Wednesday,24 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1393, (10 - 16 May 2018)
Wednesday,24 April, 2019
Issue 1393, (10 - 16 May 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Under the spell of Tutankhamun

Egypt fell under the spell of the Ancient Egyptian boy-king Tutankhamun once again this week, with new results disproving the existence of hidden rooms in his tomb, writes Nevine El-Aref


Under the spell of Tutankhamun
Under the spell of Tutankhamun

Since the discovery of his intact tomb in the Valley of the Kings at Luxor in 1922, the magic of the Ancient Egyptian golden boy-king Tutankhamun has fascinated the world through his treasured collection, his unidentified lineage, and his early and somewhat mysterious death.

This week Tutankhamun once again made the headlines with the results of a new radar survey confirming that there was no hidden “Nefertiti chamber” in the boy-king’s tomb. Also this week, the boy Pharaoh’s last chariot was transferred safely to its permanent display at the new Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) and the Fourth International Conference on his treasured funerary collection was launched.

After almost three months of study, a new geophysical survey carried out by an Italian scientific team has provided conclusive evidence that no hidden chambers exist adjacent to or inside Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

Francesco Porcelli of the Polytechnic University of Turin and head of the team told Al-Ahram Weekly that ground-penetrating radar (GPR) scans were performed along vertical and horizontal axes with very dense spatial sampling in order to examine the tomb. Double antenna polarisations were employed, with transmitting and receiving dipoles both orthogonal and parallel to the scanning direction.

Porcelli said that the results of the scans had shown no marked discontinuities due to the passage from natural rock to man-made blocking walls evidenced in the GPR radargrams, nor evidence of the jambs or lintel of a hidden doorway. Similarly, the radargrams did not show any indication of plane reflectors, which could be interpreted as chamber walls or void areas behind the paintings of the funerary chamber, he said.

“It is concluded, with a very high degree of confidence, that the hypothesis concerning the existence of hidden chambers or corridors adjacent to Tutankhamun’s tomb is not supported by the GPR data,” Porcelli confirmed.

He added that he was pleased and confident of the results that he and his team had achieved, describing them as “accurate and not disappointing”.

This was the third GPR survey to be conducted inside the tomb in recent years. It was designed to halt controversy aroused after the contradictory results of two previous radar surveys to test a theory launched in 2015 by British Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves, who suggested that the tomb of queen Nefertiti could be concealed behind the north and west wall paintings of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber.

The theory was supported by former minister of antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty, who agreed to conduct two GPR surveys. The first was conducted by a Japanese professional who asserted with 95 per cent certainty the existence of a doorway and a hall with artefacts behind the tomb walls.

The second was carried out with another high-tech GPR device by an American scientific team from National Geographic magazine, which rejected the previous Japanese results and asserted that nothing existed behind the west and north wall of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber.

To solve the difficulties encountered by the two preceding surveys and provide a conclusive response, Antiquities Minister Khaled El-Enany, who took office in March 2016, decided to discuss the matter at the Second International Tutankhamun Conference, which decided to conduct a third GPR analysis to put an end to the debate.

Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), said that a scientific report had been submitted to the Permanent Committee for Ancient Egyptian Antiquities by Porcelli and his team, which included experts from the nearby University of Turin and from two private geophysics companies, Geostudi Astier (Leghorn) and 3DGeoimaging (Turin), which had collected GPR data from inside the tomb in February 2018.


CHARIOT TRANSFER: At the same time, the ministries of defence and antiquities celebrated the transfer of the sixth and last chariot of the golden boy-king from its temporary display at the Military Museum at the Citadel to its permanent display at the GEM, which is scheduled to open at the end of 2018.

To the sound of a military march, the royal chariot left the Citadel for the GEM, which will exhibit for the first time all 5,200 artefacts found in Tutankhamun’s collection. Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany received the chariot at the GEM, describing the new museum as “a gift” from Egypt to the world.

“It is the first time that the six chariots from the tomb have been displayed together since their discovery in 1922,” El-Enany told the Weekly, adding that it had taken nine years to reassemble and restore the last chariot upon its discovery. It was sent to the Military Museum at the Citadel in 1987 in celebration of the 1973 October War victory.

Eissa Zidan, head of first-aid restoration at the GEM, said the chariot was padded with special materials to absorb any vibrations during transportation. State-of-the-art technology and modern scientific techniques were used in order to guarantee the safe lifting and moving of the chariot from its display at the Military Museum, which focuses on the weapons of Tutankhamun collection.

The chariot’s new display at the GEM was a unique opportunity to contribute to the future of the collection and its display through fruitful discussion and academic presentations that took place during the chariot’s movement at the Fourth International Conference on the funerary collection.

During the opening of the conference, El-Enany said that 70 per cent of the GEM’s buildings had been completed and 43,257 artefacts transferred, including 4,549 objects from the Tutankhamun collection. The conference heard lectures delivered by international scholars discussing technology used in displaying and restoring historical artefacts, including military equipment.

Tarek Tawfik, the GEM chief curator, told the Weekly that professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo Faiza Heikal was the head of this year’s conference, which included the participation of 12 scholars from six countries (Italy, Holland, Japan, France, Spain, Germany, Switzerland and Denmark).

The participants discussed 17 scientific papers on the statues of Tutankhamun, among them the black statues known as “guardian statues”, the trumpet used to announce a war, as well as swords ending in material taken from meteorites. Tawfik added that the king’s Hathor head statue had been a focus of discussion, as some had suggested that it could have been meant for funerary rituals, especially the “opening of the mouth” ritual.

“These discussions will help put together information for the labels of the Tutankhamun collection in the GEM, as well as the museum’s audio-visual guide and brochures,” Tawfik said.

He added that upon its soft opening at the end of this year the GEM will dedicate a section in the Tutankhamun galleries to scientific research, including that carried out in recent decades in an attempt to solve enigmatic riddles concerning the life and death of the boy-king. Next year, he added, the Fifth Conference will be held at the GEM.

Tutankhamun’s reign lasted from around 1332 to 1323 BCE. The discovery of his intact tomb in 1922 by British Egyptologist Howard Carter remains one of the most sensational archaeological discoveries of all time.

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