When archaeologists uncovered King Tut’s nearly intact tomb in 1922, the boy king became one of Ancient Egypt’s most famous modern symbols. Photographed, visited, and meticulously studied, the tomb seems to have given up all of its secrets. Unless, archaeologists wondered, it hid another tomb—the long-lost resting place of Nefertiti.
To investigate the theory, the Egyptian government green-lit the use of ground-penetrating radar to analyze the terrain surrounding the tomb. Initial results from the scans in March 2016 suggested that organic material or metal could be hidden behind the walls of the tomb—a clue that more might lie beyond its walls.
But follow-up radar analysis led the Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs Zahi Hawass to conclude in 2018 that no hidden rooms or doors lie beyond King Tutankhamun’s burial chamber. It was an anticlimactic end to a dramatic archaeological mystery.
Experts had long speculated that they might find the lost tomb of Nefertiti within. That might have been “the discovery of the century,” an Egyptian official said at a news conference in 2016. As the New York Times noted, the news was seen not only as an archaeological breakthrough, but a way to potentially bolster Egypt’s floundering tourism industry.
At the time, archaeologists said there was a 90 percent chance of a new chamber. But when a team of Italian archaeologists used ground-penetrating radar to study the site, reported the Associated Press, they didn’t find any corridors or rooms next to King Tut’s tomb.
“Unfortunately, our work is not supporting this theory,” Francisco Porcelli, the archaeologist who presented the team’s findings, said in a press conference.
WATCH VIDEO: The Legacy of Nefertiti
Nefertiti was the wife of Akhenaten, Tutankhamen’s father. It’s thought that she ruled alongside her pharaoh husband at one point, and that she may have become pharaoh herself after his death. However, her existence in the historical record is scant and her tomb has never been found.
In 1912, archaeologists discovered a regal bust representing the queen. It’s become one of the most recognizable objects of ancient Egyptian art and has fueled hopes that there’s even more to learn.
British archaeologist Nicholas Reeves originated the theory that her tomb might be tucked in next to King Tut’s. “If I’m right, we’re now faced with the extraordinary prospect of coming face-to-face with an intact Egyptian pharaonic tomb,” he told NPR in 2015. “Not the tomb of any old king that nobody’s ever heard of, but the tomb of Nefertiti, a woman actually who was far more than a pretty face.”
The search for Nefertiti's final resting place lives on.