Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1296, (19 - 25 May 2016)
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1296, (19 - 25 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Is Nefertiti buried in the tomb of Tutankhamun?

The theory of the existence of hidden chambers at the tomb of Tutankhamun can only be verified by scrupulous research and correct archaeological procedures, writes Zahi Hawass

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Al-Ahram Weekly

I have been working as an archaeologist for the past 45 years, and this is the first time that I have come across a theory that has become a fact without any actual evidence. It amazes me to see how the media has jumped on this theory and turned a small idea, based on very little, into a fact. We all know that the name of Nefertiti is a magic word, but it should not be used to seek fame.

Let us examine the hypothesis of British Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves, who claims that there is evidence for chambers behind the walls of the existing tomb of Tutankhamun that may house the burial chamber of Queen Nefertiti

Using shadowy lines that he imagines he can see in the high-resolution photographs of the burial chamber taken by the consulting company Factum Arte, he has constructed a theory that Tutankhamun took over several chambers within a larger tomb, that there is an unknown annex behind the west wall and a corridor behind the north wall, and that these belong to the tomb of Nefertiti.

I want to say first that the British Egyptologist Howard Carter worked in the tomb of Tutankhamun for about 10 years, and it is common practice by archaeologists to investigate tomb walls in the hope of finding hidden chambers behind them. Carter took out the gypsum from the niches in the walls that contained five magic bricks, and he would certainly have examined the northern and western walls carefully at that time.

Second, I find it very unlikely that Tutankhamun’s tomb was placed inside Nefertiti’s tomb for a number of reasons. 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 has been proven 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 could support this theory is the similarity between the scene on the western wall of Tutankhamun’s tomb depicting the first hour of the Night of the Imy-duat and the scene in Ay’s tomb in the Valley of the Monkeys.

Reeves has also suggested that the scene of 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 the ceremony being carried out on Nefertiti with Tutankhamun as the Sem priest. I personally have no idea how this scene can be interpreted in this way again, there is absolutely no evidence for this.

We know that Tutankhamun was raised in Amarna based on the inscription from the Ashmonien Block referring to him as the “king’s son of his body, his beloved Tutankhamun.” This block also seems to refer to Ankhesenpaaten as the daughter of the king. This title confirms that Tutankhamun was a direct descendent and quite probably the son of Akhenaten, but there is no evidence that he was the son of the king’s wife Nefertiti.

It is also possible that Tutankhamun was married to Ankhesenpaaten before he ascended the throne. I believe that it is very strange that there is not a single scene of Tutankhamun in 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 Tutankhamun. Nefertiti appears at Amarna with her daughters, but never with Tutankhamun.

Based on the work of the Egyptian Mummy Project we discovered that the younger lady in tomb KV 35, who was the daughter of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye, is Tutankhamun’s mother. Nefertiti was not the daughter of Amenhotep III and Tiye, so she cannot be Tutankhamun’s mother, as the fact that she never appears with him at Amarna would suggest. We should note that it is also very unlikely that the priests of Amun would have allowed Nefertiti to be buried in the Valley of the Kings.

Reeves has also suggested that the holes in the ears of Tutankhamun’s gold mask indicate that it was made for Nefertiti, because during that period piercing was only common among women. But in fact ear-piercing was very common among both sexes, as shown by the fact that the mummies of Yuya and Thutmosis IV both had pierced ears. Earrings found in the tomb of Tutankhamun hint that he wore them as a child as well as a young man.

Another theory suggested by Reeves is that because the access of Tutankhamun’s tomb is directed towards the west, it was originally made for a queen, because in his opinion tombs belonging to queens are oriented towards the west. Although tomb KV 32 is directed towards the west and belongs to a queen from the 18th Dynasty, in contrast tomb KV 42, which belongs to Hatshepsut, is accessed from the south. In addition, the tombs of Amenhotep III and Yuya and Tuya are oriented to the east. There really does not seem to be any consistency here, and this point cannot be used to support the theory.

Let us take a look at the research results that have been assembled over the last few months. I consider the statement by Minister of Antiquities Khaled Al-Enany saying that this matter needs more research to be very important, since none of the reports has confirmed the presence of anything behind the wall of the tomb.

So how can we compare this statement, which is correct, with previous accounts that assumed a 70 per cent chance of finding Nefertiti’s tomb behind the northern wall in 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 radar scans had found organic material and metal behind the north wall. This announcement cannot be considered accurate, because radar cannot distinguish organic material from other materials. This fact 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. But as we know, scientific protocol requires that all data should be able to be read and interpreted by all specialists.

