Monday,20 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1290, (7 - 13 April 2016)
Monday,20 August, 2018
Issue 1290, (7 - 13 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Radar in the tomb of Tutankhamun

Nevine El-Aref talks to the American and Egyptian geophysicists who carried out the radar scans on the tomb of Tutankhamun

Al-Ahram Weekly

Last week, a third set of radar scans was carried out on Tutankhamun’s burial chamber in order to create more complete data to be reviewed by scholars concerning the theory of British Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves claiming that the north and west walls may hide the tomb of Queen Nefertiti.

Work began at 5pm after the Valley of the Kings had closed to tourists and continued until 3am the next day. A team sponsored by the National Geographic Society carried out the radar scans in collaboration with two Egyptian geophysicists and a rock mechanics expert.

It made 40 individual scans of the four walls of the burial chamber, including the walls in question at five different heights, switching between two radar antennae with frequencies of 400 and 900 megahertz, respectively.

“One was for depth perception, and one was for feature perception,” engineer at National Geographic Eric Berkenpas told Al-Ahram Weekly, accompanied by mechanical engineer Alan Turchik. He added that the radar used was a state-of-the-art ground-penetrating radar (GPR) system.

Berkenpas said it was not common to use ground-penetrating radar to look through walls, and that most often it was used to see what was buried underground. “We arranged the radar horizontally to scan the walls, which is unusual for this type of radar,” he added. He said that before travelling to Egypt the equipment had been tested by scanning stone columns at the National Arboretum in Washington.

“It is my first time working in the Valley of the Kings and it is a thrilling, exciting and challenging experience,” Berkenpas said. He said that all members of the team had been concerned with the safety of the wall paintings and had had to be very cautious not to touch the walls. The radar equipment was three cm away from the walls.

Turchik had worked several years ago in one of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, where sonar-scanning and profiling had been carried out. “It is the first time that GPR has been used on an archaeological survey in Egypt,” Turchik said.  

“It is too soon to draw any kind of conclusion from the data obtained,” Berkenpas told the Weekly, adding that what he could say was that the data collected was of good quality and experts in Egypt and the United States were now analysing them.

“The easy part is to collect the data, and the hard part is the analysis,” Berkenpas said, explaining that he was a data-collector and preferred to leave the analysis to the experts.

Professor at the National Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics Abbas Mohamed, a member of the scientific team, was more than satisfied with the new radar survey. He described it as “efficient and more accurate than that of the Japanese because it is not an unknown device like the Japanese one, but a professional device devised by a well-known international company which should therefore give accurate results.”

“The survey scans four segments of each wall of the burial chamber to a distance of 20 cm, which should enable us to create 3D presentations of what could lie behind the walls. It is a non-destructive and non-invasive method of analysis,” Mohamed said.

Yasser Al-Shayeb, a professor of rock mechanics at the Faculty of Engineering at Cairo University who participated in the scanning, noted that some irregularities could be seen in the radar results at first glance.

“We know there are some anomalies,” he told the Weekly. “But it’s not clear-cut one hundred per cent that there is something there.”

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