Tantalising news about the 'secret chamber' in Tutankhamun's tomb.
"We do not know if the burial chamber is Nefertiti or another woman, but it is full of treasures." - Egypt's Tourism Minister, Hisham Zaazou.
It seems that some secrets are too good to keep. Is this a phenomenal leak about what lays beyond the false wall in Tutankhamun's tomb? Is it speculative wishful thinking? Or is this a clever boost for badly-needed tourism?
Mr. Zaazou claims that the announcement of what lays inside the secret chamber will be made in April. "It will be a 'Big Bang' - the discovery of the 21st century."
To be honest, I'm not sure what to make of the news that has wafted out of Egypt via Spain in the past 24 hours. The Spanish national daily newspaper, ABC, claims that Egypt's Tourism Minister, Hisham Zaazou, who was in Spain a few weeks ago, confirmed that there is "treasure" in Tutankhamun's tomb.
That does seem pretty definitive.
Late last year a Japanese expert used his powerful radar equipment to peer behind what is suspected to be a false wall in Tutankhamun's tomb. Beyond, if Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves is right, lays the untouched burial of Queen Nefertiti, whose tomb has never been found.
Dr. Reeves believes that Nefertiti was buried in the Valley of the Kings after reigning as "King" for a couple of years following the death of her husband, Akhenaten. When Tutankhamun followed her into the afterlife unexpectedly early, those in charge of his burial were caught by surprise. Tutankhamun's own tomb was unfinished, so Nefertiti's was opened and adapted to accommodate the king's burial equipment. All the while, Queen Nefertiti's own burial lay beyond a false wall, decorated to fool thieves into believing it was solid. If that's true, it worked. While Tutankhamun's tomb was plundered twice, soon after the king's burial, the thieves, distracted by the king's accessible riches, never probed the walls looking for another treasure trove.
Tantalisingly, the scans detected a large void. The Minister of Antiquities, Mamdouh el-Damaty, declared that he was 90% sure that was something was there worth investigating. The scans went off to Japan for further analysis and we were left dangling, waiting for news. News which has been very thin on the ground - until now.
Hisham Zaazou seems to have leaked that the big reveal in April "...will be a historic moment."
If this is true, we are still left guesses as to whether the radar scans have picked up the signal of large amounts of metal behind the wall, or if a tiny hole for a camera has been drilled into the mystery chamber via the tomb's 'Treasury', part of which is adjacent to the "void".
Of course, a cynical person could be forgiven for wondering why, in a government that is a stickler for protocol, the Tourism Minister was revealing such massive news rather than the Minister for Antiquities. It does seem remarkable that Mr. Zaazou has been so loose-lipped. Or could it be that the Minister is largely bluffing, hoping for a much-needed tourism boost?
However it is curious that the British Egyptologist who started all this, Nicholas Reeves, is currently in Luxor. Thankfully we don't have to wait all that long to find out. April will be here before we know it.
Pictured is the "aged" statue of Queen Nefertiti, found in the same sealed-off storeroom of the sculptor Thutmose where her famous bust was discovered in 1912.
Unusually, it seems that Nefertiti has broken with tradition and had herself portrayed at an advanced age rather than as eternally youthful. But them, she and her husband never really cared much for tradition. They infamously abandoned the country's comfortable pantheon of gods in favour of one life-giving essence: the Aten, symbolised by a sun-disc.
Rather than her famous flat-topped crown, the Queen spots a smooth "cap crown", which her husband, Akhenaten, was rather fond of as well. This limestone statue is in the collection of the Neues Museum in Berlin. (Item Number 21263). Photo: Sandra Steiss.
We can only hope that the Mr. Zaazou's premature revelation is correct, and that the "treasure" to be found in the hidden chamber in Tutankhamun's tomb will reveal to us not only the splendour of Egypt's golden age, but more about the enigmatic Queen Nefertiti herself.
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