"... could be metal, could be organic". Perhaps the Antiquity Minister's words don't have quite the same romance as Howard Carter's "wonderful things" in 1922, however the tantalising promise behind the words is just as powerful.
Things usually move slowly in Egypt. Especially big things with a lot of stakeholders involved. With this 'Egypt-time' in mind, the pace of the last 12 months has been meteoric.
It's been just nine months since Nicholas Reeves first posted his theory regarding Tutankhamun's tomb, "The Burial of Nefertiti?" Between then and now Tutankhamun's tomb has been probed with infrared and radar scans and generated more debate than at any time in his less-than-quiet afterlife.
The story so far in a nutshell:
Art-replication specialists, Madrid-based Factum Arte, was employed to create a hi-res replica of Tutankhamun's tomb. This involved scanning the burial chamber's paintings more accurately than ever before. Significantly, Factum Arte posted their data online so that anyone in the world could examine the tomb's decoration to an unprecedented level.
But while the rest of us were being wowed by the paintings, British Egyptologist, Dr. Nicholas Reeves, was looking at something else. Factum Arte's technology allowed for the publication of the burial chamber's walls without the painted decoration, allowing us to see the bare walls for the first time.
Reeves noticed something that no-one else in the world had: lines and fissures in the wall that not only suggested the outlines of hidden doors, but doors that lined-up precisely with opposite doorways.
It seemed that Tutankhamun's tiny tomb suddenly made sense. What we have always assumed was a solid, painted wall, was a dummy feature designed to foil tomb-robbers. Reeves suggested that the tomb's corridor actually extends past Tutankhamun's burial chamber and into subsequent hidden chambers.
Then came the kicker. Dr. Reeves was not only proposing that Tutankhamun's tomb is just the beginning, but that the false walls were protecting an even larger prize than the famed boy-king: Queen Nefertiti.
The woman who's world-famous bust has become an icon for ancient Egypt's regal beauty, has no known tomb. From our perspective—3,300 later—after her death she simply disappeared. Only one small, broken funerary statue survives with her name on to testify that she had made preparations for the afterlife at all.
Reeves believes that clues in the wall decoration and the fact that up to 80% of his tomb treasures bear traces of the name of a female predecessor, point towards the idea that Nefertiti's untouched burial lays hidden beyond the false wall in Tutankhamun's tomb. Reeves proposes that when Tutankhamun died unexpectedly, Nefertiti's tomb in the Valley of the Kings was opened. The symbolic 'well' that stood before the false wall hiding her burial was expanded to accommodate his burial, and the wall paintings adjusted to reflect Tutankhamun being welcomed into the afterlife, rather than Nefertiti.
Remarkably, the Ministry of Antiquities was open to the possibility and approved access to the tomb for infrared and radar scans. The initial results of both were encouraging, suggesting a large void behind the burial chamber's northern wall.
Thursday was a big day.
In a packed press conference, the Antiquities Minister, Mamdouh al-Damaty, revealed the results of the radar scans carried out in November. The scans pointed to "different things behind the walls. Different material that could be metal, could be organic."
He added, "... it is a very big discovery. Could be [the] discovery of the century."
These words echo closely those of the Egyptian Tourism Minister who recently seemed to break ranks and gush about the proposed secret chambers in Tutankhamun's tomb: "It will be a 'Big Bang' - the discovery of the 21st century." He went on to say, "We do not know if the burial chamber is Nefertiti or another woman, but it is full of treasures."
Some suggested he was merely trying to drum up some business for the country's beleaguered tourism industry. However, the Japanese scan results have been with the Antiquities Ministry since January, so it is possible that some details had indeed leaked.
Another set of scans, apparently more advanced, will be carried out on March 31 to garner more details about the voids behind the walls. The next press conference is booked for April 1 to reveal the preliminary results.
Of course, not everyone is a believer. Reactions from Egyptologists have been everything from cautiously optimistic to outright sceptical. Zahi Hawass, the former gatekeeper of Egypt's rich archaeological heritage, told The Telegraph last December: "There is not a one per cent chance Reeves’s theory is correct.”
Whichever side of the fence you sit on, thankfully we don't have long to wait for the next step. Assuming the results are again positive, it may be that a tiny hole will eventually be drilled via the tomb's 'Treasury', which is adjacent to the main 'hidden chamber' and doesn't have any decorations to damage.
I'd hazard a guess that when Nicholas Reeves posted his theory about the tomb within a tomb back in July last year, even he couldn't have imagined how things would escalate so quickly.
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