Friday,15 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1273, (3 - 9 December 2015)
Friday,15 December, 2017
Issue 1273, (3 - 9 December 2015)

Ahram Weekly

‘A discovery is about to be made’

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Drenched in sweat inside Tutankhamun’s burial chamber which was extremely hot and almost airless, Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty was busy supervising a radar examination and monitoring the data minute by minute.

Although he was busy — Eldamaty had to finish the survey within two days — he granted Al-Ahram Weekly an exclusive interview on his expectations and plans regarding the Reeves theory on the location of Nefertiti’s crypt and the recent infrared and radar investigations. He also told the Weekly about his new initiative to use modern technology in discovering monuments.

How can you describe the data given from the current radar investigation?
It is good and positive and a discovery is about to be made very soon. I am now 90 per cent certain that both the west and north walls of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber conceal something behind it. The radar scan tells us that on this side of the north wall, we have two different materials. We believe that there could be another chamber. The same notification was made on the right side of the burial’s west wall.

I cannot confirm yet what it would be until Japanese radar expert Hirokatsu Watanabe analyses the data and writes his final scientific report, expected to be sent within a month from now. In the report, Watanabe will determine the depth and size of the void spaces.

We will also conduct similar analysis on the data given by Egyptian geophysics expert Abbas Mohamed who witnessed the work and will send his report to me also within a month. It will be compared with the Japanese radar report in order to reach a final, accurate result.

Are the radar scans safe to be carried out on monuments?
Yes of course, it is a non-invasive and non-destructive device and it is located five centimetres from the walls. It did not by any means touch the walls or the painting. The same goes for the infrared thermography test in early November on the walls.

Why did you conduct a thermal investigation on the tomb’s walls before the radar scanning?
I did so to double check all the results given by various types of technology. The lowest percentage of error is inadmissible.

Thermal scanning was resumed only on the northern wall in collaboration with a consortium from the Faculty of Engineering at Cairo University, as well as the Heritage Innovation and Preservation Institute in France, and Lava University in Canada.

The preliminary analysis indicates the presence of an area different in its temperature than the other parts of the northern wall. One possible explanation is that the variation in temperature is, in effect, an infrared shadow of an open area behind the wall but it did not give a concrete image of a door.

But regrettably the result obtained was not 100 per cent accurate because the difference in the temperatures in the morning and at night did not reach its ideal standard which varies from five to seven degrees in differential. It only reached three degrees in difference.

Thermal scanning is to be resumed for a second trial next month when the tomb’s temperature will reach 30 degrees Celsius in the morning and 20 degrees at night. It will also be implemented on the west wall.

What if the radar results confirm the existence of chambers behind the walls and how would you explore them archaeologically?
I cannot right now give a determined solution, as we have to consult other scientists, technicians and archaeologists in addition to members of the current research team in order to find an appropriate method to reveal the hidden chambers without damaging the painted walls of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber.

One idea is to probe into the walls through a tiny mobile camera but not from the walls of the burial chamber, and a way would have to be found to investigate it without damaging the painted walls.

During the probing process we want to take samples of the air inside, as well as the rocks, all to be subjected to comprehensive analyses to identify the atmosphere inside.

The probing could be from an antechamber of the burial chamber. It has rough walls which are not painted. It could be inserted from the top of the cliff, from the ground, from the outside of the tomb, or even from the ends of the walls, which are painted less.

But I think that the ideal place to insert the camera to reach the north wall is the treasury room. The niche of the magic brick is the best place for the probing to reach the west wall. I think this would be the safest place to guarantee complete preservation of the paintings.

This is no easy task and requires additional studies. We have to be very careful while inserting the camera as the vibrations could cause damage to the cliff itself, the tomb, or even to a yet undiscovered tomb. The Valley of the Kings could still contain more tombs.

Why did you conduct radar scans on the walls of the royal tomb of KV5 that belongs to King Ramses II’s son and what did you find?
It was a test run to inspect the radar’s accuracy before going through with the scanning of the north and west walls of King Tutankhamun’s burial chamber.

We chose the KV5 tomb because of its maze of corridors and chambers, the contents of which are already known. Some chambers of KV5 are filled with sand, while others are empty or contain solid walls. It is also an empty tomb with plain walls that does not contain any paintings or scenes or hieroglyphic texts.

The tomb is far from tourists, a fact that allowed the research team to work quietly and freely. Thank God that all the results given by the radar were correct which gave us more trust in the investigations on Tutankhamun’s tomb.

We also did another test trial on a wall located at the entrance courtyard of Tutankhamun’s tomb to double check the accuracy of the radar data.

Why do you think Nefertiti is not in the burial chamber?
First, because Nefertiti cannot by any means be buried in the Valley of the Kings since she, along with her husband Akhenaten, abandoned the Amun cult for the god Aten, and Thebes is the city of Amun. They built their royal tombs in Tel Al-Amerna and they definitely were buried in it. On the border reliefs an oath was engraved by Akhenaten and Nefertiti swearing that they will never leave Amarna during their life and death.

