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Lifting the lid on King Tut’s secrets

THE controversy has been boiling away at the heart of Egyptian archaeology since 2015: does the famous tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun conceal another?

Were the fabulously wealthy chambers uncovered by Howard Carter in 1922 just a few ‘repurposed’ rooms from a much larger structure?

Was Tutankhamun’s hasty burial part of a 3300 year-old religious plot to erase all memory of his stepmother, the heretical queen Nefertiti, from history?

The tomb of Tutankhamun, who ruled Egypt more than 3000 years ago, is situated in the Valley of the Kings, located on the west bank of the Nile river in Luxor.

For many, Tutankhamun embodies ancient Egypt’s glory because his tomb was packed with the glittering wealth of the rich 18th Dynasty from 1569 to 1315BC.

His stepmother, Queen Nefertiti, holds equal fascination due to the amazing beauty of a statue depicting her face — and the fact she ruled alongside the heretical Pharaoh Akenaten who attempted to overthrow Egypt’s pantheon of gods in favour of a radical new monotheistic religion.


An incredibly detailed laser scan of the immensely popular tomb in 2009 sparked the debate. It was intended to enable a millimetre-perfect reconstruction of the structure to be rebuilt in an above surface museum. Its popularity with tourists was beginning to take a toll on the ancient artworks.

But academics also scoured the 3D images for clues as to the tomb’s construction and how the paintings were applied.

British archaeologist Dr Nicholas Reeves thought he saw evidence of depressions in the walls — traces of what he was convinced were hastily filled-in and painted-over doorways. He tied the find to a pet theory of his — that much of King Tutankhamun’s treasure had originally belonged to Queen Nefertiti.

It seemed to fit. Tutankhamun’s tomb does not match the established pattern for pharaoh tombs. It is too small. It has an orientation more commonly associated with those of queens.

Further examinations revealed discrepancies in the ways Tut’s burial chamber had been plastered and painted.

Was the remains of Nefertiti’s lost tomb somewhere behind it all?

“The implications are extraordinary: for, if digital appearance translates into physical reality, it seems we are now faced not merely with the prospect of a new, Tutankhamun-era storeroom to the west; to the north appears to be signalled a continuation of tomb … and within these uncharted depths an earlier royal interment — that of Nefertiti herself, celebrated consort, coregent, and eventual successor of pharaoh Akhenaten,” Reeves wrote at the time.

EXPLORE MORE: The hunt for a heretic queen

But finding out would entail destroying the paintings on Tut’s burial chamber walls.

This was never going to happen.

So Egyptologists turned to technology.


The first test was conducted in November 2015. An infra-red thermography scan of Tut’s burial chamber revealed enticing temperature differences in the north wall — indicating inconsistencies in the structure behind the paintwork.

A follow-up scan was made a month later by celebrity radar technician Hirokatsu Watanabe. He claimed his scan of the walls of the tomb revealed wonderful things lurking behind them.

He reportedly claimed he had “90 per cent certainty” that his radar echoes had detected the presence of hollow chambers — and metallic objects.

The world responded with excitement.

What great treasures were there to be found? Would the full story of Queen Nefertiti finally be told?

But to academics, his survey was unconvincing.

DELVE DEEPER: Whose face really belongs behind Tut’s famous gold mask?

The images of his radar echoes simply displayed a mass of blue, green and white dots — with a few red ones thrown in for good measure.

Watanabe refused to comply with scientific norms and publish his data for peer review.

So a second radar scan was initiated in April 2016 and its findings later presented to a conference in Cairo.

While the results were largely kept secret, the outcome was clearly disappointing.

“If we had a void, we should have a strong reflection,” geophysicist Dean Goodman of GPR-Slice software told National Geographic News. “But it just doesn’t exist.”

Egypt’s ministry of antiquities — desperate for a much needed shot-in-the-arm for the nation’s struggling tourism industry — resolved to try again.


Egypt’s Antiquities Ministry says archaeologists started the fresh radar scans of the tomb of famed pharaoh. The scans will be carried out over a week to check for the existence of any hidden chambers behind the tomb.

The new scan involves experts from Britain, Italy and Egypt working with the University of Turin. It’s intended to settle the question once and for all.

The project is expected to be completed by Wednesday this week.

Using a new generation of ground-penetrating radars, the scan hopes to verify the presence — or otherwise — of the supposed concealed doorways.

“In this way, the possible existence of hidden structures of relevance in the archaeological site adjacent to the tomb of Tutankhamun can be established with a 99-per-cent degree of confidence,” says lead investigator Franco Porcelli.

“I’m privileged to be given this opportunity, and I’m privileged to be co-ordinating such a great team,” Porcelli told National Geographic late last week.

It is expected to take at least a fortnight to assess the radar results. If the presence of cavities are confirmed, it will mark the start of a new challenge: how to explore them without damaging Tut’s final resting place.


Throughout 2017, the Antiquities Ministry made a string of discoveries across Egypt — including some in the southern city Luxor known for its spectacular temples and tombs spanning different dynasties of ancient Egyptian history.

Egypt’s latest discovery — the 4400 year-old tomb of a royal associate known as Hetpet — is close to a new museum under construction that will house some of Egypt’s most unique and precious artefacts, including many belonging to the famed boy King Tutankhamun.

The first phase of Grand Egyptian museum is expected to be opened later this year while the grand opening is planned for 2022.

In January, Egypt placed the ancient statue of one of its most famous pharaohs, Ramses II at the museum’s atrium, which will include 43 massive statues.

Egypt hopes the inauguration of the new museum, along with the recent discoveries, will draw back visitors to the country where tourism has been hit hard by extremist attacks and political turmoil following the 2011 popular uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak and the authorities’ struggles to rein in an insurgency by Islamic militants.

The government has tightened security around archaeological and touristic sites and spent millions of dollars to upgrade airport security especially following the 2015 downing of a Russian airliner over the restive Sinai Peninsula by the Islamic State group, killing 224 people on board.

The bombing dealt Egypt’s vital tourism sector a hard blow.

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