New Evidence: Lost Queen Nefertiti May be Hidden in King Tut's Tomb!
Is there or isn’t there a hidden chamber, or chambers, connected to King Tutankhamun’s tomb? Just when we think the story reaches a conclusion a new study emerges throwing the mystery back into the headlines. New ground penetrating radar results, taken from a different perspective, once again suggest the possibility of a chamber that may be connected to the famous KV62 tomb of King Tut. But this time experts are searching from a different angle. Are we getting closer to finding the elusive burial of Nefertiti?
Previous Searches for a Hidden Chamber Provide Mixed Results
Before we get too excited about the possibility of a hidden chamber and what it may mean for the search for the lost burial of Nefertiti, we should examine the muddy history of searching for a hidden chamber at King Tut’s tomb.
In 2015 British Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves, an archaeologist with years of experience working in the Valley of the Kings, carefully examined electronic scans by Factum Arte of the walls of the ancient Egyptian King’s tomb. He noted the presence of fissures and put forward the idea that there may be sealed doors in the north and west walls of the tomb.
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The stone sarcophagus containing the mummy of King Tut is seen in his underground tomb. (Nasser Nuri/ CC BY SA 2.0)
“Cautious evaluation of the Factum Arte scans over the course of several months has yielded results which are beyond intriguing: indications of two previously unknown doorways, one set within a larger partition wall and both seemingly untouched since antiquity,” wrote Reeves in a paper at the time on his study of the scans. “The implications are extraordinary: for, if digital appearance translates into physical reality, it seems we are now faced not merely with the prospect of a new, Tutankhamun-era storeroom to the west; to the north appears to be signalled a continuation of tomb KV 62 and within these uncharted depths an earlier royal interment—that of Nefertiti herself, celebrated consort, co-regent, and eventual successor of pharaoh Akhenaten.”
Declaring his ”cautious evaluation” was enough to set off a wave of excitement and debate. The possibility of finding the lost burial of Nefertiti, and the treasures which likely accompanied her, meant more studies had to follow. So they did. In late 2015 infrared thermography, which measures temperature distributions on a surface, suggested there was a difference in temperatures on the northern wall. This was interpreted as the indication of a possible open area behind the wall.
Just a few weeks later, it was reported that three days of radar scans by a Japanese team of experts discovered “with 95 percent certainty the existence of a doorway and a hall with artefacts.” It seemed that Reeves was right, and with the support of Mamdouh el-Damaty, the Egyptian Antiquities Minister at the time, plans were set in motion to see what may lay behind the walls.
However other experts expressed their criticism of the idea that Nefertiti was buried nearby and research continued. An American survey funded by National Geographic came in using ground penetrating radar (GPR) to try to confirm or reject the second chamber theory. They were unsuccessful in their endeavor and the mystery and controversy continued.
So a third team came in to try out their GPR at the tomb to put an end to the debate. In 2018 the Egyptian authorities declared that, an Italian scientific team led by Francesco Porcelli from the University of Turin found that there is “conclusive evidence of the non-existence of hidden chambers adjacent to or inside Tutankhamun's tomb .” However, there was another team, a UK-based geophysical survey company called Terravision Exploration, that came in around the same time to also scan inside the tomb – and Nature reports that their initial results “suggested there was more to discover.” Nonetheless their work was cut short by the Supreme Counsel of Antiquities.
Researchers scanning the walls of King Tutankhamun’s burial chamber using Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) equipment. (Ministry of Antiquities)
Another Hidden Chamber at KV62?
Eldamaty and his supporters weren’t ready to let the possibility of hidden chambers go - the survey results were mixed and solving the mystery was too inviting, and as he told Nature, “I never give up easily.” This time the survey is different. Instead of scanning from inside the burial chamber, as past researchers have done, Eldamaty asked Terravision Exploration to come back to the Valley of the Kings and team up with engineers from Ain Shams University (where Eldamaty is now based) to scan outside the tomb.
The study’s full results, which have been submitted to Nature, but have yet to be published, explain that the team used GPR around KV62 and the researchers claim they “have identified a previously unknown corridor-like space a few metres from the burial chamber.” According to Nature, the researchers have “detected a long space in the bedrock a few metres to the east, at the same depth as Tutankhamun’s burial chamber and running parallel to the tomb’s entrance corridor. The space appears to be around 2 metres high and at least 10 metres long.”
GPR reveals a previously unknown space (blue) near Tutankhamun’s tomb. Previously proposed additional hidden chambers are shown in pink. (© Nature)
Whether this corridor-like void is connected to Tutankhamun’s tomb or another nearby tomb is still unknown. However, the team believes that it is likely linked to KV62 because “its orientation, perpendicular to KV62’s main axis, suggests that there is a connection, because unconnected tombs tend to be aligned at different angles.”
The team met difficulty in pinpointing what lay below the surface directly north of the tomb due to interference from nearby air-conditioning units. But Eldamaty will submit a proposal to return to the site and try another method to fill in that data gap. Terravision chief executive Charlie Williams told Nature that the team would like to try a different antenna and take readings that are closer together to get a better view on the void’s shape, location, and where it leads.
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What’s the Link with Nefertiti?
Reeves has proposed that Tutankhamun’s unfinished tomb was not built for the boy king, who died unexpectedly in 1332 BC. According to the archaeologist, the tomb looks like an Egyptian queen’s tomb more than the burial space for a pharaoh due to its position to the right of the entrance shaft and the smaller size. These factors may also suggest that the tomb is part of a larger complex or that the tomb was made for Nefertiti and Tutankhamun was hastily placed inside following his untimely death.
Nefertiti’s tomb has yet to be identified despite her place as one of the most sought after queens in Egyptian history. She was the main consort of Pharaoh Akhenaten (formerly Amenhotep IV), who reigned from approximately 1353 to 1336 BC. Many believe she held as much power as the pharaoh himself. She was known as the Ruler of the Nile and Daughter of Gods and her life and mysterious death have inspired countless studies.
A house altar showing Akhenaten, Nefertiti and three of their daughters. 18th dynasty, reign of Akhenaten. (Public Domain)
The Debate Rages On at King Tut’s Tomb
Unsurprisingly, there are already naysayers emerging who discredit the notion of a hidden chamber/corridor-like void at the site. No one should be shocked that another former antiquities minister, Zahi Hawass, has stepped forward to warn against the false hopes that have come with GPR studies in the Valley of the Kings. He told Nature in 2019 that he had no results in his own excavations north of KV62.
On the other end of the spectrum is Reeves, who still holds hope of finding Nefertiti in the area around KV62. He told Nature, “If Nefertiti was buried as a pharaoh, it could be the biggest archaeological discovery ever.”
Thus, with this new study’s results, which will certainly be interesting to explore in more detail should they be published, the story of hidden chambers in King Tutankhamun’s tomb has been resurrected!
Top Image: Intricately decorated plaster walls in King Tut’s tomb. Credit: Factum Arte Insert: The iconic bust of Nefertiti, discovered by Ludwig Borchardt, is part of the Ägyptisches Museum Berlin collection, currently on display in the Altes Museum (Public Domain)