And she might still be in there.
Does Tutankhamun’s tomb contain the untouched burial of Queen Nefertiti?
Every year thousands of admirers stand at a wooden railing, in uncomfortable heat, deep below the surface of the Valley of the Kings, and gaze upon the intended resting place of a young pharaoh, interred there 3,300 years before.
They are lured there by the enduring fame of the ‘boy king’, Tutankhamun.
Tutankhamun’s early death caught everyone by surprise. The court officials charged with preparing for his death assumed they had years to get things organised. Instead, tradition held there were now just 70 days to organise a funeral fit for a king.
In the Valley of the Kings a humble tomb designed for a lesser royal or well-connected somebody was pressed into service and packed with everything the king could need for his god-like eternity; from golden chariots and elaborate beds, to shaving gear and underwear.
Although quite modest in decoration, the tomb was discovered largely intact, having been hurriedly rifled through shortly after the king’s burial. It was the dazzling array of golden riches that stunned the world in 1922 when Howard Carter presented Tutankhamun to the world.
But what if Tutankhamun’s tomb holds one more secret; a really big one.
What if millions of people have looked adoringly upon the brilliantly-painted walls of his tomb, little realising that beyond those walls lay a discovery that could put Tutankhamun in the shade; the burial of Queen Nefertiti.
This month, Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves announced a remarkable idea. He had been studying the high resolution scans produced by the Madrid-based company, Factum Arte, created for the Tutankhamun tomb replica installed near the entrance to the Valley of the Kings.
The scans are incredible; revealing details that everyone had missed – from Howard Carter, who spent years in the tomb during its clearance, through to modern-day researchers. Critically, the scans could produce an image of the burial chamber’s walls without the distraction of the paintings, revealing the bare plastered surface underneath.
What caught Dr Reeve’s attention on the north wall of the burial chamber was a vertical line appearing slightly left of centre. This is matched by another at the right hand edge. It suggests a stone partition wall, similar to the one that separated Tutankhamun’s burial chamber from the tomb’s Antechamber. In fact the left-hand edge of the ‘ghost’ partition lines up exactly with the partition wall of the Burial Chamber.
Within the partition wall is the outline of a smaller feature – a doorway. Again, this parallels the doorway the builders of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber used to access the chamber once the main partition wall had gone up.
The painted decoration of the north wall of Tutankhamun’s Burial Chamber is slightly different from the other three. Close examination reveals that the yellow background of the north wall was added after the figures were painted, whilst on the other three the yellow was added first. Someone had altered the existing northern wall so that it matched the newer east, south and west decorations. Blocking up and painting over an opening was a deception employed on a number of royal tombs to try and fool robbers – unfortunately to no avail.
It seems to Dr Reeves that Tutankhamun’s Antechamber and Burial Chamber were conceived not as separate rooms, but as a single large corridor that extended beyond the current Burial Chamber’s north wall.
So what’s behind the wall? If we accept that Tutankhamun was laid to rest in an existing occupied tomb, then whose is it? Reeves believes it to be the undisturbed burial of Queen Nefertiti.
Up to 80% of Tutankhamun’s burial goods were repurposed from previous kings; the vast majority of which belonged to Queen Nefertiti, the wife and short-lived successor of the ‘renegade king’ Akhenaten. This suggests that Nefertiti’s furnishings had been set aside upon her ascendency as ‘king’, and was buried with new equipment befitting her elevated regal status.
The figures on the north wall also reveal some small but important details; not least of which is the presence of the ‘oromental groove’ that runs down from the corners of her mouth. This became a regular feature on representations of Nefertiti – especially in her later years.
The implications are enormous: the full, untouched burial of one of Egypt’s most famous queens, laying just beyond Tutankhamun’s Burial Chamber.
Nicholas Reeve’s fascinating full report can be found on academia.au. https://www.academia.edu/14406398/The_Burial_of_Nefertiti_2015_.
As he states in the report: “Obviously a full and detailed geophysical survey of this famous tomb is now called for – and I would suggest as one of Egyptology’s highest priorities.”