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Sorry, There Are No Secret Chambers in King Tut’s Tomb

After two contradictory radar scans, Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities commissioned a third comprehensive survey that revealed no voids beyond the tomb walls

Scanning Tut's tomb (Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities)
smithsonian.com

The idea that King Tut’s burial chamber in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings may contain hidden rooms stuffed with ancient treasures, statues and the burial of his stepmother-slash-mother-in-law (long story) Queen Nefertiti has officially been put to rest. Kristin Romey at National Geographic reports that a series of ground-penetrating radar scans commissioned by the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities conducted in the tomb found no evidence of hidden doors or hidden chambers, ending three years of questions.

“We conclude, with a very high level of confidence, that the hypothesis concerning the existence of hidden chambers adjacent [to] Tutankhamun’s tomb is not supported by the GPR data,” a report released by the Ministry says.

The saga began in the spring of 2015 when University of Arizona Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves released a paper hypothesizing that cracks and fissures in Tut’s tomb he'd found using detailed laser scan analysis indicated there were two hidden doorways behind the elaborately painted walls. Later that year, radar specialist Hirokatsu Watanabe put that theory to the test, using GPR to scan the tomb. The technique, first developed for oil and gas exploration, is becoming a critical tool for archaeology. His scans affirmed the possibility that there were sealed up doorways and voids on the north and west walls of the tomb.

But a second detailed scan funded by the National Geographic Society in the spring of 2016 failed to replicate the results. During the second-annual Tutankhamun Grand Egyptian Museum Conference in Cairo, the Ministry of Antiquities announced that the government organization was commissioning another scan by independent radar operators to prove or disprove the hypothesis once and for all.

Romey reports that the scans were conducted by three different teams, including the Polytechnic University of Turin, Italy, and two private companies, Geostudi Astier and 3DGeoimaging. The three teams scanned the tomb, covering 1.6 miles worth of wall. They then brought their independent scans together to compare results. Francesco Porcelli of Polytechnic University of Turin presented the findings at the fourth-annual Tutankhamun GEM Conference over the weekend.

“Our work shows in a conclusive manner that there are no hidden chambers, no corridors adjacent to Tutankhamun’s tomb,” Porcelli tells the Associated Press. “As you know, there was a theory that argued the possible existence of these chambers, but unfortunately our work is not supporting this theory.”

Romey reports that the first scan likely received false positive results. It’s possible that the painted plaster walls lining the limestone tomb can conduct electricity which interfered with the original scan. It’s also possible that the initial survey picked up stray radar reflections originating from within the walls, not behind them.

Whatever the case, as Romey reports, archaeologists believe the controversy actually shows the potential of GPR as a non-destructive archaeological tool. Late last year, archaeologists using GPR in the Valley of the Kings found what may be an undiscovered tomb that could be the final resting place of Tut’s wife Ankhesenamun. Non-destructive, cutting-edge techniques are detecting other secrets of ancient Egypt, too. Late last year, researchers unveiled the results of a multi-year study of the Great Pyramid of Giza using a technique called muon detection that found several large voids inside the massive structure.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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