Nefertiti and a Rush of Scans: Will the Beautiful One Arise in the King’s Valley? — Part II
After nearly a year of silence, the tomb of Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings is once again back in focus thanks to the Ministry of Antiquities granting permission to a team of Italian experts to conduct radar tests—that are currently underway. The quest to find Queen Nefertiti’s final resting place is back on track in right earnest; and it seems but a matter of time before the public receives definitive answers as to whether or not the iconic Amarna queen and possible female Pharaoh Nefertiti kept the boy-king company in death.
An elegant, incomplete head of Queen Nefertiti made of dark quartzite. This sublime portrait was discovered at Tell el-Amarna in 1932 during excavations conducted by the Egypt Exploration Society. (Photo: Victor Solkin)
Was Nefertiti King Ankhkheperure?
Renowned Amarna expert Dr Nicholas Reeves published a research paper in December 2015 titled The Gold Mask of Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten in which he expressed doubts that the death mask of Tutankhamun was in fact not meant for him at all but was commissioned for a female predecessor. Based on the existence of palimpsests and clear indications of reuse that he discovered later, Reeves is convinced that Tutankhamun’s glittering golden mask was a part of the funerary assemblage prepared for a regal personage – the enigmatic Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten – and was subsequently appropriated for use in the youngster’s burial. Who then was this mysterious individual? Reeves proposes that as co-regent, Nefertiti adopted a kingly name: Ankh(et)kheprure Neferneferuaten, who bore the epithet “beneficial for her husband/spouse”. And when Akhenaten died during his seventeenth year on the throne, she succeeded him as independent pharaoh, her name now changed to Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten Smenkhkare-Djeser-Kheperu, and reigned for a very short time.
The world is on the edge of their seats to find out if the latest round of hi-tech scans by a team of Italian experts in the tomb of Tutankhamun will finally help solve the riddle of Nefertiti’s burial. Superimposed image of Nefertiti’s bust on Tutankhamun’s mask. (Photo: Roy Lester Pond)
But that begs the question: why would a new ruler, such as Tutankhamun, require his predecessor’s grave goods? Reeves postulates that burial objects intended for Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten could possibly have been discarded unused “either because the items had been superseded by funerary equipment inscribed for Nefertiti in her final incarnation as Ankhkheperure Smenkhkare, or else because Nefertiti, for whatever reason, was never buried in kingly style”. This idea is by no means farfetched, because several funerary objects from KV62 had clearly been commissioned for earlier kings. “Although the original ownership of many of these appropriated pieces cannot always be established, a good number of pieces had clearly been designed for Akhenaten or for his coregent and probable successor, the enigmatic Smenkhkare,” maintains Reeves.
But what if Nefertiti did not ascend the throne after Akhenaten’s death as is popularly believed by a section of experts? In a recent interview, Dr Joyce Tyldesley expressed her firm opinion that Nefertiti died as a Great Royal Wife and not king: “Though most people and many Egyptologists believe Nefertiti was an unusually powerful royal woman, and possibly even a pharaoh, I believe this was not the case. Just because she is Egypt’s most famous and powerful queen in our world does not mean she was Egypt’s famous and powerful queen in her world.” So, if a burial does exist within KV62, and it is not Nefertiti’s, can we hope to discover other missing royal women such as Sitamun, Kiya or even Amarna princesses?
Experts state that the sarcophagus in which Tutankhamun was laid to rest was usurped from a prior female king. Just who she was remains a mystery. Nefertiti and also her eldest daughter, Meritaten, have been proposed as likely donors. (Photo: Meretseger Books)
Saga of Scans and Surprises
By May 2016, the possibility of finding hidden rooms in KV62 began to appear bleak, if not altogether improbable. The reason: the two radar scans conducted earlier in the Burial Chamber apparently delivered contradictory results. Egyptophiles struggled to make a choice between a burial chamber filled with treasures and nothing but voids. Just when it seemed that investigations had reached a cul-de-sac; in an interview in October 2016, Dr Zahi Hawass said that a Russian radar team would carry out research a month later; but it did not come to pass. This was followed up by news that Italian specialists from the Polytechnic University in Turin, Italy, would conduct a round of radar scans in February, 2017. Given the utter lack of information, the Egyptological community was in the dark, and was left wondering if this exercise was performed at all.
The entrance to the tomb of Tutankhamun (Bottom right) in the Valley of the Kings lay undisturbed for millennia beneath debris from the sepulcher of Ramesses VI (Twentieth Dynasty) over which ancient workmen’s huts were built.
But on July 7, 2017, National Geographic Italia published an article that stated, “... scans were conducted in the hills outside KV62 from February through May with very encouraging results”. The article added that studies by Drs Tom Hardwick and Ray Johnson were also supportive of Reeves’ double-burial theory—the world was agog with excitement. Fast forward to the present: To add to the current buzz, as on January 30, 2018 press reports stated that, “Researchers from the Archaeo-Physics department of the Turin Polytechnic have been authorized by the Egyptian government almost a year after they made the request to conduct geo-radar studies inside Tutankhamen’s tomb.”
