High-resolution scans suggest that the tomb of ancient Egypt’s boy-king Tutankhamen contains passages to two hidden chambers, including what one British archaeologist believes is the last resting place of Queen Nefertiti.
If proven, the discovery would shed light on what remains a mysterious period of Egyptian history despite intense international interest.
Nefertiti, whose chiseled cheekbones and regal beauty were immortalized in a 3,300-year-old bust now in a Berlin museum, died in the 14th century B.C.
British Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves told a news conference in Cairo last week that he believes Tutankhamen’s mausoleum was originally occupied by Nefertiti, thought by experts to have been his stepmother, and that she has lain undisturbed behind what he believes is a partition wall for more than 3,000 years.
“If it is true, we are facing a discovery that would overshadow the discovery of Tutankhamen himself,” Egyptian Antiquities Minister Mamdouh al-Damaty told reporters. “This would be the most important discovery of the 21st century.”
Reeves said radar and thermal imaging could help establish whether rooms were indeed hidden behind Tut’s burial chamber and what they might hold.
King Tut died around 1323 B.C. His intact tomb, complete with his famous golden burial mask, was discovered in the Valley of the Kings in 1922 by British Egyptologist Howard Carter.
Experts have long sought to understand why Tut’s tomb was smaller than that of other pharaohs and why its shape was more in keeping with that of the Egyptian queens of the time.
Egyptologists remain uncertain over where Nefertiti was buried. She was long believed to have died during her husband’s reign, suggesting that she might have been buried in Amarna, where her bust was found in 1912. More recently, most experts, including Reeves, have come to believe she outlived Akhenaten but changed her name and may have briefly ruled Egypt.
Reeves developed his theory about Nefertiti’s resting place after studying high-resolution scans he believes suggest the presence of two rooms hidden behind the northern and western walls of Tut’s burial chamber.
He thinks one is a storage area from Tutankhamen’s era and another may contain the remains of Nefertiti, whose name means “the beautiful one has come.”
But some archaeologists have urged caution. The evidence remains scant, and others believe Nefertiti’s mummy was found in 1898 and already lies in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
“The idea that one [room] might lead to a preexisting burial chamber, let alone that of Nefertiti, is pure speculation,” Aidan Dodson, an Egyptologist at Bristol University, said.
Damaty, who recently toured the Valley of the Kings with Reeves and other senior Egyptian experts, said he believed there was a hidden chamber that might contain a royal woman’s remains, but he thought it was likely to be Tut’s mother.
Nefertiti was the primary wife of the Pharaoh Akhenaten, who introduced a form of monotheism to Egypt. Many Egyptologists believe Tutankhamen was the child of Akhenaten and Akhenaten’s sister Kiya.
Nefertiti is believed to have survived her husband and ruled Egypt as pharaoh under the name Neferneferuaten.
If her tomb is found intact, it would likely contain hidden treasures and shed new light on a turbulent period rich in artistic and architectural accomplishments.