Was Tutankhamun buried in the tomb of a queen?

One of the mysteries surrounding the tomb of Tutankhamun is the seemingly feminine appearance of the dead pharaoh. Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves believes there’s a simple explanation. The tomb was never meant for the boy pharaoh Tutankhamun but for a royal queen. It was built for the wife of the boy’s father – the pharaoh Akhenaten. That woman was none other than the iconic Egyptian queen: Nefertiti.

Reeves believes Tutankhamun’s death mask was originally for Nefertiti and then modified. The rich golden decorations in the tomb are representing Nefertiti and not Tutankhamun. The shape of the tomb is traditional for a queen and not a king. And the feminine representation of the boy – even with breasts on one statue – is because we’re looking at Nefertiti and not Tutankhamun.

There is a depiction of a living pharaoh opening the mouth of a recently deceased pharaoh to release their spirit and enable them to live eternally. The living ruler is thought to resemble the boy pharaoh whereas the dead ruler is more feminine than masculine. Is this Tutankhamun releasing the spirit of Nefertiti?

One problem with this. Nefertiti was never the pharaoh of Egypt. Well, that is a statement a growing number of commentators would challenge. They believe she ruled briefly between the death of Akhenaten and his son – who was her stepson.

Reeves even thinks her body could be somewhere in the tomb. But the Egyptian government is adamant that there are no hidden chambers to be found. Theories about what happened to Nefertiti after the death of her husband Akhenaten abound because of two apparent facts. Her body has not been found and she may have ruled after the death of her husband.

I say ‘apparent’ facts because there is a view that Nefertiti’s body was discovered and can be seen today in Cairo. And that in fact she did rule after the death of her husband Akhenaten. The tomb we attribute to Tutankhamun was actually built for her. That explains why when the boy pharaoh died suddenly, a richly decorated place of burial was ready for him. Because….it wasn’t originally for him at all!

DISCOVER: Was Moses the Pharaoh Akhenaten?

The mystery of pharaoh Smenkhkare

After the death of Akhenaten, somebody called Smenkhkare took over. Very little is known about this person, so all kinds of theories have filled the gaps. One is that Smenkhkare was a male gay lover of Akhenaten. The other is that this mystery pharaoh was Nefertiti ruling under another name.

Or then we have view that Smenkhkare was indeed a woman – but not Nefertiti. In fact, the real identity are the two older sisters of Tutankhamun. What happened was that after the death of Akhenaten, his youngest surviving daughter Neferneferuaten took over disguised as a man. Her sister Meritaten adopted the role of royal spouse.

After a year, Meritaten decided that just being spouse wasn’t quite good enough – and proclaimed herself pharaoh as well. The two sisters effectively ruled as co-regents for their brother Tutankhamun who was still only four or five years old. This idea of joint rulership may have been inherited from their late father who had his wife Nefertiti depicted on almost equal terms with him. Something that no doubt disgusted traditional opinion in Ancient Egypt.

Should point out that Neferneferuaten wasn’t that much older than Tutankhamun. In fact, she was seven when she became pharaoh! So, what on earth was going on? The explanation given by one historian is that repeated outbreaks of plague spooked Akhenaten. He wanted to sort out the succession after his death.

Therefore, he himself married his eldest daughter, Meritaten. The next oldest daughter – Ankhesenpaaten – was married to Tutankhamun. And the seven-year-old Neferneferuaten was designated as the next pharaoh. Nefertiti never ruled because she was not of the royal bloodline.

Reeves believes that many of Tutankhamun’s burial goods were made for Neferneferuaten including his gold mask.

TO BE CONTINUED

Centenary of the Tutankhamun discovery!

2022 will be a momentous year for all things Ancient Egypt related. It’s one hundred years since the discovery of the tomb of the boy pharaoh Tutankhamun. And it’s 200 years since the Rosetta Stone was deciphered by Jean-Francois Champollion. Both events have left a bitter-sweet legacy in today’s Egypt.

Because they are milestones in what was a period of European domination in Egypt. The Rosetta Stone was discovered during the French Emperor Napoleon’s military campaign in the country in July 1799 and then fell into British hands under the terms of France’s surrender to British and Ottoman forces at Alexandria in 1801. Champollion wasn’t part of Napoleon’s ill-fated expedition, but he deciphered the hieroglyphic script of the pharaohs in 1822 – revealing the meaning on the stone.

