Egyptologists think they may have found the secret chamber where Queen Nefertiti was buried

A replica of the art effect from the Tutankhamon tomb at the 'Tutankhamon. The Exhibition' on November 21, 2019 in Madrid, Spain.
A replica of King Tutankhamun's burial mask.

Borja B. Hojas/Getty Images

  • New evidence could help Egyptologists solve the long-debated mystery of where Queen Nefertiti was buried.

  • In February, a team of researchers discovered secret chambers behind the tomb of King Tutankhamun, better known as King Tut.

  • The discovery comes after years of debate over whether King Tut's tomb contains Nefertiti's remains.

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For years, there has been a controversial theory about the famous 3,300-year-old tomb of King Tutankhamun: Queen Nefertiti's remains are contained just beyond its walls.

A team of scientists led by Mamdouh Eldamaty, the former Egyptian minister of antiquities, seemed to confirm the theory recently. The researchers surveyed the tomb with ground-penetrating radar and discovered a previously unknown space near King Tut's burial. The uncovered area is about 7 feet high and 33 feet long.

The theory of Nefertiti's burial was first advanced in 2015 by a British Egyptologist who said there could be secret chambers behind the tomb of King Tut. The theory was backed up by initial research later that year.

Three years later, in a scientific twist, a different team found evidence rebutting the theory. Using radar, Franco Porcelli and his team spent three years exploring the area around the pharaoh's tomb and concluded there was nothing there.

"It is maybe a little bit disappointing," he told NPR in 2018.

But on Wednesday, Eldamaty's team entered the fray. The scientific journal Nature saw details of his team's brand-new and unpublished report, which showed more evidence of a secret enclosure that could contain Nefertiti's remains. The team presented their research to Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities earlier in February.

The groundbreaking finding is "tremendously exciting," Ray Johnson, an Egyptologist at the University of Chicago who was not part of the research team, said. "Clearly there is something on the other side of the north wall of the burial chamber," he told Nature.

King Tut's tomb was first discovered nearly a century ago in 1922. The pharaoh died mysteriously at 19 in 1323 BC after ruling for 10 years. (Experts believe he died of gangrene, though they previously thought he was murdered.)

a 3,300 year old bust of Queen Nefertiti is seen at the New Museum, in Berlin, Germany.
A 3,300-year-old bust of Queen Nefertiti.

Markus Schreiber/AP Photo

Though some are delighted by the new finding, others remain skeptical.

The technology that Eldamaty's team used is not reliable, according to Zahi Hawass, a former Egyptian antiquities minister. It has "never made any discovery at any site in Egypt," he told Nature.

'The biggest archeological discovery ever'

The location of Nefertiti's tomb has long been a mystery. If her remains were discovered, it would be a significant scientific breakthrough, according to Nicholas Reeves, the British scientist who first proposed that the queen is buried near King Tut's tomb.

For much of history, Nefertiti was known as the Great Royal Wife of the Pharaoh Akhenaten. But some Egyptologists believe she was promoted to a coregent with Akhenaten and ruled Egypt with him before his death. Others theorize that Nefertiti may have ruled — but while she was disguised as a man.

Either way, Reeves told Nature, "If Nefertiti was buried as a pharaoh, it could be the biggest archeological discovery ever."

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