Thursday, May 12, 2016

Tutankhamun's Secret Chambers

The debate over the possible presence of additional chambers in the tomb of Tutankhamun is continuing, as a second set of radar scans of the north and west walls failed to confirm the results of initial scans that seemed to show the presence of "voids" behind the two walls. Since nobody wants to cut through either wall unless they are absolutely sure something is behind them, Egyptologists are unsure how to proceed.

Last fall, a thermographic scan of the north wall revealed anomalies that seemed to correspond to the features in question, and a physical examination of the tomb was also encouraging. From the beginning, most Egyptologists were skeptical of the idea that Nefertiti in particular might be buried there, but they became more receptive to the possibility of additional chambers last November, when a radar scan seemed to detect the presence of voids behind the north and west walls.

Those scans were conducted by Hirokatsu Watanabe, a Japanese radar specialist, who claimed that his equipment also sensed metallic and organic objects within those voids. Afterwards, Mamdouh Eldamaty, the minister of antiquities at the time, announced at a press conference that he was “90 percent positive” that another chamber lies behind the north wall.

In March, a second team of radar technicians, organized by National Geographic, conducted a follow-up scan to see if Watanabe’s results could be replicated. But they failed to locate the same features, as Zahi Hawass, the former minister of antiquities and one of Egypt’s most prominent scholars, noted during the weekend conference. “If there is any masonry or partition wall, the radar signal should show an image,” he said. “We don’t have this, which means there is nothing there.”

Science has to be thorough. The first positive result could have been an error, or perhaps there was a problem with the second scan. What it means is that before anybody excavates those walls, more scans and tests will be necessary. So it probably will be a while before we find out if Tut's tomb hides the entrance to Nefertiti's burial chamber, or if there are additional rooms to explore, or if the walls really are the full extent of the tomb and nothing lies beyond them.

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