It really looks like there’s a hidden chamber in King Tut’s tomb

The mystery of what, if anything, is hiding in King Tut’s tomb got a little more interesting on Friday, when Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities reported that infrared scans of the tomb showed a variation in temperature along one part of its northern wall. The most obvious explanation for a temperature variation like that is that there’s something other than solid rock behind that part of the wall — in other words, a hidden chamber.

The favorite theory, if there really is a hidden chamber, is that it’s the tomb of Nefertiti, one of the wives of Tutankhamun’s father, Akhenaten, who may (though this is disputed) have ruled briefly as pharaoh after her husband’s death, under the name Neferneferuaten. This theory argues that, since Tutankhamun was so young when he died, there was no tomb ready for him, so the Egyptians appropriated Nefertiti/Neferneferuaten’s tomb and buried him there. There’s a painting on the wall of Tut’s tomb, which I included in my last post on this story, that is traditionally thought to be a painting of Ay, Tutankhamun’s chief minister and successor, performing the “opening of the mouth” ritual on Tut’s mummified body. But the chief proponent of the “Nefertiti is buried in the hidden chamber” theory, Nicholas Reeves from the University of Arizona, argues that this painting actually shows Tut performing the ritual on Nefertiti:
King Tut is probably one of these two people, but which one?

Frank Rühli of the University of Zurich argues in that piece that the hidden chamber, again assuming there is one, could be storage, or could belong to somebody else. He believes that Nefertiti’s mummy has actually already been found:

“Queen Nefertiti might be the already found Younger Lady,” Rühli said.

The “Younger Lady” is a mummy found in 1898 by archaeologist Victor Loret in tomb KV35 in the Valley of the Kings. The mummy lay adjacent to two other mummies, a young boy thought to be Webensenu or Prince Thutmose and an older woman, identified by recent DNA tests as Queen Tiye.

The same genetic analyses identified the Younger Lady as the mother of Tutankhamun.

“Nefertiti is labelled in inscriptions to be Tutankhamun’s mother and indeed the mummy known as the Younger Lady is genetically suggested to be King Tut’s mother,” Rühli said.

Such evidence would automatically rule out Nefertiti as the occupant of the secret crypt.

The confounding factor for Rühli’s theory is that Tut’s mother is thought to have been either Akhenaten’s sister or his cousin, and nobody actually knows for sure who Nefertiti’s parents were. She may have been related to Akhenaten, but it’s equally possible that she wasn’t (one theory says she was Ay’s daughter, which would make her nobility but not royalty by blood); there’s also a theory that says she may not even have been Egyptian. Nefertiti may be called Tut’s mother in inscriptions, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she gave birth to him.

The other possibility is that the tomb is shared by Tut and the Pharaoh (?) Smenkhkare, who may have been a co-ruler alongside Akhenaten and/or Neferneferuaten, or may have briefly ruled in his (?) own right, or may not actually have been a separate person and is just another name for somebody else (Nefertiti, maybe, or another one of Akhenaten’s wives or one of his daughters, or one of Tutankhamun’s wives). If Smenkhkare really did exist as a unique person, then he could have been Akhenaten’s brother or son, or neither; it seems that nobody really knows anything about him, in part due to the fact that later Egyptian officials tried to scrub the entire “Amarna Period” (the reigns of Akhenaten and those connected to him) from the historical record. I suppose if they find another royal burial inside Tut’s tomb and the body is male, then we’ll know it isn’t Nefertiti and may well be this Smenkhkare character.

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