Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1259, (20 - 26 August 2015)
Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Issue 1259, (20 - 26 August 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Where is the tomb of Nefertiti?

The recent theory regarding the tomb of the ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti should be welcomed by the scientific community. But it requires very careful evaluation, writes Egyptologist Zahi Hawass

Al-Ahram Weekly

British Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves recently published an article entitled “The Burial of Nefertiti?” in which he postulates that the tomb of the ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti is hidden behind the walls of the tomb of Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings.

Reeves bases his theory on his analysis of 3D scans of the tomb of Tutankhamun that were published online by Factum Arte, the company that created the full-scale replica of the tomb. In images of the north and west walls of the tomb, Reeves focuses on lines and shadows that suggest to him plastered-over doorways leading to hidden rooms. He proposes that these chambers belong to the tomb of Queen Nefertiti, whom many believe changed her name to Smenkhkare and ruled Egypt as a king after the death of her husband Akhenaten.

 Of all the Egyptian queens, Nefertiti is the most famous. She disappeared during the last years of her husband’s reign, with just a single inscription, dated to year 16, known after year 12 of the reign. Most of us believe that she changed her name and ruled herself after Akhenaten’s death, but her tomb has never been found. Its location is one of ancient Egypt’s greatest mysteries.

If we look at the scenes on the walls of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber, behind which, according to Reeves, lies Nefertiti’s tomb, we can see that most of the original scenes in the burial chamber survive today. One wall, the south, fell victim to British Egyptologist Howard Carter’s excavation team, which damaged part of the decoration when it breached the wall from the antechamber. Later, when the time came to remove the shrine that surrounded the boy king’s sarcophagus, the south wall had to be completely removed, but steps were taken to save the remaining paintings and move them to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

The ancient workmen had covered the walls in a thick layer of mortar to receive the paint in this room, the only one in the tomb to be decorated. The painters who decorated the chamber drew most of the figures based on a grid of 20 squares. This was a convention held over from Amarna-period art, and before and after this time Egyptian artists used an 18-square grid. The 20-square grid resulted in figures that were short-legged and also noticeably soft looking — another lingering Amarna influence — on a yellow-painted background to resemble not only old papyrus but also gold, the colour of divine flesh.

Carter worked in the tomb for ten years. I am sure he looked everywhere to see if the walls were solid or if there was something hidden behind them. I also think that he removed the plaster from the five niches that held the original magic bricks. That would have indicated if there was anything behind the walls, because the plaster would have been removed. Photographer Harry Burton took photographs of this, which anyone can examine now, and they were also examined by Carter.

What did Reeves see in the shadows, lines, and cracks of the wall that led him to his theory?

First, unusual shapes can be seen by any individual who looks at a 3D scan of a decorated wall. In the temple scenes of the tomb of Seti I at Abydos, for example, someone imagined they could see an airplane. Moreover, although the existence of a tomb inside a tomb is known from the 19th Dynasty, we do not have any examples of tombs like this from the 18th Dynasty. In the 19th Dynasty, the tomb was made inside a tomb for the king himself, perhaps because the workers were trying to hide his actual burial, or perhaps for ritual reasons. Why would Tutankhamun be buried inside Nefertiti’s tomb? She was not even his mother.  Reeves has not presented enough convincing evidence to the effect that there are hidden chambers beyond the tomb of Tutankhamun.

The west wall of the tomb, behind which Reeves thinks is one chamber of the tomb of Nefertiti, contains a scene from the “Amduat,” the book of the Netherworld. There is a scene of Khepri, the sun in the form of a scarab beetle, on a boat flanked by figures of Osiris and 12 baboons. These were drawn closer to the traditional, non-Amarna 18-square grid.

Now we come to the scene on the north wall of the tomb, also part of Reeves’s theory. The scene shows Ay, formerly Tutankhamun’s vizier and now his successor, performs the very ancient ritual known as the “opening of the mouth” on the dead king’s mummy, here represented as Tutankhamun in the form of the God Osiris. Reeves suggests that this scene originally showed Tutankhamun performing this ritual for Nefertiti. But if this was the case, then what should we say about the inscriptions over the heads of Ay and Tutankhamun, and why don’t we see any traces of the name of Nefertiti?

Additionally, this scene should not be in the tomb of Tutankhamun, but in the tomb of Nefertiti, if Reeves is right. Finally, what do we do about Ay, who ruled and came to the throne after Tutankhamun? Why can we not find him in the tomb?

Its hard to believe that Nefertiti was buried in the Valley of the Kings, because she completely supported Akhenaten, and the priests of Amun would never have allowed her burial in the valley. Nefertiti was active during Akhenaten’s reign, accompanying her husband when he made offerings to Aten, serving in effect as the high priestess of Aten. The high priestess of Aten could not have been buried in the precinct of Amun. Though Akhenaten’s body was later moved to KV 55 in the Valley of the Kings, his original tomb was the royal tomb at Amarna.

It is odd that Reeves should use a quotation from Omm Seti, saying that Nefertiti was buried in the Valley of the Kings, but I do like what he said in one of his newspaper interviews. “If I am wrong, I am wrong,” he said. “But if I am right, this is potentially the biggest archaeological discovery ever made.” I think he is right — this would be an extraordinary discovery, if he is right. But now we have another question: What should we do now?

In my opinion, Reeves is one of the leading experts on the Valley of the Kings, with many publications on the subject to prove it. Thus, if he says something about the valley, we all, as Egyptologists, have to respect it. I do respect him as a person, and I also respect his scholarship. However, I once rejected a theory of Reeves and proved that he was not right.

Explaining an anomaly: The tomb of Tutankhamun was originally built to house the mummy of King Ay, but the sudden death of the boy king led the ancient Egyptians to bury him inside Ay’s tomb instead as the tomb dedicated to the boy king was not yet completed. That is why Ay is shown in the scene on the northern wall making the opening-mouth ritual on Tutankhamun’s mummy.

What proves this is the fact that the artisan who decorated Tutankhamun and Ay’s tombs is the same, since the scenes show the same style of drawing. Neferiti is not Tutankhamun’s mother because there is no evidence that confirms this. Nefertiti had six daughters by Akhenaten, and these are shown in all the official scenes at Tel Al-Amarna.

Regarding this new theory, I think the Ministry of Antiquities should announce that we respect Reeves’s theory and thank him for his ideas. Five scholars should be appointed to go to the Valley of the Kings with Reeves and the data from the 3D scans and should examine the theory in situ inside the tomb. If, and only if, the scholars determine that the theory has merit, then the next step should be to use sophisticated radar equipment to see what is behind the two walls. If the radar shows an anomaly, it could be a room, but it also could be nothing, and I do not think the permanent committee will approve drilling working to look for Reeves’s rooms.

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