King Tut became a household name because the teenage pharaoh’s tomb escaped the notice of looters for millennia until Egyptologist Howard Carter popped it open in 1922, revealing incredible treasures, including his golden funerary mask—imagery that has become synonymous with ancient Egypt. Now, archaeologists are hoping to get lucky again. As Owen Jarus at LiveScience reports, this month excavations have begun on what may be the tomb of Tutankhamun’s half-sister and wife, Ankhesenamun.
In the summer of 2017, Jarus reported that archaeologists were using radar to examine the area around the tomb of Pharaoh Ay (who ruled directly after Tut), when scans showed there were four foundation deposits or caches that indicated a tomb likely was constructed in the vicinity.
The search for that tomb is taking place in the Valley of the Monkeys, an area adjacent to the Valley of the Kings, the elaborate warren of 64 or more rock-cut tombs near Luxor where many of Egypt’s most famous rulers are buried. In a statement, Zahi Hawass, who is leading the dig says it’s not certain that the tomb—if one exists at all—belongs to Ankhesenamun, but many historians believe her tomb exists somewhere in the valley.
So why is Tut’s bride buried in a different valley from the famous pharaoh? Ankhesenamun’s story is incomplete, but what we know is pretty incredible. She was born Ankhesenpaaten to Pharaoh Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti in 1350 B.C. She was wedded to her own father, known as the “heretic king” who upended Egyptian religion and government, and possibly bore him a daughter before turning 13. She was then wed to her half-brother King Tut.
According to Hawass’ book The Golden King: The World of Tutankhuman the two may have been a good match. “To judge from their portrayal in the art that fills the golden king's tomb, this was certainly the case [that they loved one another],” he writes. “We can feel the love between them as we see the queen standing in front of her husband giving him flowers and accompanying him while he was hunting.”
After King Tut’s unexpected death Ankhesenamun did not want to marry Tut’s successor, Ay, who may have been her grandfather, which was expected of her. She wrote to the king of the Hittites, the people Egypt was warring with at the time, asking him to send her one of his sons to wed. The king did indeed send one of his sons, who was killed on the border of Egypt by a general called Horemheb (who became the last pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty of Egypt). That incident is the last time Ankhesenamun appears in the record. A ring that includes the names of both Ay and Ankhesenamun suggests that she did eventually marry that pharaoh, but there is no conclusive evidence to support that statement. It’s also possible that she was killed for contacting the Hittites. As it stands, historians just don’t know how her story ends.
The new excavation could finally lead to some answers about Ankhesenamun or whoever the owner of the tomb turns out to be. But the search could also lead to nothing, which Hawass tells Jarus is a real possibility. In 2016, archaeologists who scanned King Tut’s tomb said they believed there were undiscovered chambers adjacent to burial that could contain the mummies of Queen Nefertiti or even Ankhesenamun. But a more thorough scan by National Geographic a few months later did not reveal evidence of the chambers.
New discoveries, however, are always possible. Last November, a multi-disciplinary team found a large void inside the Great Pyramid of Giza and researcher also found several new tombs at the Draa Abul-Naga necropolis near Luxor.