The Surprise Inside Secret Chambers
In the past week, archaeologists have been abuzz with the news that hidden chambers had been discovered in the Great Pyramid of Giza. The 4,500-year-old monument, which is known as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, had been keeping secrets.
Scientists from the Scan Pyramids project used thermal imaging and radiography equipment to scan the monument and detect cavities in the structure. In a statement to the press, they announced, “we are now able to confirm the existence of a ‘void’ hidden behind the north face, that could have the form of at least one corridor going inside the Great Pyramid.” What hidden secrets might be found in the Pyramid? Was there a hidden tomb?
Perhaps nothing. While the world rushed to the conclusion that the cavities in the structure were “hidden chambers,” representatives overseeing the project read the results as ambiguous. Speaking to Live Science, Zahi Hawass, the Egytpian antiquities minister, confessed that they aren’t sure that the voids in the pyramid are that sizeable.
To followers of archaeology news the hubbub over the secret chambers likely sounds a little familiar. A little over a year ago Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves, director of the Amarna Royal tombs project, publicly proposed that King Tutankhamun’s tomb contained a hidden doorway that led to the tomb of Queen Nefertiti. The hypothesis was based on scans conducted by radar technologist Hirokatsu Watanabe. His scans seemed to suggest that there were two hidden chambers in the tomb. The claims electrified the field of Egyptology and sparked months of debate about the findings. Now, over a year later, and after a subsequent study by National Geographic, the search for Nefertiti has reached a dead end.
Egyptologists are not the only ones to be misled by scientific scans. The search for the hidden treasures of historic figures transcends disciplines. In a two-hour special that aired in 1986, television news reporter Geraldo Rivera hosted a live-action excavation of Al Capone’s South Side Chicago hideout. Rivera and his producers hoped to find money, weapons, or even the corpses of gangland rivals, but in the end the only thing that was buried there was Rivera’s career. They had been led astray by sonar technology. And they engaged in some risky pointless archaeology in the process.
What these events have in common is not inconclusive scientific tests, but human inquisitiveness. People have been looking for buried treasure – whether booty or information – for millennia. At the conclusion of the Jewish War in 70 CE, Roman soldiers stormed the Temple Mount, striping the Temple of its valuables as they went. They seized the golden candelabrum, silver trumpets, and ornate table of the divine presence from the inner courtyard of the Temple. The event is depicted on the side of the Arch of Titus in Rome and the treasures were displayed in the Temple of Peace in the Roman Forum.
When they approached the curtain that divided the inner courtyard from the holy of holies, the dwelling place of God that was accessible only to the High Priest once a year, they expected to find the most magnificent treasures. Instead, to their disappointment, they found only the Ark of the Covenant (Indiana Jones would be thrilled, but the Romans were hoping for a cave full of treasure). The temptation to enter the sacred concealed space, to look behind the curtain, was not just about seizing treasure. According to the first-century Jewish historian Josephus, nearly a century earlier the Roman general Pompey had stepped into (and, thus, desecrated) the Holy of Holies.
This is not to say that empty rooms are without interest to historians, rather than treasure hunters. During renovations in 2014, construction workers discovered a secret chamber inside the ruins of a thirteenth-century Scottish Castle on the Ardnamurchan peninsula. The room in Mingary Castle had been closed off for five hundred years. Historian Jon Haylett believed that the room was walled off to strengthen the castle against external attack. Though empty but for some bone fragments, the existence of the room tells us something about defensive strategy in the sixteenth century.
The moral of the story? Things that are hidden brim with promise, if not gold.
-- Sent from my monopoly-free Linux system.