King Tut's wet nurse may have been his sister: expert

French archaeologist Alain Zivie inside the tomb of Maia, the wet nurse of Egyptian boy king Tutankhamun.
French archaeologist Alain Zivie inside the tomb of Maia, the wet nurse of Egyptian boy king Tutankhamun. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

CAIRO • An archaeologist said on Sunday that Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun's wet nurse, Maia, may have actually been his sister Meritaten, reviving speculation about the identity of the mother of the boy king.

DNA tests have proved that the pharaoh Akhenaten was the father of Tutankhamun, but the identity of his mother has long been a mystery.

Egyptian officials and French archaeologist Alain Zivie unveiled Maia's tomb on Sunday to the media ahead of its public opening next month.

The tomb was discovered by Mr Zivie in 1996 in Saqqara, about 20km south of Cairo.

Maia was the wet nurse of Tutan- khamun, whose mummy was found in 1922 by British Egyptologist Howard Carter in the Valley of Kings in Luxor, along with a treasure trove of thousands of objects.

Mr Zivie said: "Maia is none other than princess Meritaten, the sister or half-sister of Tutankhamun and the daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti."

He said his conclusion was based on the carvings of Tutankhamun and Maia on the walls of her tomb. "The extraordinary thing is that they are very similar. They have the same chin, the eyes, the family traits," he said. "The carvings show Maia sitting on the throne and he is sitting on her" lap, said Mr Zivie, director of the French Archaeological Mission of Bubasteion.

Similar carvings were in Akhenaten's tomb at the archaeological site in modern-day Minya province, he said. A DNA analysis in 2010 revealed that Tutankhamun was the son of Akhenaten, who temporarily converted ancient Egypt to monotheism by imposing the cult of sun god Aton.

Mr Zivie said Akhenaten's tomb has carvings showing the death of princess Maketaten - the second daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti. "In these scenes, there is a woman who is breastfeeding a baby and this woman shown as a wet nurse is princess Meritaten, the eldest daughter of Akhenaten."

The mummy of Meritaten has not been found, but Antiquities Minister Mamduh Al-Damati said on Sunday that it could be in a secret chamber in Tutankhamun's tomb.

Archaeologists are scanning the tomb after British archaeologist Nicholas Reeves claimed that it has a secret chamber. He said it could be the burial site of Nefertiti, whose mummy has also not been found.

"Step by step, we will be able to better understand the time of king Tutankhamun," Mr Al-Damati said.

Tutankhamun died more than 3,000 years ago aged 19 in BC 1324 after reigning for nine years.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2015, with the headline 'King Tut's wet nurse may have been his sister: expert'. Subscribe