Thus, I believe that the Japanese radar did not confirm any major discovery. I do not think that we have yet used any credible method to investigate this latest theory or to prove or disprove Reeves’s theory. On the contrary, we have exposed the tomb to extensive photography and camera flashes. Using this theory to publicise and promote tourism is not a good thing.

Now I would like you to pay attention to an incident that took place a few years ago, in 2008. The following information will demonstrate that sometimes radar can create speculation of its own. Reeves and the same Japanese radar expert who is working with him now in the Valley of the Kings announced at that time that their investigation had located a tomb in front of that of Tutankhamun. Reeves put this on his personal website and called it KV 63, and also identified another “tomb”, which he called KV 64.

When we began working in the Valley of the Kings, we decided to excavate the area in front of the tomb of Tutankhamun. We excavated thoroughly, and what Reeves and his radar expert had assumed to be a tomb turned out to be a crack in the solid rock. Later, when the late Otto Schaden found the actual KV 63, Reeves announced that he had made the discovery earlier.

Even though Schaden insisted that Reeves had had nothing to do with the discovery of KV 63, the announcement was so pervasive that recently some antiquities authorities have been 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 Permanent Committee in Egypt. The real KV 64 was later discovered in another location in the valley, not where the Japanese radar had suggested.

Back in Tutankhamun’s tomb, the American radar that was used after the Japanese radar neither confirmed nor refuted the results of the Japanese system. The survey planned to be done from above the tomb would have been useless. The radar was operated by US expert Glen Dash, who made a survey in the area in 2008-2009 and did not find anything, although he surveyed about 10,000 km of 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, he has emphasised that the best target for radar examination is not the proposed new annex or chamber of the tomb, but the possible sealed doorways leading into them, which would produce distinctive images.

I would like to say more about his opinions, since he has published an academic article explaining the theory and evidence proposed by the recent radar survey. One image produced by the Japanese team suggests that there is an annex behind the west wall of the tomb, but if there has been any sort of masonry there the radar signal should have been scattered.

In other words, if Reeves’s proposed annex and corridor existed, they should have been readily detectable. Moreover, the best targets for the survey are not Reeves’s proposed hidden spaces, but the walls and doorways leading to them. The masonry of blocked doors and partition walls scatters a radar signal, leaving a distinctive signature. However, this has not been shown to be the case, and no doorways or partition walls means that there is no hidden tomb.

We should also consider the opinion of French Egyptologist Christian Leblanc, as he has worked extensively in the Valley of the Queens and has advised “not to pursue hallucinations”. Leblanc, excavating in the Valley of the Queens during his early career, found a shaft and inside it a sealed door, but when he opened this there was nothing behind it. This should be a lesson to us all, so that we do not unduly speculate before we carry out more extensive archaeological work.

Some people asked me for my opinion before the present 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 locates the hidden chambers here should we permit its use inside Tutankhamun’s tomb. We would then need to use a second radar system to have 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 evidently did not consider my opinion, and on the same day they entered KV 5 instead of Ramses II’s tomb.

After one hour the radar was moved to KV 62, and an hour after that 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 have raised questions regarding how we should proceed if the experts agree that there is a chamber behind the north wall of the tomb. The antiquities authorities were granted permission secretly from the Permanent Committee to drill from the treasury area of the tomb, but they were told to keep this confidential. The authorities said that because Zahi Hawass had drilled in the Pyramids, they could do the same thing.

However, there is a big difference between the Great Pyramid, where Ma’moun, son of the caliph Haroun Al-Rashid, moved thousands of blocks in the Middle Ages, and the tomb of Tutankhamun, which has painted scenes that any drilling could damage. Furthermore, I think that before taking permission from the Permanent Committee, it would have been better first to identify the thickness of the wall in the treasury room and determine how the drilling could affect the limestone scenes.

Finally, the Japanese believe that the radar scans have revealed a void area near the existing tomb. However, the radar data have not been made available for independent review and processing. The second radar scan that was conducted last March did not confirm that there was a void area behind the walls. The data of the second radar scan were made available to the international community.

Because we have two contradictory results, I propose further investigation be conducted as follows: first, to use a third radar system specially designed for archaeology and this particular site; and second, that a committee of both foreign and Egyptian experts in Egyptology and remote sensing should review the new data and the future of the research project.

Otherwise, the best thing to do would be just to end discussion of the matter.

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