Is Nefertiti buried in the tomb of Tutankhamun?

Zahi Hawass , Friday 4 Aug 2023

Despite recent claims to the contrary, there is little evidence that the ancient Egyptian queen Nefertiti is buried behind the walls of the tomb of Tutankhamun.

Nefertiti

 

Many questions have been raised lately about the idea that the tomb of Nefertiti is located behind the walls of Tutankhamun’s Burial Chamber. The aim of this article is to investigate and examine this theory.  

I intend to focus on radar technology and its previous uses in locating tombs, referring to the opinions of scholars who have used radar technology in archaeological fieldwork as well as to general radar experts. I personally believe that it is highly unlikely that we will locate Nefertiti’s tomb using the recent study carried out with Japanese radar.

Instead of relying on this study, I propose carrying out another radar study and appointing an expert committee to analyse and interpret the results.

The hypothesis of British Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves holds that there are chambers behind the walls of the Tomb of Tutankhamun that may house the burial of Nefertiti. Using shadowy lines that he imagines he can see in the high-resolution photographs of the burial chamber taken by the art conservation company Factum Arte, Reeves has constructed a theory that Tutankhamun took over several chambers within a larger tomb, that there is an undiscovered annex behind the west wall and a corridor behind the north wall of the tomb, and that these belong to the undiscovered tomb of Nefertiti.  

I believe that there is very little evidence for this theory and that the likelihood that there is another tomb beyond the walls of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber is very low.

Reeves has proposed that the northern and western walls of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber conceal the tomb of Nefertiti. According to his hypothesis, KV62, the tomb now used for Tutankhamun, was originally made for her and was later converted into a tomb for Tutankhamun. He published his argument in 2015, and it may be summarised as follows.

The furnishings found in KV62 include a group that was originally intended for the burial of the Pharaoh Akhenaten, and a larger group of items prepared for the use of Akhenaten’s coregent, Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten, as attested by their inscriptions, iconography, and the feminine form of the human figure of the king.

On the west wall of the burial chamber of the tomb, high-resolution scans made by Factum Arte for the creation of a replica of KV62 seem to show traces of straight, unnatural edges, specifically, from their matched heights, the twin jambs of a door frame. Natural traces in the wall seem to disappear exactly where the lintel of this hypothetical doorway would be. This shows that the original rock formation in the area of this doorway was no longer there, having been removed and replaced with artificial blocking.

Traces of this sort exist elsewhere in the tomb, such as in the entrance from the burial chamber into the treasury, and also between the Antechamber and the annex. KV22, the tomb of Amenhotep III in the nearby Valley of the Monkeys, also has similar traces at the entrance to a room that archaeologists call Jbb.

Reeves also proposes that the traditional “orbital side rooms” of 18th-Dynasty royal burial chambers were four in number, arranged at the positions of 2, 4, 8, and 10 o’clock. KV62 features only two side rooms, not four. If one combines the burial chamber and the antechamber of the tomb into a single room, one of these orbital side rooms, the annex, is at the 8 o’clock position, while the other, the treasury, is at 2 o’clock. At 4 o’clock is the entrance corridor.  

This leaves one room, that which should be at 10 o’clock, missing. This happens to be exactly the position of the seemingly blocked and hidden door in the north wall of the burial chamber.

The orbital side rooms were usually used for storage. However, that was not always the case, such as the example demonstrated in Amenhotep III’s tomb, where one of the side rooms was “enlarged... with the evident intention of receiving an interment — that of Sitamun.” Therefore, the hypothesised hidden 10 o’clock side room in KV62 might have been made for the burial of additional members of the royal family.

Reeves also noticed six traces of features on the western side of the north wall that “line up precisely with the Antechamber’s west wall,” suggesting that both the Antechamber and the burial chamber at one time were a single space in the form of a corridor. That these were once a corridor would mean that KV62 was formerly “a corridor-tomb with a rightward axial turn,” a feature of a queen’s tomb, such as tomb WAD, which was intended for Hatshepsut before she became king.  

Reeves suggests that the original KV62 corridor was narrow (about the width of the Entrance Corridor), and that it was widened to the current width of the Antechamber when Nefertiti became king so that a nest of large, gilded shrines, like those the British Egyptologist Howard Carter found around Tutankhamun’s sarcophagus, could be brought into the tomb.

When the tomb was used for Tutankhamun, the area now known as the burial chamber was further enlarged in a westward direction. Reeves explains that the north wall traces numbers 4 to 6 show the outlines of a doorway, including doorjambs and an approximate location of a lintel made evident by a rough layer of plaster applied in the area where he believes the lintel to be.

