The hunt has begun on for the “discovery of the century.”
A team of Italian archeologists announced this week that they have started work on documenting the mysterious Valley of the Kings. Next month the team plans to enter the tomb of the boy-king Tutankhamun and scan the tomb for secret chambers. Their ultimate goal is to find the legendary final resting place of Queen Nefertiti, the Egyptian Queen who helped lead a religious revolution 3,300 years ago.
Franco Porcelli, the director of the Polytechnic University of Turin project, said, “It will be a rigorous scientific work and will last several days, if not weeks… Who knows what we might find as we scan the ground”
The Italian team plans to use radar capable of penetrating up to 32 feet of solid rock to search for the tomb. This is not the first time that scientists have tried to use state of the art equipment to locate Egypt’s lost queen. In 2015, Nicholas Reeves, a British archeologist based at the University of Arizona, published a detailed study of Tutankhamen in which he argued that the king’s burial chamber contained two hidden doorways that had been sealed and plastered over. Reeves used infrared thermography to identify changes in temperature that were suggestive of hidden chambers behind the walls. A subsequent scan conducted by the National Geographic Society, failed to reveal any hidden chambers.
But Nefertiti was surely buried somewhere and now Porcelli and his team are on a quest to map the entire Valley of the Kings and settle the question once and for all.
The discovery of any royal tomb is of tremendous historical significance, but Nefertiti’s burial place would be especially remarkable. Nefertiti (ca. 1370-1330 BCE) was the Queen and Chief Consort of Tutankhamun’s father, Akhenaten. Together with her husband she is believed to have initiated a set of religious reforms that, for a period, turned Egypt monotheistic. Not everyone viewed these reforms favorably and now we have the opportunity to learn more about this extraordinary historical moment. George Washington University archeologist Eric Cline, author of Three Stones Make a Wall: The Story of Archeology told The Daily Beast that this discovery would “surely shed a tremendous amount of additional light on the period, because she was so integral to the reign of her husband Akhenaten, the so-called heretic Pharaoh.”
The tomb has the potential to settle important questions about the extent of Nefertiti’s influence and the transmission of power in the 18th dynasty. Scholars currently believe that Nefertiti was not Tutankhamen’s mother, but his stepmother. Some also think that for a brief period after Akhenaten’s death she ruled Egypt alone. Dr. Caroline Schroeder, professor of religious studies at the University of the Pacific said that the discovery “might tell us more about whether she, a woman, ruled Egypt in her own right.” If she did, it would have made her one of the most powerful rulers of her era, to say nothing of one of the most powerful women in human history.
Even if additional rooms tell us absolutely nothing about Nefertiti and the succession of power, they could still be vitally important for our understanding of ancient Egypt. Cline pointed out that when Howard Carter opened the tomb of Tutankhamen in 1922 we did not have the technology to analyze organic matter or DNA that was discovered inside.
“I am personally hopeful,” he added “that more texts, tablets, or other inscriptions will be found, which might give us more details and insight into the amazing years when the Great Powers of the ancient Near East were so interconnected, from the Hittites in what is now Turkey to the Assyrians and Babylonians in Mesopotamia and even across the Aegean to the Mycenaeans of mainland Greece and the Minoans of Crete.” Her tomb could shed light not only on the history of ancient Egypt, but also on ancient political history in general.
Beyond its academic interest, as the Washington Post has noted, a significant archeological discovery has the potential to revivify Egypt’s flagging tourist industry. Terrorist attacks in 2015 deeply impacted the number of visitors to the country, and this find, coupled with relaxed travel guidelines, could bring the crowds back to Egypt.
Given that this is the third attempt to use modern technology to find the tomb of the famous Queen you might wonder if archeologists are on a fool’s errand. But bear in mind that it took Howard Carter and his sponsor Lord Carnarvon a number of years to find the tomb of Tutankhamen. Perhaps, as Cline says, when it comes to Nefertiti, “third time’s a charm.”