Tantalising radar shadows have revived hopes that one of history’s most beautiful, and controversial, women — Queen Nefertiti — may indeed be buried in secret chambers within King Tut’s famous tomb.
British and Egyptian Egyptologists earlier this week conducted a three-day radar scan of the world-famous tomb discovered by Howard Carter in 1922.
Upon opening its still-sealed door, he declared he saw “wonderful things”. Everywhere was the glint of gold and priceless examples of some of history’s most exquisite art.
But, since then, the tomb has presented something of a mystery.
It was immediately odd that so many of the statues attributed as Pharoah Tutankhamun had hips and breasts. And more recent, closer, examination reveals a significant proportion of the artwork to have been rebadged, and repurposed, from previous rulers.
And that includes his iconic burial mask.
In 2015, a ground-penetrating scan of the 3300-year-old tomb was conducted by controversial radar technician Hirokatsu Watanabe. He declared he had detected, with “90 per cent certainty”, several hollow spaces along with “metallic” and “organic” objects.
The world erupted in excitement.
Could another extraordinary discovery be tantalisingly within reach?
Would one of Egypt’s greatest mysteries finally be solved?
Egyptologists were immediately doubtful. His radar scan images seemed uninterpretable — just a mass of blue lines with the occasional red dot. Nobody other than Watanabe seemed able to determine what the scans revealed.
So, the Egyptian Antiquities department organised a second scan — this time with the assistance of National Geographic — in 2016. It found … nothing.
“If we had a void, we should have a strong reflection,” geophysicist Dean Goodman of GPR-Slice software told National Geographic News. “But it just doesn’t exist.”
The locations of speculative chambers have been supported by infra-red and radar scans of Tut’s tomb.Source:Getty Images
The Egypt Independent reports the latest scan of Tut’s tomb concluded on Wednesday.
Egyptian technicians from the Centre for Sound Vibration and Smart Structures at the Faculty of Engineering, Ain Shams University, joined a team from the English Terravision Centre to scour the rock for any trace of hidden chambers.
It’s part of an assessment that is due to be completed by the end of the year.
Egyptian archaeologist Francis Amin told the Egypt Independent the most recent radar survey, conducted by the University of Turin, had revealed spaces behind the walls.
But the resolution of the images did not confirm if these were man-made or natural cavities in the rock.
“The results of previous radar surveys have found evidence of the existence of spaces and organic material behind the walls of the cemetery,” Amin said. He added that specialist chemists will need to help analyse the radar survey results.
Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s tomb doesn’t follow the well-established pattern applied to other Egyptian god-kings. It’s unusually small. And it is shaped more like a burial chamber intended for a queen. And why do so many of the statues and images attributed as King Tutankhamun have feminine hips and breasts?
Some have theorised Tutankhamun suffered from his royal inbreeding and had deformities such as breasts and female hips.Source:Supplied
British Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves put these clues together, including the discovery of partially erased royal names, to suggest the tomb — and much of its contents — was initially intended for Tut’s stepmother, Nefertiti.
Dr Reeves’ 2015 academic paper The Burial of Nefertiti quickly grabbed international attention.
About the same time, a high-resolution 3D laser scan made to help preserve the tomb indicated there may be “hollows” hidden behind the tomb’s plasterwork and paintings. Were these sealed doors?
“The implications are extraordinary: for, if digital appearance translates into physical reality, it seems we are now faced not merely with the prospect of a new, Tutankhamun-era storeroom to the west; to the north appears to be signalled a continuation of tomb … and within these uncharted depths an earlier royal interment — that of Nefertiti herself, celebrated consort, coregent, and eventual successor of pharaoh Akhenaten,” Dr Reeves wrote.
While the evidence was circumstantial, it was enough to pique the interest of the Egyptian Antiquities department to invite Dr Reeves — and others — to examine the tomb more closely.
“Each piece of evidence on its own is not conclusive but put it all together, and it’s hard to avoid my conclusion,” Dr Reeves said. “If I’m wrong, I’m wrong, but if I’m right, this is potentially the biggest archaeological discovery ever made.”
British archaeologist Nicholas Reeves believes the new chamber could be the last resting place of Queen Nefertiti, King Tut's mother-in-law.Source:Supplied
Dr Reeves has been chasing Nefertiti’s ghost for almost two decades.
In 2000, Dr Reeves led a radar examination of the ground around Tutankhamun’s tomb in a search for Nefertiti’s burial. He reported finding a “void”. But digs failed to locate anything.
His continued enthusiasm, however, has proven contagious.
In 2016, Egypt’s tourism minister enthused: “We do not know if the burial chamber is Nefertiti or another woman, but it is full of treasures … It will be a ‘Big Bang’ — the discovery of the 21st century.”
An interior view of the King Tutankhamun burial chamber in the Valley of the Kings, Egypt.Source:AAP
So far, the Big Bang hasn’t happened.
And Egyptian Antiquities Minister Khaled El-Enany has insisted no invasive exploration would be allowed to damage the priceless tomb. “It is essential to perform more scans using other devices and more technical and scientific methods,” Mr El-Enany said.
The challenge has since been one of developing the technology capable of achieving that task.
Former Egyptian antiquities minister and high-profile archaeological personality Zahi Hawass has long been a sceptic of the hidden chamber theory.
“If there is any masonry or partition wall, the radar signal should show an image,” he reportedly told National Geographic News.
“We don’t have this, which means there is nothing there.”
Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer. Continue the conversation @JamieSeidel