He also cites the painted decoration of the burial chamber as evidence for his hypothesis. Based on analyses done by the Getty Conservation Institute in the US, Reeves says that the decoration on the north wall differs from that on the other three. On the south, east, and west walls, the base white paint layer was covered with a yellow background over which the ancient artists painted the figures. However, on the north wall, the artists painted the figures onto the white background. They then painted a yellow background around the figures. Also, unlike on the other walls, here the artists incised guidelines for the figures into the layer of plaster.

The proportions of the figures on the north wall are also very different from those on the other three. More than three decades ago, Gay Robins of Emory University in the US compared the grids used to draw human figures in the Tombs of Tutankhamun and Ay with those in the Tombs of Horemheb and Ramesses I. This revealed that the figures on the north wall of KV62’s Burial Chamber were done with a 20-square grid system that developed during the Amarna Period, rather than the traditional 18-square grid system.

She interpreted this to indicate that the north wall and its decoration pre-date Tutankhamun’s burial and were already in existence before the king’s shrines were installed and the other walls were subsequently painted.

Consequently, Reeves concludes, the purpose of the burial chamber’s north wall was as a “blind” to hide the existence of other chambers from robbers. The early 19th-century Egyptologist Giovanni Belzoni identified such a blind in the corridor of Seti I’s tomb (KV17) in 1817. In a wall that looked like any other wall of the tomb, with painted figures of gods, he found a hole, beyond which the corridor continued. Such blinds concealed, and thus protected, the rest of a tomb and its precious contents.

Based on the sum total of these many arguments, Reeves concludes that KV62 was originally intended for the burial of an Amarna Period queen. He sees evidence for this queen to have been specifically Nefertiti.

PROBLEM OF IDENTIFICATION

It is important to note that Carter worked in the Tomb of Tutankhamun for about 10 years, and it was then and is now common practice for archaeologists to investigate tomb walls in the hopes of finding hidden chambers behind them.

Carter removed gypsum from five niches in the walls that contained magical bricks and would certainly have examined the northern and western walls carefully at that time.

I find it very unlikely that Tutankhamun’s tomb was put inside Nefertiti’s for a number of reasons. For one thing, it is more likely that the Tomb of Tutankhamun was originally a small tomb intended for Ay. However, because of Tutankhamun’s sudden death, as demonstrated by the Egyptian Mummy Project, the Tomb of Ay might have been given to Tutankhamun because his own tomb was unfinished.

One piece of evidence that supports this theory is the similarity between the scene on Tutankhamun’s tomb western wall depicting the first hour of the night of the Imy-duat and the scene in Ay’s tomb in the Valley of the Monkeys.

Other evidence is the floor level of the burial chamber in KV63. The doorway into the treasury was originally created at a height of 60 or 75 cm above the current floor level. It was lowered, along with the floor level of the entire room, to accommodate the height of Tutankhamun’s shrines. The traces of the doorway in the north wall remain at the higher level.  This indicates that the architect who prepared Tutankhamun’s tomb, knowing that the shrines would have to fit here, changed the height of the room.  

If, as some scholars argue, these shrines had been made for Nefertiti, these should have fit in a tomb prepared for her. Lowering the floor (and widening the entrance corridor) would have been unnecessary, and the proposed doorway in the north wall thus would have been at the same level as the floor, rather than higher. I think that the tomb was originally unfinished and was never intended to hold any such huge funerary equipment. So, when the architect needed to adapt it for Tutankhamun, he naturally needed to adjust its dimensions for the enormous shrines made for the king.

Reeves also suggests that the scene on the north wall of Tutankhamun’s tomb showing Tutankhamun’s successor Ay wearing the blue crown and the costume of a sem priest as he performs the “Opening of the Mouth” ritual on Tutankhamun’s mummy originally showed Nefertiti’s ceremony, with Tutankhamun as the priest. He notes that the figure of Tutankhamun has the so-called “ornamental groove”, a line that extends downward on either side of the mouth. This is a feature found on sculptures of Nefertiti. The figure representing Ay in the “Opening of the Mouth” scene also has a double chin, a feature artists gave to Amarna children.  

Furthermore, Reeves observes that the image of Ay here differs from those found anywhere else. Thus, he deduces that the figure of Tutankhamun is actually an image of Nefertiti, and the figure of Ay is actually Tutankhamun, an Amarna child and Nefertiti’s successor.

I do not find his reasoning at all convincing. If Reeves is correct, the names in the inscription above the figures would have been altered from Nefertiti and Tutankhaten to Tutankhamun and Ay. There is no evidence for such modification.

We know that Tutankhamun, whose original name was Tutankhaten, was raised in Amarna, based on an inscription from two blocks found at Ashmonein that refers to Tutankhaten as the “King’s Son of his Body, His Beloved, Tutankhaten.” These blocks also seem to refer to Ankhesenpaaten, who became Tutankhamun’s queen, as the daughter of the king.

