Images at the entrance of the tomb of the wet nurse, called Maya, shows the pharaoh Tutankhamen seated on her lap. It's now believed that Maya may have been Tutankhamen's sister, Meritaten.

Tomb Hidden by History, Now Revealed: Wet Nurse of Tutankhamun May have been His Own Sister


The famous Egyptian boy king, Pharaoh Tutankhamun is believed to have been wet-nursed by a woman named Maia—who may have been his sister. The tomb of this mysterious woman has been opened to the public for the first time since its discovery in 1996, revealing ancient engravings and paintings.

The tomb in Saqqara, a necropolis located 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Cairo, was discovered almost 20 years ago and is set to be opened to visitors for the first time. The tomb of the wet nurse was uncovered by French Archaeologist Dr. Alain Zivie, Head of the French mission in Bubastis at Saqqara since 1996, who was there for the unveiling to journalists last week in Egypt, reports science website Phys.org.

“Maia is none other than princess Meritaten, the sister or half-sister of Tutankhamun and the daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti,” Zivie said.

Paintings and inscriptions within the newly opened Maia’s Tomb.

Paintings and inscriptions within the newly opened Maia’s Tomb. (Credit: Ministry of Antiquities)

In a ministry press release, Egypt's antiquities minister Mamdouh el-Damaty described the grand unveiling of the tomb as being very important, and referred to a potsherd found within the tomb during cleaning. On the sherd was inscribed the title “Great one of the Harim,” and researchers believe that “Maia” wasn’t simply the private wet nurse to Tutankhamun, but a woman of high status, and likely his eldest sister Maia (also known as Maya, Matia or Meritaten).

Bust of Meritaten, daughter of Pharaoh Akhenaten.

Bust of Meritaten, daughter of Pharaoh Akhenaten. (CC BY-SA 1.0)

Experts point to one scene on the royal tomb at Tal Al-Amarna (Amarna) that features the burial of Meketaten, eldest daughter of Pharaoh Akhenaten. In the same scene “Merit Aten” is seen holding a baby and breastfeeding it, and it’s believed the baby is the future king, Tutankhamun, notes the press release.

Phys.org writes that Zivie’s conclusions on the brother-sister relationship were based on the carvings of Tutankhamun and Maia on the walls of Maia's tomb.

“The extraordinary thing is that they are very similar. They have the same chin, the eyes, the family traits. The carvings show Maia sitting on the royal throne and he is sitting on her lap,” Zivie said.

A bust said to be of an Amarna Princess

A bust said to be of an Amarna Princess (CC BY-SA 3.0)

History buried the tomb, but it is now revealed

The richly-decorated tomb consists of three rooms, with a staircase descending to the burial chamber. DailyMail reports the first chamber is dedicated to the woman’s life, the second shows her burial rites with attendants bearing offerings. The third, and largest chamber contains four pillars decorated with images of the wet nurse. The staircase leads to the burial site, which was largely undecorated.

A gallery of images can be seen at DailyMail.

CBC reports that when the tomb was found the scenes and original inscriptions had been covered up with stones and construction material during the time of the Greek and Roman civilizations so as to repurpose the area as a cat cemetery. Careful restoration revealed the original art and messages.

Mysterious Maia

Stele: Akhenaten sits on a stool on the left side, handing a jewel to his eldest daughter (and possibly Tut’s wet nurse) Meritaten, who stands in front of him. On the right plays with two of their daughters on her lap, Meketaten and Ankhesenpaaten.

Stele: Akhenaten sits on a stool on the left side, handing a jewel to his eldest daughter (and possibly Tut’s wet nurse) Meritaten, who stands in front of him. On the right plays with two of their daughters on her lap, Meketaten and Ankhesenpaaten. (CC BY-SA 2.5)

Maia is known for her titles as “wet nurse of the king”, “great one of the harim”, and “educator of the god's body” – an allusion to breastfeeding. Maia’s parentage is unknown, and not much is known about the woman herself except for inscriptions and images from her tomb. Tutankhamun is mentioned several times from tomb writings, and is seen sitting in her lap in images.

Bust of the boy king, Tutankhamun found in his tomb, 1922.

