plain (the North Tombs) and in the face of a low escarpment behind the southern limit of the ancient city (the South Tombs). These tombs have remained a conspicuous feature of the Amarna landscape ever since. Where the rest of the population disposed of their dead became a puzzle to archaeologists who worked at Amarna in the last century. Thus F. Ll. Griffith, in his report for the 1923 season (JEA 10, 1924, 303–4):
The puzzle seems now to have been solved. It has come about through the desert GPS survey begun in 2001 and continued in subsequent years. First came the discovery of two cemeteries (clearly robbed) of what must be relatively poor graves on the flat desert not far from tomb no. 6 (of Panehsy), the southernmost of the North Tombs. The surface pottery is appropriate to the Amarna Period. In 2003 a third cemetery was discovered on the east side of a narrow wadi which runs back into the low escarpment behind tomb 25 of the South Tombs group. In 2004 two further cemeteries likely to be of the Amarna Period were located on the floor of another wadi which cuts through the cliffs where the North Tombs are located.
The South Tombs cemetery lies approximately 650 metres to the south-east of the modern path which connects the rock tombs of the southern group (a map is given in JEA 89, 2003, 11, Fig. 1). To judge from the condition of the ground the cemetery has been robbed. Of the various cemeteries located it is the one that has the most varied material present on the surface, including late 18th Dynasty sherds, a few pieces of glass vessel and faience, and mud bricks. It has also been partly washed away by occasional floods that have swept down it and across the desert plain in front. The floods left behind a scatter of human bones along both the sandy floor of the wadi and the watercourses that cross the desert plain beyond.