DISCOVER: Was Moses the Pharaoh Akhenaten?

British control of Egypt

Egypt came increasingly under British control. In 1882, British forces invaded and in 1899, the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium Agreement led to Egypt being jointly governed by local rulers and the United Kingdom. So, it’s unsurprising that the tomb of Tutankhamun was opened by a British-led archaeological team in 1922. Even if that was the year in which Egypt won a degree of independence from Britain when Sultan Fuad took the title, King of Egypt.

In the years before the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, the concession rights for digging in the Valley of the Kings had been held by an American lawyer, Theodore Davis. He had bought the concession from the Department of Antiquities in Egypt. From 1902 to 1915, he discovered about thirty tombs and then declared that the valley had been “exhausted” with nothing more to uncover. But he had missed the tomb of Tutankhamun – the greatest glory of Ancient Egypt.

FIND OUT MORE: Grave robbers through the centuries!

French control of digs in Egypt

The Department of Antiquities – which reported to the Egyptian government and from which Dyas bought his concession – was established and run by French archaeologists from 1858 to 1952. It was the forerunner of today’s Supreme Council of Antiquities. Despite Britain dominating Egypt militarily and politically, the French somehow managed to run the archaeology side of things to the profound irritation of British and German Egyptologists – who struggled to get a look in.

On the plus side, the Department managed to stop the wholesale looting of tombs and sites and recovered many royal mummies. There are claims that two local dealers who were brothers were tortured under the direction of the Department to reveal the whereabouts. Sadly, even though these mummies were recovered, many scarabs, statuettes and papyri had disappeared into the illegal antiquities markets.

EXCLUSIVE: Ancient Egyptian spoons!

Howard Carter and the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun

From 1899, the future discoverer of the tomb of Tutankhamun – Howard Carter – was the Inspector of Monuments in Egypt having worked on several digs including the exploration of Amarna – former capital of the monotheistic pharaoh, Akhenaten. This strange and charismatic ruler introduced a one-God cult based at his new city of Amarna that offended traditional religious opinion and power in Ancient Egypt. He was eventually overthrown by conservative forces.

Akhenaten’s successor was his (likely) son Tutankhamun. It seems prescient that Carter would work on this project uncovering the secrets of the father of the pharaoh that would make him a global archaeological superstar.

In the next few blog posts celebrating the Tutankhamun tomb discovery centenary – we’re going to look at this story of Howard Carter, the greatest tomb in Ancient Egypt and the worldwide sensation its discovery caused.

TO BE CONTINUED

Was Moses the Pharaoh Akhenaten?

Moses led the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt and into the Holy Land. The bible acknowledges that Moses was born and raised an Egyptian in elite circles. But some have wondered whether he rose to the very top and was indeed the Pharaoh Akhenaten.

Indulge me for a moment!

This is an intriguing theory about an enigmatic pharaoh who rejected the Gods of ancient Egypt and established a monotheist (one-God) cult around the Sun. Or the Aten to be more precise.

Some, even in academia, have argued that this one-God worshipping king of Egypt may have either been Moses or inspired him in some way. The father of psychology, Sigmund Freud, even believed that Moses had been a priest in the cult of the Aten who had to flee with his other believers when the old religion was restored and Akhenaten overthrown.

Akhenaten (or Moses if you prefer!) was famously married to the incredible Nefertiti whose beautiful bust is displayed at the Neues Museum in Berlin. Their depictions are almost touchingly domestic with the queen tending the children while Akhenaten sits nearby.

I was at the Neues Museum just a fortnight before it closed because of the Coronavirus. And I filmed some of the very distinctive artwork that was created under Akhenaten. It’s almost like the artist’s rule book was thrown out under his reign and new styles developed – reflecting his revolution in religion.

You’re not allowed to take photos or film the Nefertiti bust but I found an unfinished bust dating back over three thousand years. In some ways, this object was more alluring because you could see the artist’s smudges and tracing. Enjoy the little film I made below because it may be a long time before any of us get to see these treasures again.

One key difference between Akhenaten and Moses is, of course, that we know for 100% certainty that Akhenaten existed. We have his statues, his mummy (vandalised after death) and cartouches. Of Moses, we have the story but no confirmed grave or contemporary images.