King Tutankhamun's Wet Nurse May Have Been His Sister

The boy-king only ruled Egypt for nine years before his untimely death at age 19. Jaroslav Moravcik/Shutterstock
Josh Davis 21 Dec 2015, 16:30

The mystery surrounding the Egyptian boy king Tutankhamun continues to get deeper. Not only is speculation rife that his final resting place also hides the tomb of his step-mother Queen Nefertiti – who may have reigned over Egypt in the years preceding Tutankhamun – but now it’s been suggested that his wet nurse, the woman who would have breastfed the future pharaoh as a baby, might have been his sister.

The news was announced on Sunday, by Egyptian officials and Alain Zivie, the archaeologist who discovered the tomb of the wet nurse Maia, ahead of her burial place being opened up to the public next month. The conclusions are based on a carving found that depicts Maia and Tutankhamun. “The extraordinary thing is that they are very similar. They have the same chin, the eyes, the family traits,” Zivie explained to AFP. “The carvings show Maia sitting on the royal throne and he is sitting on her.”

This, the researchers speculate, indicates that Maia was actually princess Meritaten, which would have made her either the young pharaoh’s sister or half-sister. Maia’s tomb, but not her body, was discovered by Zivie in 1996 at a site known as Saqqara, a vast ancient burial ground located around 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Cairo. Meritaten was the first of six daughters born to Akhenaten who, following DNA testing in 2010, was confirmed to have also been Tutankhamun’s father. Carvings in Akhenaten’s tomb also seem to corroborate the blood relation between the wet nurse and the then prince.

Diagram showing where the secret rooms in King Tutankhamun's tomb might be hidden. Mike Licht/Flickr CC BY 2.0

The news comes following the suspicion that the tomb of Tutankhamun also holds at least one secret chamber, the entrance to which is thought to be hidden behind the paintings and carvings on the walls of the young king’s burial chamber. After scanning the tomb last month, Egyptian authorities announced that they were “90 percent sure” that a hidden chamber existed. What lies in this room, however, is a little less certain. The most favored theory so far is that it holds the body of Queen Nefertiti. Researchers suggest that when Tutankhamun died suddenly at the age of 19, there was not enough time to build him his own dedicated tomb, and so he was buried in the opening chamber of his step-mother's.

Confirmation of the identity of his wet nurse, however, is not currently possible as her remains have not been found. Tutankhamun caught the world’s attention after his untouched tomb, containing thousands of burial gifts, was discovered in 1922 by Egyptologist Howard Carter. The life and reign of the pharaoh, who died after ruling the country for just nine years, has since been the subject of great debate and study.    

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