This title confirms that Tutankhaten was a direct descendant of a king and quite probably the son of Akhenaten, but there is no evidence that he was the son of the king’s Great Wife, Nefertiti. It is also possible that Tutankhaten was married to Ankhesenpaaten before he ascended to the throne. It is strange that there is not a single scene of Tutankhamun at Amarna, although some scholars believe that the child held by a woman in a scene in the Alpha Room in Akhenaten’s Tomb could be Tutankhaten. Nefertiti appears at Amarna with her daughters, but never with Tutankhamun.

DNA analysis carried out as part of the Egyptian Mummy Project indicates that the “Younger Lady” found in KV35 was the daughter of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye and was Tutankhamun’s mother. There is no evidence that Nefertiti was the daughter of Amenhotep III and Tiye, and, as mentioned above, it is very unlikely that she was Tutankhamun’s mother, since she never appears with him at Amarna (or anywhere else). We should also note that it is very unlikely that the priests of Amun would have allowed Nefertiti to build an elaborate tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

Reeves also suggests that the holes in the ears of Tutankhamun’s gold mask indicate that it was made for Nefertiti, because during that period ear piercing was only common among women.

But in fact, the practice of ear piercing was very common among both genders, as shown by the fact that the mummy of Thutmose IV had pierced ears.

There is no reason to assume that the earrings found in Tutankhamun’s tomb (at least six pairs) were worn by Tutankhamun only when he was a child, as concluded by Reeves. In addition to the holes in the mask, which are used by Reeves to suggest that the mask was originally made for Nefertiti, there are holes, not just depressions, in the ears of the mummy.

In addition, Reeves has attempted to confirm that the mask actually belonged to Nefertiti by arguing that the cartouche of Tutankhamun’s throne name, Nebkheperure, was written over an earlier name, faint traces of which may be seen in high-resolution images. Reeves claims that he was able to see, merely from the high-resolution images of the mask, little traces of ankh, mer, and nfr signs. Thus, the erased traces of the name would only correspond to Ankhkheperure mr Neferkheperure, or “beloved of Neferkheperure” (Akhenaten), the predecessor of Tutankhamun.

However, Christian Eckmann, who recently restored the mask at the Egyptian Museum, indicated in his talk at the annual Tutankhamun conference that took place in May 2016 that there are no traces of the name of Nefertiti on the mask.

Another theory suggested by Reeves is that because Tutankhamun’s Tomb is entered from the east and thus oriented towards the west, it was originally made for a queen, because in his opinion tombs belonging to queens are oriented towards the west. It is true that KV32, which belonged to a queen from the 18th Dynasty, is directed towards the west. However, in contrast KV42, which was originally made for Hatshepsut Meryet-Re, wife of Thutmose III, is accessed from the north, so oriented to the south, with her sarcophagus chamber oriented to the east.

In addition, the tomb of Ay, KV23, is, like KV62, entered from the east, as is the tomb of Amenhotep II (KV 35). Overall, there does not seem to be any real consistency to the orientation of 18th-Dynasty tombs for either kings or queens, so this point does not provide convincing support for Reeves’ theory.

RESEARCH RESULTS 

Let us take a look at the research results that have been assembled over the last few months.  

I agree completely with the recent statement by Khaled El-Enany saying that this matter needs more research, since none of the reports to date has confirmed the presence of anything behind the walls of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber. So how can we compare this statement with previous accounts that assumed a 70 per cent chance of finding Nefertiti’s tomb behind the northern wall of Tutankhamun’s tomb, and other more recent reports that have stated that there is a 90 per cent chance of a magnificent discovery?

The latest press conference about the radar results from Reeves’s Japanese partners announced that the Japanese radar had found organic material and metal behind the north wall.  This announcement cannot be considered reliable, because radar cannot distinguish organic material. This should raise questions concerning the accuracy of this result.

 Abbas Mohamed, who is a radar scientist and was present during the Japanese investigation, stated that the expert who designed the equipment is the only one who can interpret the data. As we know, scientific protocol requires that all data should be able to be read and interpreted by a number of specialists. Thus, from a scientific standpoint, the Japanese radar results cannot be considered to confirm any major discovery. I do not think that we have yet used any credible scientific method to prove or disprove Reeves’ theory. On the contrary, we have exposed the tomb to extensive photography and camera flashes, and many additional people have been in and out of the tomb, raising the humidity and endangering the decoration. Using this theory to publicise Egypt and promote tourism is not, in my opinion, a good thing at all.

An incident that took place a few years ago in 2008 demonstrates how radar can create speculation. Reeves and the same Japanese radar expert who is working with him now in the Valley of the Kings had announced in 2000 that their investigation had located a tomb in front of Tutankhamun’s tomb. Reeves put this on his personal website and called it KV63, and also identified another “tomb” that he called KV64.

