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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Tutankhamun tomb scans continue - Al-Ahram Weekly
22-03-2016 11:57PM ET

Tutankhamun tomb scans continue

Radar surveys of Tutankhamun's burial chamber have revealed further evidence of another concealed resting place, reports Nevine El-Aref

For almost a century after the discovery of Tutankhamun's intact tomb in the Valley of the Kings at Luxor, nobody — even its discoverer British Egyptologist Howard Carter —imagined that its excavation was still essentially unfinished.

However, based on a theory launched in August last year, the Ministry of Antiquities conducted the first-ever radar scans last November of the north and west wall of the burial chamber. British Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves had claimed that the burial place of Queen Nefertiti is hidden inside the tomb of her son-in-law, the golden boy-king Tutankhamun.

Reeves came up with his theory after a close examination of high-resolution 3D laser scan photographs taken by the Spanish Factum Arte Organisation to create a replica of Tutankhamun's tomb, now erected in the area adjacent to the rest-house of its discoverer on Luxor's west bank.

After four months of technical studies in Japan, radar expert Hirokatsu Watanabe sent a detailed report to Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty asserting, with more than 90 per cent certainty, that both walls of Tutankhamun's burial chamber conceal behind them void spaces that could be two previously unknown chambers.

In a press conference held at the ministry's premises in Zamalek earlier this week, Eldamaty announced that the radar scans have not only revealed the void spaces, but have also shown objects of different materials and spots of different colours.

Solid and empty spaces had been found behind the walls, he said, as well as lintels and curves that indicate the existence of doorways.

"Organic and metal materials were detected inside the empty spaces, but until now we have not been able to determine what they are," Eldamaty said. "I cannot ascertain what these organic materials might be. They could be a mummy, a sarcophagus or something else. But there is something behind the walls."

Dark and light spots were also found, Eldamaty said, explaining that the dark spots were the original bedrock of the Valley of the Kings while the light ones were empty spaces. "A difference in thickness has also been noted," he said.

Eldamaty added, "Egypt is about to see the discovery of the century. If the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb was the discovery of the 20th century, its rediscovery might lead us to the discovery of the 21st century."

He said that the results of the radar scans represent another crucial step towards a new understanding of one of the most famous tombs and most perplexing ancient Egyptian kings.

He could not speculate further about the things that may lie within the void spaces, or even if these spaces are burial chambers or not. In order to correctly select a second step to reveal more about the tomb, he said he is about to conduct another radar scan of the north and west walls of Tutankhamun's burial chamber in order to re-investigate and confirm the results of Watanabe's survey.

"The new radar scanning is to be carried out on 31 March in collaboration with the Faculty of Engineering at Cairo University and a foreign expert whose nationality I will not reveal," Eldamaty told Al-Ahram Weekly.

He described the new scan as a very important step in an attempt to explore the two walls and find correct and safe methods to uncover what lies behind them.

"I cannot now give a determinate solution, as we have to conduct the new radar survey to be 100 per cent sure of the results, as well as consult other scientists, technicians and archaeologists, in addition to members of the current research team, to find an appropriate method to reveal the hidden chambers without damaging the painted walls of Tutankhamun's burial chamber," Eldamaty said.

He suggested that one idea is to probe the walls using a fibre-optic camera, but a way will have to be found to investigate them without causing damage. During the probing process, Eldamaty said samples of the air inside, as well as the rocks, will be taken to carry out comprehensive analyses.

The probing could also be undertaken from an antechamber of the burial chamber that has unpainted rough walls, he said. A probe could be inserted from the top of the cliff, from the ground outside the tomb, or even from the ends of the walls, which have less painting.

"But I think the ideal place to insert the camera to reach the north wall is the treasury room. The magic brick niche is the best place for the probing to reach the west wall. I think this would be the safest place to guarantee the complete preservation of the paintings," Eldamaty said, adding that these are all ideas that will have to be discussed by the ministry's permanent committee.

Eldamaty does not believe that the concealed burial chamber that might lie behind the north and west walls of Tutankhamun's burial chamber belongs to his stepmother, Queen Nefertiti, since she, along with her husband Akhenaten, abandoned the Amun cult for the god Aten, and Thebes is the city of Amun.

They built their royal tombs in Tel Al-Amarna, where they were buried, he said. In their tombs there is a border relief bearing an oath in which Akhenaten and Nefertiti swear that they would never leave Amarna, neither in life nor in death.

Eldamaty said the hidden chamber could be that of another woman, such as Tutankhamun's sister Meritatun or his mother Kiya or grandmother Tiye.

For his part, Reeves commented on the radar scans in a phone call with the Weekly, saying that the results support his theory because they show concealed chambers behind both walls.

"The radar has also revealed that the tomb's ceiling extended behind the northern and western walls, which confirms my theory and suggests the existence of two uncovered chambers. Everything is adding up," he said.

Abbas Mohamed, professor at the National Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics in Cairo, told the Weekly that although the results were promising, "we cannot be 100 per cent sure of the data given by the radar until it has been studied in order to provide an accurate result."

If Watanabe was sure that the north wall had a void space behind it, he said "I think from my reading of the given radar data that it is not that big and could be only a hole. We have to be cautious before announcing any results. The data has to be completely analysed in order to know the shape that appeared on the radar screen and whether it was a result of the existence of a void or any disturbance in the soil."

Mohamed said that the bedrock of the Valley of the Kings was made of choky limestone, which contains cracks, gaps and fractures. It is also soluble in water and can easily form caves. "Therefore, we have to eliminate various theories in order to be sure that the void space is a result of the existence of a chamber and not the result of a rocky component," he said.

He said that radar would reveal much more than any other type of scan and that it was likely to capture any blocked-over partition or doorway. "It should be very clear and accurate after analyses and comparisons have been made," he added.

Radar scanning is a non-invasive and non-destructive means not only of exploring archaeological sites but also of detecting caves, infrastructure and petrol resources, among other things.

Some foreign and Egyptian Egyptologists do not support the research as they see it as "only speculation". One foreign Egyptologist speaking on condition of anonymity this week told the Weekly that Egyptologists should be cautious about the results of the radar scans because they cannot be depended on alone.

"Scientific and archaeological discussion has to take place, as well as more radar scans," he said.

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