Nefertiti disappeared from Amarna and also royal rituals two years before the death of King Akhenaten and this means that she died before her husband.

Second, I am totally against Reeves’ theory that the scene on the north wall shows Tutankhamun performing the “opening of the mouth” ritual on Nefertiti’s mummy, when the inscriptions clearly state that the ritual is being performed by Ay on Tutankhamun.

Reeves based his interpretation of this scene on the facial features of the people depicted, which is not sufficient as the artists of the 18th dynasty were commissioned to do several murals, which would account for the facial similarities.
 
If it is not Nefertiti’s burial chamber, whose is it?
The hidden chamber could be for another woman, like one of Tutankhamun’s sisters or his mother Kiya.
When Tutankhamun restored the cult of Amun and abandoned his father’s monotheistic religion, leaving the Aten capital Akhtaten to Thebes, he certainly would have taken his mother Kiya with him.

Tutankhamun’s unexpected death prompted the Valley of the Kings’ priests to search for an already complete tomb to bury him in, as they only had 70 days to place his mummy in its final resting place. Kiya’s tomb was an ideal choice.

The priests may have selected a completed tomb of one of his family members, such as Kiya’s, taking a section of her tomb and dedicating it to Tutankhamun. An extension was built possibly in order to house the number of shrines made for him, replacing the several antechambers that are normally found in a royal tomb.

The hidden chamber could also belong to Queen Meritaten, Tutankhamun’s sister and the wife of King Smenkare, who succeeded Akhenaten and resumed the worshipping of the god Amun. Smenkare was buried in tomb number KV55, located in front of Tutankhamun’s tomb, so it is likely that Meritaten could be buried in the tomb in front of her husband.

I wished it could be Nefertiti’s burial chamber but my mind refused to believe it.

What if this other burial belongs to a queen and not a king?
The layout of Tutankhamun’s tomb suggests that it was carved for a queen. To reach the burial chamber, a person would need to turn right from the main corridor. Such a tomb was a configuration used only for ancient Egyptian queens, not kings, whose chambers were off to the left. Tutankhamun’s tomb could originally have been carved in the cliff as a tomb for a queen, probably his mother Kiya. Then, Tutankhamun was buried later in its outer part which was quickly enlarged to make it a proper royal burial that could house the nest of shrines dedicated to a pharaoh.

Some kings’ tombs have the same layout as that of Tutankhamun’s, like Ramses II’s tomb, for example, and vice versa. Maybe this is the same case?
I don’t think so. We are following the regular design of tombs used by ancient Egyptians and not the irregular. So tombs that house right side burial chambers are for queens while those of the left side burial chambers are for kings.
 
Why did you deliberately choose 4 and 26 November to conduct both the thermal and radar scanning?
I chose both days because they are two very significant days in the history of Egyptology and Tutankhamun’s tomb as well. 4 November was the day when British Egyptologist Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb intact. 26 November was the day when the tomb was inaugurated for the first time since it was dug up in the Valley of the Kings’ bedrock during the 18th dynasty.

What do you think of this scientific experience?
I see that Egypt is conducting a great piece of scientific work and if Reeves’ theory proves true and we locate Nefertiti’s resting place, we would be looking at a discovery that would overshadow the uncovering of the golden king himself. This would be the most important discovery of the 21st century.

However, if we find the tomb of another royal member or an extension of Tutankhamun’s tomb, the discovery would be on par with the original discovery of the king’s tomb in the 20th century.
 
What do you say to claims made by your detractors that you will not find anything because Carter excavated the tomb extensively and others who say such exploration is solely for purposes of propaganda and not for the sake of scientific research?
All these accusations are unfounded. The project’s scientific team is composed of pioneer Egyptologists who are experts in their fields and not amateurs as claimed.

Reeves, the holder of the theory, is a specialist in ancient Egyptian history, especially the Amarna period. He is also a specialist in the Valley of the Kings; his PhD thesis was Studies in the Archaeology of the Valley of the Kings. He wrote several books on the two topics, among them The Complete Valley of the Kings and The Complete Tutankhamun.

Mohamed Saleh was former director of the Egyptian Museum and is now a professor of Egyptology at Ain-Shams University. He also received his PhD on the Book of the Dead, which was about what was written and painted on the Valley of the Kings’ tombs.

Khaled Al-Enani is the director of the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation and a professor of Egyptology at the Tourism and Hotels Faculty at Helwan University, as well as being a former scientific researcher at the IFAO.

And the head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Department Mahmoud Afifi was also among the team, as well as myself. In addition to being the minister of antiquities, I am a professor of Egyptology.

Of course, the tomb’s discoverer Howard Carter had intensively excavated and studied the tomb but he did not have state-of-the-art technology and equipment to search behind the walls.

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