“After two days of radar scans in the tomb of Tutankhamun, archaeologists have concluded that preliminary examination of the data provides evidence that unopened sections lie behind two hidden doorways in the pharaoh’s underground burial chamber.
The results, announced Saturday morning at a news conference in Luxor, bolster the theory of Nicholas Reeves, a British archaeologist who believes that the tomb contains another royal burial. The hidden tomb, he has speculated, belongs to Nefertiti, King Tut’s mother-in-law, who may have ruled as a female pharaoh during Egypt’s 18th Dynasty. If so, this would be only the second intact royal burial site to be discovered in modern times—and it would, in the words of Mamdouh Eldamaty, the Egyptian antiquities minister, represent “one of the most important finds of the century.” At the press conference, he said he was “90 percent positive” that another chamber lies behind the north wall of the tomb.
On Friday, Eldamaty stood next to that wall, which is painted with a scene depicting the burial rituals of the boy pharaoh, who ruled in the 14th century B.C. “The radar scan tells us that on this side of the north wall, we have two different materials,” he said. “We believe that there could be another chamber.”
The scans—conducted by Hirokatsu Watanabe, a Japanese radar specialist— also provide evidence of a second hidden doorway in the adjoining west wall.
Together these features lend credence to Reeves’s theory, which he made public in July. Since then examinations of the physical features of the burial chamber have added support. But until the tests began on Thursday, the evidence ran no deeper than the surface of the walls. Radar scans had never previously been conducted in the tomb, and they represent a crucial step in the investigation. For the first time, specialists have collected data about both the material structure of the walls and the open spaces behind them. It’s these spaces that are most intriguing—they could contain artifacts and possibly even burial goods that rival those found with Tutankhamun.
“Everything is adding up,” Reeves, a National Geographic grantee, told me on Thursday evening, immediately after a suspenseful examination with the radar. We were standing next to the north wall, whose painted scene has been visible since 1922, when Howard Carter rediscovered the tomb. But after observing the scans, I found that the wall looked different to me—I couldn’t help but imagine what may lie beyond. “The tomb is not giving up its secrets easily,” Reeves continued. “But it is giving them up, bit by bit. It’s another result. And nothing is contradicting the basic direction of the theory.”
The first scans in the tomb happened to be scheduled for Thanksgiving, and they began at dusk, after the tourists had left and the Valley of the Kings had fallen silent. Watanabe had last worked in the Valley 15 years ago on another Reeves project. Those scans revealed a number of features that appeared to be underground chambers, one of which turned out to be a tomb. (The others have yet to be investigated further.) Watanabe has also used radar to identify previously hidden ancient monuments in South America. Both of these projects involved radar machines that pointed downward. Such equipment is generally used by engineers; the radar can locate rebar in bridge decks, for example, or find structural weaknesses.
In 2009, a Madrid-based team of conservators and artists called Factum Arte began conducting high-resolution laser scans of the tomb.
After [an] aborted scan, Watanabe tinkered with the radar machine […]. The room hushed, and he began to push the cart along the wall once more. After moving a little more than half of the distance, he broke the silence: “They changed the material here.”
This was exactly the point at which there seemed to be a doorway on the Factum Arte scans. Watanabe is not an Egyptologist, and he had not studied Reeves’s ideas closely, but what he observed on the radar matched up. He did one more scan of the west wall, and then he proceeded to the north. “It’s just a solid wall,” he called out, at the beginning. He reached the section of the wall that Reeves had proposed was a blocked-over partition. “There is a change from here,” Watanabe announced.
After he was finished, he studied the multicolored bars that ran across the computer screen. “Obviously it’s an entrance to something,” he said through a translator. “It’s very obvious that this is something. It’s very deep.”
The next day, Eldamaty and Reeves confirmed that the initial analysis of the data was extremely encouraging. It showed at least two materials: bedrock and something else. “The transition from solid bedrock to non-solid bedrock, to artificial material, it seems, was immediate,” Reeves said, speaking of the north wall. “The transition was not gradual. There was a strict, straight, vertical line, which corresponds perfectly with the line in the ceiling. It seems to suggest that the antechamber continues through the burial chamber as a corridor.” He continued: “The radar people tell me that we can also recognize that behind this partition there is a void.” Eldamaty has said that Watanabe will spend another month analyzing the data, and then he will give final, detailed results” – via National Geographic.
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