Is there a secret chamber hidden behind a false wall in Tutankhamun's tomb? This weekend we find out.
Starting Thursday, the Ministry of Antiquities will probe Tutankhamun's burial chamber in the Valley of the Kings with ground-penetrating radar.
They expect the work to take three days, with the results announced at the end of the third, Saturday 28th November. The date is quite symbolic. It will be 93 years to the day that Howard Carter re-opened an ancient looter's passage through the sealed doorway in the tomb's antechamber and entered Tutankhamun's Burial Chamber.
The results will either confirm Dr. Nicholas Reeve's theory that Tutankhamun's tomb is actually the front, walled-off section of a much larger tomb, or put the whole thing to rest.
Earlier this month infrared scans that measure minute temperature variations picked up two 'hot spots' in the tomb, suggesting that the walls that Dr. Reeves believes to be hollow, may indeed have a space behind them.
Those spaces, according to Dr. Reeves, are two hidden rooms, and that one of them is the final resting place of Queen Nefertiti, Tutankhamun's step-mother.
Nicholas Reeves has suggested for a long time that Tutankhamun's famous golden mask was actually made for Nefertiti, but it was earlier this year when he looked closely at super high-resolution scans made of Tutankhamun's tomb walls that he made his big discovery. He noticed lines in the plasterwork that he believes were the outlines of two sealed doors in the tomb's north and west walls. The circumstantial evidence all points to Nefertiti.
The theory goes that Tutankhamun died in his late teens, well before his own tomb was anywhere near completion. With only 70 days available - the traditional time in which to mummify the king - the next best solution was to open the royal valley's most recent tomb and adapt it for Tutankhamun. That tomb was Nefertiti's. While the queen slept behind a decorated false wall, designed to foil thieves, her tomb's antechamber was widened and the wall paintings adapted to feature Tutankhamun rather than the queen.
If Saturday's result is negative, then Reeves' naysayers can say their "I told you so's", we can leave Tutankhamun's tomb in peace and go back to looking for Nefertiti's tomb elsewhere. But if the radar results show a void behind the walls, then we face a quandry: what next? Up until now all of the investigative techniques have been non-invasive. To investigate a curious radar anomaly properly means drilling a small hole in the tomb wall. I suggest it's worth it.
The prospect of finding Nefertiti's unplundered burial chamber, with the queen resting in her own set of nested golden coffins, is tantalising. National Geographic reports that “If Dr Reeves is correct, the hidden tomb could be far more magnificent than anything found in Tutankhamun's burial chamber.”
Pictured is the solid gold, inner coffin of King Tutankhamun, in which the king lay for 3,300 years. Photo: Kenneth Garrett.