Search for Nefertiti's burial site given green light

(CNN)A British archaeologist has been given the go-ahead by Egyptian authorities to search Tutankhamun's tomb for the final resting place of Nefertiti.

Nicholas Reeves, along with Mamdouh Eldamaty, the country's Minister of Antiquities, and a group of experts will enter the boy king's burial chamber on September 28, said ministry officials in a statement released to AFP.
Using state-of-the-art surveying equipment, Reeves is expected to begin searching cracks on the northern wall for a secret doorway leading to a previously undiscovered space.
Nefertiti has continued to capture our collective imagination throughout the ages. Yet no trace has ever been found of the legendary "beautiful one" who ruled across Egypt at her husband's side.
    Last month, the tantalizing theory swept armchair archaeologists the world over when Reeves published a report suggesting Nefertiti has been hiding in plain sight all along.
    The hypothesis came after extensive analysis of high resolution images published online last year by Factum Arte, a Madrid-based art restoration specialist who helped create a facsimile of King Tut's burial chamber in Luxor. In the scans, Reeves spotted cracks in the walls that could indicate two previously unrecognized "ghost" doorways lay behind.
    "The implications are extraordinary, for, if digital appearance translates into physical reality, it seems we are now faced not merely with the prospect of a new, Tutankhamun-era storeroom to the west; to the north (there) appears to be signaled a continuation of tomb KV 62 (Tutankhamun's tomb), and within these uncharted depths an earlier royal interment -- that of Nefertiti herself," he wrote.

    Was Nefertiti the tomb's original occupant?

    Despite relentless looters, the boy king's final resting place continues to be one of Egypt's most prolific discoveries. Uncovered by Howard Carter in 1922, it remains the most intact tomb ever unearthed. And has been a treasure trove for archaeologists, where close to 2,000 objects were recovered.
    Inside the boy king's tomb
    In his paper on the possible find, Reeves theorized that the size of Tutankhamun's tomb is "less than appropriate" for the final resting place of an Egyptian king. Instead he seems to have solved the conundrum that has baffled archaeologists for years by explaining that its inadequate size and unusual layout is because it is an extension of an earlier tomb originally designed for a queen.
    The academic also surmised that recycled equipment found in the burial chamber predates Tutankhamun's accession. He concluded the site was most likely intended for an Egyptian queen of the late Eighteenth Dynasty -- of which Reeves noted Nefertiti is the only woman to achieve such honors -- and repurposed upon Tutankhamun's untimely death at 17 years old.
    "At the time of Nefertiti's burial... there had surely been no intention that Tutankhamun would in due course occupy this same tomb. That thought would not occur until the king's early and unexpected death a decade later," wrote Reeves.
    While the tomb of the ancient queen has long been thought to be lost, Reeves' theory got Egyptologists buzzing.
    "It's certainly tantalizing what Nicholas Reeves has suggested," said Toby Wilkinson, an Egyptologist at Cambridge University.
    "If we look at what we know: we're pretty certain there is an undiscovered royal tomb of roughly the same period somewhere, because we have more kings than we have tombs, so logic suggests that there's still a tomb to be found."

    In search of a lost queen

    But this isn't the first time a new lead has emerged in the hunt for Nefertiti.
    Disputed mummy claimed to be Nefertiti in 2003
    In 2003, Joann Fletcher from the University of York made waves when she announced that her team had identified an anonymous mummy known as the "Younger Lady" uncovered in a secret chamber inside a tomb in the Valley of the Kings as belonging to the ancient queen.
    She cited evidence of the presence of a Nubian wig favored during the Amarna Period (when Nefertiti is thought to have lived), alongside embalming analysis and examination of debris.
    The theory -- which aired in a documentary on the Discovery Channel -- was soon disputed by Zahi Hawass, then secretary-general of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, who concluded the mummy was actually that of a 15-year-old male.

    More questions than answers

    Alas, the mystery is likely to continue for a good while yet. Even though access has been granted by authorities, the sensitivity of the site and its cramped conditions will make examining the tomb in situ especially challenging.
    The Nefertiti bust on display in Berlin in 2012.
    "I think by using modern seismic X-ray technology it should be possible to look through the walls and see if there are significant anomalies or indeed gaps in the bedrock behind those walls," said Wilkinson.
    "That sort of ground penetration radar is well developed. It's been used in the Valley of the Kings and other places in Egypt."
    But even if this portal is found to exist and leads to a hidden chamber inside Tut's tomb, Wilkinson maintains such a discovery would lead to an even longer debate about how best to excavate the site without causing damage to the existing monument.
    "We may get to the point within a few years of knowing whether there is a chamber behind (those walls), but I think it will be quite a while before we can peek inside any chamber that might be there," he said.
    "But it's very tantalizing and it would be nice to think that in a few years' time we might have the final answer."
    A press conference will be held in Cairo following the conclusion of the investigation in Luxor, where preliminary findings from the exploratory examination will be revealed, a statement said.