When we began working in the Valley of the Kings in 2008, we decided to excavate the area in front of the tomb of Tutankhamun. We excavated there thoroughly and what Reeves and his radar expert had assumed to be a tomb turned out to be a crack in the solid rock.

When the late Otto Schaden found the actual KV63 in 2005-2006, Reeves announced that he had made the discovery earlier, even though the “KV63” he had identified was not the KV63 discovered by Schaden.

Unfortunately, Reeves’ claim that he had discovered KV63 was so widely disseminated that recently some antiquities authorities were able to be convinced that the discovery originally belonged to Reeves. These authorities did not consider any of Schaden’s publications, or the verifications that were given to him by the Egyptian Permanent Committee. The real KV64 also was later discovered in another location in the Valley, not where the Japanese radar had suggested.

Back in Tutankhamun’s tomb, the US radar that was used by National Geographic after the Japanese radar neither confirmed nor refuted the results of the Japanese radar study. The radar survey that was planned to be done from above the Tomb would have been pointless, since we already have data from radar operated by Glen Dash, who made a survey in this area from 2008-2009 and did not find anything new, although he surveyed about 10,000 km in the valley.  

 Dash, who in 1996 established the Glen Dash Foundation for Archaeological Research, is an electrical engineer who applies remote-sensing technologies to archaeological problems.  Regarding the present theory, Dash has emphasised that the best target for radar examination is not the proposed new annex or chamber, but the possible sealed doorways leading into them, which would produce distinctive images.

Dash has published an academic article explaining the theory and the evidence provided by the recent Japanese radar survey. I will use two illustrations to demonstrate his point of view.

The first is what the Japanese team put into the computer based on the theory that suggests that there is an annex behind the west wall of the tomb. If there is any sort of masonry making up a doorway or partition wall, the radar signal should be scattered. If Reeves’s proposed new annex and new corridor exist, they should be readily detectable.

The best targets are therefore not Reeves’ proposed hidden spaces themselves, but the walls and doorways blocking them. The masonry in blocked doors and making up partition walls scatters the radar signal and leaves a distinctive signature. Walls one cubit thick should show up distinctly. No doorways or partition walls mean no hidden tomb.  

I think that we should also consider the opinion of Egyptologist Christian Leblanc and take his advice into consideration, as he has worked extensively in the Valley of the Queens and has advised us “not to pursue hallucinations” regarding Tutankhamun. Leblanc, who was excavating in the Valley of the Queens during his early career, found a shaft and inside it was a sealed door. When he opened it, there was nothing behind it. This should be a lesson for us, so that we do not unduly speculate before we carry out extensive archaeological work.

Some people asked for my opinion before the radar investigation was carried out. I told them that we should test the Japanese radar by taking it to the tomb of Ramses II, where we know there are still sealed chambers, and only if the radar located hidden chambers there should we permit its use inside Tutankhamun’s tomb. Then we should use a second radar for a second opinion. After that, we should appoint a committee of experts on the 18th Dynasty and other radar specialists, and only they should have a say on what to do next, either to end discussion on the subject or continue with research.

Unfortunately, the antiquities authorities who permitted the investigation entered KV5 (the tomb of the sons of Ramses II) instead of Ramses II’s tomb. After one hour the radar was moved to KV62, and an hour later a press conference was held announcing a 70 per cent possibility of finding a chamber behind the north wall of Tutankhamun’s tomb.

Many people raised questions regarding how we should proceed if the experts agreed that there was a chamber behind the north wall. The antiquities authorities were granted permission from the Egyptian Permanent Committee to drill from the treasury but were told to keep this confidential. The authorities said that because Zahi Hawass had drilled in the Great Pyramid, they could do the same.  

However, there is a big difference between the Great Pyramid, where the Abbasid caliph Maamoun, son of Haroun Al-Rashid, moved thousands of blocks, and the Tomb of Tutankhamun, which has painted scenes that any drilling could damage. In fact, I think that before asking for permission from the Permanent Committee to drill, we should first be sure that the drilling would not affect the painted scenes in the Burial Chamber.

After the Japanese expert Mr Watanabe delivered a presentation at the second Tutankhamun Conference, he conveyed his conclusions from his radar investigation. He believes that his scan has revealed an area of void. However, his radar data has not been made available for independent review and processing.  

On the other hand, the radar scanning that was conducted did not find any evidence for voids behind any of the tomb walls. The data of the second radar survey was made available to the international community. Because we have two contradictory results, I propose that further investigation be conducted to use a third radar system specially designed for archaeology and this particular site.

A committee of both foreign and Egyptian experts in Egyptology and remote-sensing should review the new data and the future of this research project.


* A version of this article appears in print in the 3 August, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

 

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