Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1295, (12 - 18 May 2016)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1295, (12 - 18 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Mystery of the tomb

Following an inconclusive debate at an international conference on Tutankhamun, further research on the boy king’s tomb will continue, reports Nevine El-Aref

Al-Ahram Weekly

Scientific debate is heating up over the recently launched theory by British archaeologist Nicholas Reeves that Queen Nefertiti’s resting place is concealed behind the north wall of her son-in-law’s burial chamber.

The claim was challenged during Sunday’s session of the second International Tutankhamun Conference, held at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC), which overlooks Ain Al-Sira Lake in Fustat.

Reeves also claimed that Tutankhamun’s tomb was originally carved within the Valley of the Kings for Nefertiti but that the boy king took a part of it for himself. Reeves went further, saying that the iconic Tutankhamun gold mask, now on display at the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, was originally made for the beautiful queen but used for the boy king after his death.

Between supporters and opponents of the claims, scholars, Egyptologists and archaeologists at the conference clashed.

Former minister of antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty, who says he has made proving the theories his tenured project, reviewed all previous results of radar scans and studies carried out on the tomb last year, describing them as “positive”.

Eldamaty believes that two secret chambers are probably hidden inside Tutankhamun’s tomb. A Japanese radar scan carried out in November 2015 identified two void spaces behind the west and north walls of the tomb’s burial chamber.

He said the radar revealed red and yellow spots for the first time, which indicate the existence of metallic materials.

Eldamaty said that the radar scan carried out in March by an American team had to be repeated because it gave distorted results after the scan was interfered with by sound.

“I suggest that more radar scans on the tomb are made from the top of the cliff and that the infrared thermal examination be repeated in order to have more accurate results and to be 100 percent sure that the chambers exists,” Eldamaty said.

Reeves defended his theory by stating that preliminary results of several scans suggest that two void spaces exist behind the north and west walls of the tomb’s burial chamber and show signs of metal matter.

“I was looking for the evidence that would tell me that my initial reading was wrong,” he said. “But I didn’t find any evidence to suggest that. I just found more and more indicators that there is something extra going on in Tutankhamun’s tomb.”

Reeves theorised that Tutankhamun’s tomb is in fact Nefertiti’s, and that when the boy king died unexpectedly at a young age, he was rushed into her tomb’s outer chamber in Luxor’s Valley of Kings in southern Egypt.

He also thinks that the scene on the northern wall indicates that the tomb had been prepared for the burial of Queen Nefertiti. He explains that in the scene of Ay opening the mouth of the mummy of Tutankhamun, the distinctive line at the corner of the mummy’s mouth can be easily noted — a characteristic of Nefertiti — as can the distinctive chin of the figure now labelled as Ay, a characteristic feature not of Ay, but of Tutankhamun.

“The inscriptions identify the scene’s players as Ay officiating at the funeral of Tutankhamun. Originally, however, I believe this scene represented Tutankhamun officiating at the burial of Nefertiti,” Reeves concluded.

Reeves also said he thought that the iconic gold mask of King Tutankhamun had been created not for the boy king but for the use of a female predecessor named Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten (Queen Nefertiti) who was King Akhenaten’s co-regent.

“The evidence in favour of this conclusion was, and still is compelling,” Reeves said, adding that he was unable to muster inscriptional support for his theory. Detailed scrutiny, both of the mask itself and of photographs, furnished not the slightest hint that the multi-columned hieroglyphic inscription with cartouche might pre-date Tutankhamun’s reign.

“Happily, this reluctant presumption of the mask’s textual integrity may now be abandoned,” Reeves said. “A fresh examination of the re-positioned and newly re-lit mask in Cairo at the end of September 2015 yielded for the first time, beneath the hieroglyphs of Tutankhamun’s praenomen, lightly chased traces of an earlier, erased royal name.”

But other scholars disagreed over how the search inside Tutankhamun’s chamber was handled and the theory itself.

“Handling the project wasn’t done scientifically at all,” said former antiquities minister Zahi Hawass who has brushed aside the whole theory as well as the project, asserting that nothing lies beyond the burial chamber in the boy king’s tomb.

He also raised doubts over whether radar scans can be used to make archaeological discoveries.

“In my entire career, I have never come across any discovery in Egypt made by radar scans,” he said.

Hawass suggests that in order to test the accuracy of the radar, scans should be carried out on tombs that are already known to contain hidden chambers, such as the tomb of King Ramses II, which has 10 sealed chambers.

Director of the Egyptian Museum and Papyri in Berlin Friederike Seyfried, who does not believe that Tutankhamun’s burial chamber conceals any hidden chambers, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the results of the radar survey do not prove the existence of a hidden tomb. She describes Reeves’ claim that the tomb of Nefertiti lies behind the northern wall of the burial chamber as mere hypothesis.

Seyfried believes that the sudden death of the boy king led the tomb’s builders to finish the tomb quickly and close it up, which is why a cavity was found in the radar scan.

She also rejected Reeves’ assertion that the scene depicted on the north wall inside the tomb’s burial chamber shows Tutankhamun performing the “opening of the mouth” ritual for Nefertiti’s mummy, saying she doubts that the wall painting was done for a female king, whoever she is. An inscription, she went on, shows that it is in fact King Ay who is performing the ritual for Tutankhamun’s mummy.

“I believe that the ancient Egyptian artist would never make a depiction of the pharaoh without a direct inscription beside the scene,” Seyfried told the Weekly.

She said she found nothing during her close examination of the 3-D laser-scan images taken by the Spanish Factum Arte Organisation to create a replica of Tutankhamun’s tomb, now erected in the area adjacent to the rest-house of its discoverer on Luxor’s west bank, which Reeves based his theory on.

“No traces of doorways were noticed on the scenes depicted on the western and northern walls, as Reeves claimed, and the northern wall plaster was not painted with yellow to hide the former scene,” Seyfried pointed out. “If a former white colour of the painting had been plastered over in yellow to hide a doorway, as Reeves claims, you would see the traces of a former inscription.”

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