At Large  October 4, 2022  Rebecca Schiffman

King Tut May Lead us to Nefertiti’s Tomb

Photograph: Reuters

Zawi Hawass, the Egyptian head of the high council for antiquities, supervises the removal of the mummy of Tutankhamun in Luxor in 2007. 


A recent discovery of hidden hieroglyphics in the ancient Egyptian tomb of King Tutankhamun could lead to the findings of Nefertiti’s body and burial chamber. 

The most distinguished Egyptologists led by Nicholas Reeves found that cartouches – Egyptian hieroglyphics enclosed in an oval or oblong shape that represent the name of a monarch – describing Tutankhamun being buried by his successor Ay, had been covered by cartouches that showed Tutankhamun burying Nefertiti, the famous and beautiful Queen of Egypt, wife of King Akhenaten. This discovery, if proven true, could lead to more findings and information on the complex and hidden history of Nefertiti.


Tutankhamun's golden mask


Nicholas Reeves, a former curator in the British Museum’s Department of Egyptian Antiquities, has worked extensively as an archaeologist both in and around the tomb of Tutankhamun. The new evidence supports Reeves’ theory that Tut’s tomb is just the outer section of a much larger tomb. This would make sense, as Tut’s tomb has always puzzled Egyptologists. It seems a little small for a Pharaoh, and some, including Reeves, thought that a tomb that was already built could have been repurposed when Tutankhamun suddenly died. Despite its wealth of over 5,000 artifacts found throughout four rooms, it lacks extensive decoration in comparison to other kings' tombs. 

For now, the potential secret doors will have to remain intact, as experts cannot break through the highly decorated and painted walls. Instead, Reeves and his colleagues will have to rely on scanning techniques to see what lies beyond King Tut’s tomb.


Howard Carter examining the innermost coffin of Tutankhamun

Who was King Tut, and why is he important?

King Tutankhamun, commonly referred to as King Tut, was an Egyptian Pharaoh from the 18th Dynasty. He was the last of his royal family to rule. Tut’s father is believed to be Pharaoh Akhenaten, and his mother’s full identity is unknown, despite the findings of a body, which confirmed that Nefertiti was not his biological mother. His grandfather was Amenhotep III.

King Tutankhamun took the throne at 8 or 9 years old. Because of the unusually young age for a King, he was under the supervision of his eventual successor, Ay, while on the throne. King Tut married his paternal half-sister Ankhesenamun, and they had two daughters, though both were lost at or before birth. 


Birth and throne cartouches of Pharaoh Seti I, from KV17 at the Valley of the Kings, Egypt. Neues Museum, Berlin.

Though he was young, King Tut accomplished a lot during his reign. In his second year as Pharaoh, he began to restore Ancient Egyptian religion to its polytheistic form, allowing the priestly order of two important cults and restoring and rebuilding monuments that were damaged during the previous Amarna period. His father, Akhenaten, had instated a monolatry religious system for the god Aten. Because of this, he pillaged many temples that did not follow Aten.

But in King Tut’s time, Aten was relegated to obscurity. King Tut also reburied his father’s remains in the Vallery of Kings and relocated the capital from Akhetaten back to Thebes. This helped strengthen his reign, which lasted about ten years. He died, seemingly suddenly in 1324 BC at 19 years old. With no heirs produced, he was the last of his family to rule. 

In 1922, King Tut’s tomb was discovered by British archeologist Howard Carter in excavations funded by Lord Carnarvon. This finding gave historians important information about the King and the various ailments that led to his early death. Tutankhamun was physically disabled with a deformity of his left foot and bone necrosis that required the use of a cane. He had scoliosis, and various strains of malaria, among other illnesses.


Picture of the Nefertiti bust in Neues Museum, Berlin.

Who was Nefertiti? And what would we learn if archeologists find her burial chamber?

Neferneferuaten Nefertiti (1370-1330 BC) was a queen of the 18th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt, the great royal wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten, father of King Tut. Together they had six daughters. When Akhenaten died, some scholars believe that Nefertiti briefly ruled before the ascension of Tutankhamun, although this remains an ongoing debate in the Egyptology community. If Nefertiti did rule, her reign was marked by the fall of Amarna and the relocation of the capital back to Thebes. 

Nefertiti was made famous by her bust by sculptor Thutmose. Almost nothing prior to her marriage to Akhenaten is known of the beautiful Queen. In archeological findings, she is depicted as equal in stature to a King – from the smiting of an enemy to riding a chariot, it is clear that Nefertiti was not just a great royal wife.

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