Archeologists and experts from around the globe have been invited by Egypt’s government to examine new data concerning King Tutankhamun’s tomb. New, extensive radar scanning has brought possible evidence to light that supports the theory of secret chambers in the tomb.
The invitation, which was issued by the antiquities minister during a news conference held just outside the tomb, aims to bring a broader scientific rigor to what have only been vague clues.
The renewed exploration of Tut’s tomb was prompted in part by a theory by Nicholas Reeves, a British Egyptologist, that there were undiscovered chambers behind the western and northern walls of the tomb. Furthermore, these hidden rooms are likely to contain the tomb of Queen Nefertiti, who was one of the most famous figures of pharaonic Egypt. The bust of Nefertiti that is on display at the Berlin Museum is a symbol of ancient beauty for many.
Located among the desert mountains across the Nile River from Luxor, the Valley of the Kings was once the main burial site for Egypt’s pharaohs. Luxor itself has some impressive temples of Thebes, one of the pharaonic capitals.
King Tutankhamen’s tomb was the most intact ever discovered in Egypt. It was packed with well-preserved artifacts. Despite the fame, he has now, Tut was a relatively minor king who ruled for a short period of time. His parents were the Pharaoh Akhenaten and one of his wives, Kia. It was just after his death in 1323 B.C. that his family was overthrown by a general and the 18th Dynasty that had been in power for 250 years was ended.
Pharaoh Akhenaten had tried and failed, to switch Egypt to an early form of monotheism. Nefertiti was his primary wife; after he died, he was succeeded by a pharaoh referred to only as Smenkhare. Reeves believes that Smenkhare and Nefertiti are actually the same person. The queen had merely changed her name when she came to power.
The results of the preliminary scans of Tut’s tomb suggest that there may be two open spaces behind the walls, with signs that they could contain metal and organic matter. More extensive scanning, which was sponsored by National Geographic, has also been completed, but the data has yet to be analyzed.
If a discovery were to be made of chambers behind the western and northern walls, it would likely be the biggest discovery in Egyptology since Howard Carter first discovered the king’s 3,300-year-old burial chamber and its treasures in 1922. If those chambers did contain Nefertiti’s tomb, the discovery would be of even greater importance.
The recently appointed Minister of Antiquities, Khaled el-Anani, strongly advised caution. Egypt’s scientific credibility, as well as the preservation of its antiquities, were at stake in this matter. “We will rely only on science going forward. There are no results to share at the current stage, but only indications. We are not searching for hidden chambers, but rather we are scientifically verifying whether there are such rooms.” He then added, “We are looking for the truth and reality, not chambers.”
One of the difficulties that Egyptologists face when scanning in the Valley of the Kings is the geology of the area, which is notorious for containing fissures in the rock. Such cracks, explained Harvard University Egyptology professor Peter Der Manuelian, complicated interpreting the scans accurately. Although not involved in the project himself, Manuelian noted, “So the more scans we do, and from different angles and directions, inside and outside the tomb, the better.”
Reeves’s theory was born when he analyzed the unusual structure of Tut’s tomb. Other royal tombs were much larger and orientated differently. On top of that, he discovered, through examinations of photos, what appear to be the outlines of a filled-in doorframe on one wall. It was possible that Tutankhamun, who died at the age of nineteen, may have been rushed into an outer chamber of what was originally Nefertiti’s tomb.
Professor of Egyptology at Yale University John Darnell said Tut’s tomb is “somewhat anomalous due to its small size … But the question is: Was Tutankhamun’s tomb small, or do we have only a portion of a larger tomb?”
“We have a theory, and now what we’re trying to do is test it. And if I am right, fantastic, if I am wrong, I’ve been doing my job; I’ve been following the evidence trail and seeing where it leads,” Reeves said.
El-Anani said Egyptologists and Valley of the Kings experts will discuss the findings of the scans in a previously scheduled conference devoted to King Tut on May 8. It will be held at Egypt’s new national museum that is near the Giza Pyramids, outside of Cairo. The outcome of these discussions will guide what course of action Egypt will take.
“Technology is beginning to open doors that were permanently locked, or seemed permanently locked, or maybe we did not know it existed,” said Terry D. Garcia, who is the chief science and exploration officer for National Geographic. “It is creating a revolution … and it is going to result in the 21st century being the greatest in exploration in the history of mankind, and we are just scratching the surface.”
The renewed interest in pharaohs and the mystery surrounding King Tut’s tomb is an opportunity for Egypt to regain some of it deeply damaged tourism industry. Once, pharaonic sites were Egypt’s main attraction, but cities such as Luxor have suffered heavily from the plunge in tourism. The crash of a Russian airliner over the Sinai Peninsula that killed all 224 passengers on board did not help Egypt’s image. Russia has since suspended all flights to Egypt. Britain suspended all flights to Sharm el-Sheikh, the Egyptian Red Sea resort from which the doomed aircraft took off shortly before it crashed.