Egypt asks experts to help search for tomb
Posted: April 3, 2016 at 3:03 a.m.
VALLEY OF THE KINGS, Egypt -- Egypt has invited archaeologists and experts from around the world to examine new data from new, extensive radar scanning conducted on King Tutankhamun's tomb to explore a theory that secret chambers could be hidden behind its walls.
At a news conference just outside the tomb, the antiquities minister announced on Friday the invitation to a May conference in Cairo.
The new exploration was prompted by a theory by British Egyptologist Nicolas Reeves that undiscovered chambers lie behind the tomb's western and northern walls and that they likely contain the tomb of Queen Nefertiti, one of ancient Egypt's most famous figures -- whose bust, on display at the Berlin Museum, is a much-storied symbol of ancient beauty.
Preliminary scans whose results were announced last month suggested two open spaces with signs of metal and organic matter. Egypt's archaeologists announced Friday that they completed more extensive scanning, sponsored by National Geographic, and the results must now be analyzed.
If chambers -- whether containing Nefertiti's tomb or not -- are discovered behind the western and northern walls covered in hieroglyphs and bas-reliefs in Tut's tomb, 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.
Antiquities Minister Khaled el-Anani, who was appointed to his post last month, counseled caution.
He said Egypt's "scientific credibility" and the preservation of its antiquities were at stake, adding, "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.
"We are looking for the truth and reality, not chambers."
Another radar scan will be carried out at the end of the month. It will be done vertically from atop the hill above the tomb, using equipment with a range of about 40 yards.
Harvard University Egyptology professor Peter Der Manuelian, who is not involved in the project, said the Valley of the Kings is "notorious for containing fissures, cracks" that complicate interpreting the scans. "So the more scans we do, and from different angles and directions, inside and outside the tomb, the better," he said.
Even if the spaces are rooms, they could be undecorated small rooms for holding embalming materials, he said -- or "the beginning of a larger floor plan."
Reeves' theory was prompted by the unusual structure of Tut's tomb. It is smaller than other royal tombs and oriented differently. Furthermore, his examination of photos uncovered what appear to be the outlines of a filled-in door frame in one wall.
He has speculated that Tutankhamun, who died at age 19, may have been rushed into an outer chamber of what was originally Nefertiti's tomb. Nefertiti was one of the wives of Tut's father Akhenaten, though another wife Kia is believed to be Tut's mother.
"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 on May 8 the findings of the scans in a previously scheduled conference devoted to King Tut to be held at Egypt's new national museum near the Giza Pyramids outside Cairo. There, they can discuss the findings. The outcome, he said, will guide what course of action Egypt takes.
The Valley of the Kings was one of the main burial sites for ancient Egypt's pharaohs, located among the desert mountains across the Nile River from Luxor, the site of the monumental temples of Thebes, one of the capitals from that era.
Tut's was the most intact tomb ever discovered in Egypt, packed with well-preserved artifacts. But he was a relatively minor king ruling for a short period at a turbulent time.
Nefertiti was the primary wife of the Pharaoh Akhenaten, who unsuccessfully tried to switch Egypt to an early form of monotheism. Akhenaten was succeeded by a pharaoh referred to as Smenkhare. Reeves said he believes Smenkhare and Nefertiti are the same person, with the queen simply changing her name during her rule.
Not long after Tut died in 1323 B.C., his family was overthrown by a general, ending the 18th Dynasty that had been in power for 250 years.
John Darnell, professor of Egyptology at Yale University, 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?"
The latest scans were carried out over 12 hours along five different levels of the walls, producing 40 scans. The data will be analyzed by U.S.-based experts, but the results will not be known for at least another week.
Information for this article was contributed by Brian Rohan of The Associated Press.
A Section on 04/03/2016