Bust of the boy king, Tutankhamun found in his tomb, 1922. (CC BY 2.0)

The discovery of the riches-filled tomb and the mummy of Tutankhamun by British Egyptologist Howard Carter in 1922 spurred worldwide fascination. DNA analysis in 2010 revealed the boy king as the son of Akhenaten.

Akehaten’s tomb shows carvings of the death of a princess. Zivie says, “In these scenes there is a woman who is breast-feeding a baby, and this woman shown as a wet nurse is princess Meritaten, the eldest daughter of Akhenaten.”

Archaeologists still search for the mummy of Meritaten, and it’s wondered if it might rest in a secret chamber in Tutankhamun’s tomb. Hidden chambers are thought to exist in Tut’s tomb after recent scans revealed anomalous readings. It’s also speculated that such chambers may contain the burial site of Nefertiti, whose body has never been found.

Scans of the north wall of King Tutankhamun's burial chamber have revealed features beneath the intricately decorated plaster (highlighted) a researcher believes may be a hidden door, possibly to the burial chamber of Nefertiti

Scans of the north wall of King Tutankhamun's burial chamber have revealed features beneath the intricately decorated plaster (highlighted) a researcher believes may be a hidden door, possibly to the burial chamber of Nefertiti. Credit: Factum Arte.

Maia’s tomb will be officially opening to the public next month, revealing the multi-layered lives of the royals of ancient Egypt.

Featured Image: Images at the entrance of the tomb of the wet nurse, called Maya, shows the pharaoh Tutankhamen seated on her lap. It's now believed that Maya may have been Tutankhamen's sister, Meritaten. (Public Domain)

By: Liz Leafloor     

Comments

How long does it take to pick an unobtrusive are, drill a hole, insert a camera, record it and show the world, god or bad, it cant be that hard or take so long

mikeham50's picture

They may already have.  There is an article in AO, which looks like what I saw – http://www.ancient-origins.net/news-history-archaeology/spanish-leak-reveals-hidden-chamber-tutankhamun-tomb-full-treasures-005399

 

mikeham50's picture

Yesterday I saw a news item that said an Egyptian minister visiting Spain, let slip that there were treasures behind the ‘door’, as if they had looked in.  Apparently nothing was supposed to be said until a news conference in April.  I was going to link the news page here but cannot find it now.

lizleafloor's picture

Hi Mike – we have an article on that incident. You can find it here:

http://www.ancient-origins.net/news-history-archaeology/spanish-leak-reveals-hidden-chamber-tutankhamun-tomb-full-treasures-005399?nopaging=1

Interesting times in archaeology! Can’t wait to see what is revealed.

Thanks,

Liz Leafloor

mikeham50's picture

Thanks Liz.  Didn’t see your message until after I Googled it which led me back to the AO page!  I also posted the link.

Mike

Pages

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

Detail of a man depicted on an Uruk vase, Pergamon Museum. The Uruk civilization arose as it expertly adapted to the new climate.
Beginning around 90,000 years ago, during an interglacial period, Anatomically Modern Humans were able to take advantage of the favorable climatic conditions and migrate throughout Africa and into Asia. Soon thereafter, identifiable culture can be found in the archaeological record. As far as can be told, it was Homo Sapiens living in Africa that would make the first symbolic paintings, but Neanderthals soon did this as well.

Myths & Legends

Noah's Sacrifice - watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot
The imperfect state of archaeological researches in the Near East impedes any definite identification of the original race or races that created the earliest civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt. According to Gordon Childe, however, the predominant racial element in the earliest graves in the region from Elam to the Danube is the ‘Mediterranean’.

Human Origins

Noah's Sacrifice - watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot
The imperfect state of archaeological researches in the Near East impedes any definite identification of the original race or races that created the earliest civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt. According to Gordon Childe, however, the predominant racial element in the earliest graves in the region from Elam to the Danube is the ‘Mediterranean’.

Opinion

The ancient and mysterious Sphinx, Giza, Egypt.
In 1995, NBC televised a prime-time documentary hosted by actor Charlton Heston and directed by Bill Cote, called Mystery of the Sphinx. The program centered on the research and writings of John Anthony West, a (non-academic) Egyptologist, who, along with Dr. Robert Schoch, a professor of Geology at Boston University, made an astounding discovery on the Great Sphinx of Giza in Egypt.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article