The contentious North wall in the tomb of Tutankhamun, behind which, according to Dr Nicholas Reeves, lies the burial of the enigmatic Nefertiti. (Photo: Meretseger Books)
And finally, official confirmation did arrive from the Ministry of Antiquities itself via a press release dated February 1, 2018: “An Italian mission from the Polytechnic Faculty of Turin University started today (Thursday 1/02/2018) the third radar scanning inside the tomb of King Tutankhamun on the west bank of Luxor. The survey aims to detect the inconclusive results of two previous radar scanning conducted inside and outside the tomb as well as verifying if it conceals void spaces behind its western and northern walls. Dr. Mohamed Ismail, Director of the Permanent Committees and Foreign Missions at the Ministry of Antiquities said that the current radar survey reflects the Ministry of Antiquities’ keenness on ensuring scientific credibility in accordance with the recommendation suggested at a conference held in 2016 at the Grand Egyptian Museum to discuss the different results from the two previous radar surveys. He added that the survey will last for a week (from January 31 to February 6) and then the radar readings will be studied and analyzed in order to come up with detailed result (that can be made public). Dr. Ismail asserted that the radar used in the scanning is a non-destructive state-of-the -art device.”
Carved from a single block of red granite, this ton-and-a-quarter heavy lid that was laid on top of Tutankhamun’s sarcophagus was in all likelihood a replacement for the originally commissioned piece which could not be readied in time for the young king’s burial.
The Road Ahead…
This latest project includes an Italian team of experts from two departments of the Piedmont region state polytechnic: the Applied Sciences and Technology Department and the Environmental, Territorial and Infrastructure Engineering Department, in “collaboration with personnel from the University of Turin’s Earth Sciences Department”. The collaboration also includes two Italian private companies: Turin-based 3DGeoimaging and Livorno-headquartered Geostudi Astier, and the UK’s Terravision and - as Egyptology consultant - the Italian Archaeological Center of Cairo. Experts from the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities will also participate under its former minister, Mamdouh el-Damaty.
So what methods are the Italian team using in the latest round of tests? Physicist Franco Porcelli, the coordinator of the research group explained that they are employing advanced radar systems – three different radar systems to be precise – that will enable them to ascertain with 99% accuracy whether “hidden structures of archaeological importance are next to Tutankhamen’s tomb”. The statement noted further that the measurements obtained will be scrutinized by comparing them with the presence of “suspected cavities in the rock face a few meters from KV62, a cavity that was found by the research group in May of last year using a different, non-invasive technique outside Tutankhamen’s tomb, based on the three-dimensional mapping of electrical resistance levels of the underground”. Geo-radar measurements taken from January 31 to February 6 are expected to reveal if the suspected cavities are connected with KV62.
This third, and hopefully final, non-invasive multiple four-hour scanning sessions using ground penetrating radar (GPR) should tell us if KV62 extends beyond the north and west walls or not. Of course, these tests in themselves will not reveal the existence of chambers, but what they will do is offer evidence of anomalies/cavities if they are present. It will finally boil down to a thorough analysis of whatever is detected before the experts can announce the results.
At present, Dr Nicholas Reeves is on familiar ground, working alongside the radar team in KV62. “They are hitting hard this time and using multiple varieties of scanning devices to make certain of their results, be they positive or negative,” a source in the King’s Valley explained. Some time ago, when queried about the search for Nefertiti, Dr Reeves told the present writer that, “Keeping an open mind is best”. Whether KV62 contains the burial of Nefertiti or another Amarna royal, let’s hope the mystery of the boy-king’s life does not continue to elude us any further!
Top Image: Scene from the decorated upper portion of the East wall in KV62 shows the mummified Tutankhamun lying supine within a tall, garland-bedecked shrine; design by Anand Balaji (Photo credit: Meretseger Books); Deriv.
By Anand Balaji
Dylan Bickerstaffe, Did Tutankhamun Conceal Nefertiti?, Available at: http://www.academia.edu/25489804/DID_TUTANKHAMUN_CONCEAL_NEFERTITI_What_is_the_Secret_of_KV62 (Accessed Feb 2018)
Nicholas Reeves and Richard H. Wilkinson, The Complete Valley of the Kings, 2008
Aidan Dodson, Amarna Sunset: Nefertiti, Tutankhamun, Ay, Horemheb, and the Egyptian Counter-Reformation, 2009
Howard Carter and A.C. Mace, The Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen, 1977
Nicholas Reeves, The Amarna Dead in the Valley of the Kings, 2003
Joyce A. Tyldesley, Nefertiti: Egypt’s Sun Queen, 1998
Nicholas Reeves, The Enduring Mystery of KV55, 1997
Marianne Eaton-Krauss, The Unknown Tutankhamun, 2016
Nicholas Reeves, The Tombs of Tutankhamun and his Predecessor, 1997
Peter A. Clayton, Chronicle of the Pharaohs: The Reign-by-Reign Record of the Rulers and Dynasties of Ancient Egypt, 2006
Nicholas Reeves, The Complete Tutankhamun: The King, the Tomb, the Royal Treasure, 1990
Richard H. Wilkinson, Kent Weeks, The Oxford Handbook of the Valley of the Kings, 2015