It has been just 100 years since the epic discovery of the tomb of King Tutankhamun’s tomb by Howard Carter in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. When his mummy was uncovered, it was thought that this discovery would lead to finding the tomb of Queen Nefertiti, the wife of Tut’s father Akhenaten, possible pharaoh herself and model for one of the most famous busts in history. However, Tut seemed to be no help in the search for Nefertiti’s tomb nor her remains. While many suspected burial sites have been found and unidentified female mummies claimed to be hers, none have been verified conclusively. That may change soon … to the possible disappointment of one of two Egyptologists working on the case. One claims he’s located Nefertiti’s tomb, while the other claims to have located and identified her mummy with DNA analysis. Which one will provide the ultimate proof of Nefertiti first?
Let’s look at the newer discovery first. The Guardian reports that Nicholas Reeves, a former curator in the British Museum’s Department of Egyptian Antiquities, has uncovered evidence that leads him to believe the tomb of Nefertiti is hidden in a secret chamber in the tomb of Tutankhamun. Reeves has been studying the hieroglyphics and the cartouches on the walls of Tut’s tomb and noticed signs that they may be covering other hieroglyphics. Cartouches are ovals with a line at one end tangent to the oval which indicating that the text in the cartouche is a royal name. Since the burial of King Tut was performed by his successor, Ay, it is no surprise that the cartouches contain his name and the pictures are of him performing the funeral rituals for Tut. However, something looked off in some of the cartouches.
“Close inspection of Ay’s cartouches reveals clear, underlying traces of an earlier name – that of Tutankhamun. In its original version, this scene had shown Tutankhamun performing the funerary ritual for the tomb’s original owner, his immediate predecessor … Nefertiti.”
The revealing picture is on the north wall of the tomb and shows Ay performing a ritual called “opening the mouth” to restore Tut’s five senses – a common rite. However, Reeves was able to get close enough to see through the paintings and discern the outline of another face under the profile of Ay – the “snub nose and chubby under-chin of the [figure] currently labelled as Ay follow … precisely the standardised facial outline adopted for official representations of Tutankhamun at the very start of his kingship.” If it is Tutankhamun performing the funeral ritual, then there can be only one person on the slab – his step-mother and, according to some Egyptian scholars, immediate predecessor Queen Nefertiti.
“We’ve always been puzzled by Tutankhamun’s tomb because of its strange shape. It’s very small, and not what we’d expect of a king.”
There has been much debate about the reign of King Tut since he assumed the throne at the age of eight or nine and died unexpectedly at 19. While he accomplished mush in a short time -- restored the Ancient Egyptian religion removed by his father and began restoring old monuments damaged in the past – his tomb seemed too undersized. Tut was also responsible for reburying his father's remains in the Valley of the Kings, so he was involved in the expansion of the royal necropolis. Akhenaten was married to Nefertiti, who many believe was also Neferneferuaten, the female pharaoh who reigned for three years after the mysterious Smenkhkare, whose existence was later kings was part of the purging of the Amarana Period of Akhenaten. Logically, Tut would have buried Nefertiti in the same tomb complex, yet her tomb has never been found. Reeves is of the scholarly opinion that Tutankhamun’s tomb was originally the outer section of a much larger tomb for Nefertiti. Previous radar scans of the walls of Tut’s tomb have been inconclusive, but there are signs the north wall’s eastern half were built rather than mere bedrock. He will include the new evidence in his forthcoming book, “The Complete Tutankhamun,” in which Reeves is expected to reveal new reports on thermal imaging and mold-growth analysis of the wall which support his case that Nefertiti’s tomb and her mummy are behind that wall. If she is, it will be a major disappointment – and possible embarrassment – to Zahi Hawass, the previous Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs in Egypt and perhaps the best-known Egyptologist today. Hawass announced last December that he has discovered a couple of unnamed mummies … and he believes one of them belongs to Queen Nefertiti.
“We already have DNA from the 18th dynasty mummies, from Akhenaten to Amenhotep II or III, and there are two unnamed mummies labeled KV21a and b. In October we will be able to announce the discovery of the mummy of Ankhesenamun, Tutankhamun’s wife, and her mother, Nefertiti.”
In an interview with Newsweek, Hawass confirmed what he has been hinting at for nearly a year – he found Nefertiti. For proof, he says he also found in another tomb the mummy of a 10-year-old boy who he believes is “the brother of Tutankhamun and the son of Akhenaten.” The DNA from that mummy will link all of them together. Hawass also believes Nefertiti ruled Egypt for three years after Akhenaten’s death in the city of Akhetaten, where they were both initially buried. After Egypt returned to its traditional religion, the capital was moved back to Thebes, all traces of the pair were destroyed, and the location of their remains became a mystery. While Akhenaten’s were found, Nefertiti’s have allegedly showed up in many locations, only to be disproved by evidence or by the Ministry of Culture.
Will Hawass prove with DNA that he has the mummy of Nefertiti? If he does, that doesn’t necessarily mean Reeves is wrong about her tomb being next to Tut’s – the tomb had been broken into in the early days after his death. Both men have made big claims before. Now they are going head to head on the discovery of the women whose head modeled for one of the most famous and beautiful busts in history. Which wone will be right … and which will be a bust? We should find out very soon.