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Hidden rooms at tomb of Tutankhamun raise hopes of new treasures

Radar scans reveal two chambers adjoining boy pharaoh’s tomb, raising prospect of finding the resting place of Queen Nefertiti

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Interior view of King Tutankhamun’s burial chamber in the Valley of the Kings, Luxor. Photograph: EPA

If the fuzzy multicoloured scans are to be believed, Egypt’s Valley of the Kings could be on the verge of revealing new treasures that have lain untouched for thousands of years. Following some positive results from radar scans of Tutankhamun’s tomb, Egyptian officials and archaeologists alike are hoping a new tomb lies behind that of the former boy pharaoh.

Egypt’s minister for antiquities, Dr Mamdouh Eldamaty, said he was “90% sure” of the existence of two additional chambers adjoining the northern and western walls of Tutankhamun’s tomb. According to scans conducted by Japanese radar specialist Hirokatsu Watanabe, the hidden chambers are likely to contain both metal and organic material.

Dr Mamdouh Eldamaty
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Egypt’s minister of antiquities, Dr Mamdouh Eldamaty, announces the results of scans of Tutankhamun’s tomb in Cairo. Photograph: Ayman Aref/EPA

The scans point to the tantalising possibility of a new find akin to Howard Carter’s 1922 discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb. The next step, Eldamaty explained, is to find the exact dimension of the chambers, as well as the thickness of the adjoining walls. This could give some clue as to the nature, and grandeur, of the undiscovered chambers.

Any find would present a boost to Egypt’s rapidly declining tourism industry, stymied by years of political instability and the recent downing of a plane carrying mostly Russian tourists in the Sinai peninsula.

The scans follow a theory proposed by British Egyptologist Dr Nicholas Reeves in October that the tomb of Nefertiti, Tutankhamun’s stepmother, is hidden beyond the chamber. Some Egyptologists have cast doubt on Reeves’ hypothesis that murals inside Tutankhamun’s tomb point to a much grander chamber beyond, and his certainty that this could only be that of Nefertiti.

Plan showing the location of the rooms next to Tutankhamun’s tomb.
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Plan showing the location of the rooms next to Tutankhamun’s tomb. Photograph: Ministry of Antiquities

“Maybe it could be the lady of the family, as Reeves has said,” said Eldamaty. “But I think we could find Kiya, or Ankhesenamun,” referring to the young pharaoh’s mother and his half-sister.

“This would be like having the discovery of Tutankhamun again,” said Eldamaty. “It could be the discovery of the century.” Despite having raised the stakes from his previous estimation that he was “67% sure that we will find a new tomb behind that of Tutankhamun”, Eldamaty refused to say he was absolutely certain. He also declined repeated requests to say what techniques will be used to confirm any of the findings, saying only that the search would proceed “step by step”.

“The results are fabulous. It would be nice, as Dr Eldamaty said, to be 100% sure,” said Dr Salima Ikram of the American University of Cairo. “All of the Egyptologists alive now have missed out on Tutankhamun, so we want our own Tutankhamun. We want to be there, to experience it. We’re all terribly excited and rooting for it containing as much as possible.”

Scan of north wall of Tutankhamun's tomb
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Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves has proposed that the tomb of Nefertiti lies behind the north wall of Tutankhamun’s tomb, pictured. Photograph: Amr Nabil/AP

Ikram added that the presence of organic and metal materials in the rooms strengthens the idea that they are more than simply unfinished chambers left from the building of Tutankhamun’s tomb.

But even the discovery of new treasures would not be the end of the debate. “The whole thing presents a challenge to decide what to do,” explained archaeologist Michael Jones, of the American Research Centre in Egypt. “If they’re organic and metal remains, sometimes it’s best to just leave them in the ground. Archaeologyis a process of controlled destruction. Unless there’s a real threat, the best thing might be to leave something where it is.”

Given the potential for the grave to be robbed and its contents sold on the illegal antiquities market, Ikram disagreed. “If one knows that there’s something there, although in an ideal world we would leave some or all of it, given the fact that people know about it, I think it would be very irresponsible if we didn’t take the view of excavating this tomb and removing the material in a safe way,” she said.

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This entry was posted on March 17, 2016 by and tagged , , .

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