The woman who nursed the ancient Egyptian boy King Tutankhamen when he was a baby may have been his eldest sister, Meritaten.

Egyptian Antiquities Minister Mahmoud el-Damaty, made that suggestion Sunday while announcing that the tomb of the wet nurse, known as Maya's tomb, will soon be open to the public.

El-Damaty noted that a scene carved on the walls of the tomb portrays the burial of Meketaten, another sister of Tutankhamen. In that scene, Meritaten carries and suckles a baby that "is suggested to be" King Tutankhamen, said a statement from the Ministry of Antiquities that was posted on Facebook.


An engraving on the entrance of the tomb of the wet nurse, called Maya, shows the pharaoh Tutankhamen seated on her lap. It's now thought that Maya may have been Tutankhamen's sister, Meritaten. (Mission Francaise du Buasteion/Reuters)

French Egyptologist Alain Zivie, who discovered the tomb in 1996, told Agence France-Presse that he concluded Maya was Meritaten based partly on carvings that show her sitting on a royal throne with Tutankhamen on her lap.

He added that Meritaten and Tutankhamen have the same chin and eyes – "family traits."

El-Damaty said inscriptions in the tomb give Maya the title "Great one of Harim," suggesting that she had a higher position than simply "wet nurse."

When the tomb was found, the original inscriptions and scenes had been covered by stones and building materials, after it was reused as a cat cemetery around the time of the Greeks and Roman civilizations, the Ministry of Antiquities said.

It has since been restored to its original condition.

The tomb is located at Saqqara, a necropolis about 20 kilometres south of Cairo, where courtiers and high-ranking officials of ancient Egypt were buried.

The pharaohs themselves, including Tutankhamen, were buried mostly in the Valley of the Kings, more than 450 kilometres further south, near Luxor.

The treasure-filled tomb of Tutankhamen, who died at age 19, was found in 1922 by British archeologist Howard Carter. DNA testing later confirmed that Tutankhamen was the son of King Akhenaten, who was also the father of Meritaten and Meketaten.


French Egyptologist Alain Zivie, who discovered the tomb in 1996, points to the site of the tomb in a 1997 photo. It's located at Saqqara, a necropolis about 20 kilometres south of Cairo. (Reuters)

Egyptian authorities announced in October that they would use new radar equipment to search for a hidden chamber in King Tutankhamen's tomb. By late November, they said they were 90 per cent sure such a chamber exists.

Archeologists have speculated such a chamber may contain the tomb of Akhenaten's wife, Queen Nefertiti, which has never been found. That search could also reveal hidden chambers related to Meritaten, the Ministry of Antiquities said in its statement Sunday.