In an academic paper published this past July, British archaeologist Nicholas Reeves made the startling claim that King Tutankhamen may not be alone in his burial chamber. After spending months poring over ultra-high-resolution images of the boy-king’s mausoleum, the University of Arizona Egyptologist spotted what he believed to be the outlines of two doorways that had been blocked and plastered over to hide them from view. Reeves asserted that behind those concealed doorways might rest an even more lavish tomb belonging to the legendary Queen Nefertiti.
Evidence is now mounting that Reeves’s theory could be correct. In early November, researchers using infrared thermography conducted a scan of the burial chamber that revealed temperature differences on various portions of the northern wall. Then at a press conference in Luxor on Saturday, Egyptian officials announced that preliminary results from a two-day radar scan of the tomb confirmed the presence of empty spaces behind the walls.
“We said earlier there was a 60 percent chance there is something behind the walls. But now after the initial reading of the scans, we are saying now it’s 90 percent likely there is something behind the walls,” Egyptian Antiquities Minister Mamdouh Eldamaty told the gathered reporters. “There is, in fact, an empty space behind the wall based on radar, which is very accurate, there is no doubt,” confirmed Hirokatsu Watanabe, the Japanese specialist who conducted the radar scans last week.
“Clearly it does look from the radar evidence as if the tomb continues, as I have predicted,” Reeves said at the press conference, according to Agence France-Presse. “The radar behind the north wall seems pretty clear. If I am right it is a continuation—corridor continuation—of the tomb, which will end in another burial chamber.”
The radar scans have been sent to Japan for further examination, with final results expected in a month. If the preliminary findings are confirmed, the next challenge facing archaeologists will be finding a way to enter the secret chamber that has been hermetically sealed for nearly 3,500 years without damaging the tomb or the contents inside, although according to Reuters, Eldamaty said that could be possible within three months.
Reeves said the archaeological team would proceed with caution. “The key is to excavate slowly and carefully and record well. The fact is this isn’t a race. All archaeology is disruption. We can’t go back and re-do it, so we have to do it well in the first place.”
If the body of Nefertiti, who died around 1340 B.C., indeed rests behind the plaster walls of King Tut’s tomb, it would solve one of Egyptology’s greatest mysteries. Her mummy has proven the most elusive to archaeologists and the most notable absence from the royals of Egypt’s 18th dynasty. Renowned for her beauty, the wife of pharaoh Akhenaten, Tutankhamen’s father, was one of ancient Egypt’s most powerful women.
Reeves says the presence of Nefertiti would also explain why King Tut’s tomb is smaller than that of other Egyptian pharaohs and oriented to the right of the entrance—a layout typical of Egyptian queens, not kings. He theorizes that King Tut was hastily buried in the tomb originally prepared for Nefertiti since a mausoleum had yet to be built for the teenaged ruler at the time of his sudden death.
Egyptian authorities hope that the possible discovery of Nefertiti’s burial chamber in King Tut’s tomb could give a much needed boost to tourism, which has plummeted since political upheaval struck the country in the wake of the ousting of former president Hosni Mubarak in 2011. “If we discover something, it will turn the world inside out,” Mustafa Waziry, the director of antiquities of Luxor, told the New York Times.
Reeves’s theory, though, has its skeptics. Agence France-Presse reports that Eldamaty believes that any secret burial chamber is more likely to belong to Kiya, another of Akhenaten’s wives, while Egypt’s former antiquities minister Zahi Hawass told the news agency that Nefertiti’s role in the unsuccessful attempt to convert ancient Egypt to the monotheistic worship of the sun god Aton would have precluded her interment in Luxor. “The lady was worshipping Aton with Akhenaten for years. The priests would never allow her to be buried in the Valley of the Kings,” he said.
Reeves remains confident, however. “I think it is Nefertiti,” he told the press on Saturday, “and all the evidence points in that direction.”