Hunt for 'the discovery of the 21st century' starts again at King Tut's tomb

By Sudarsan Raghavan

Researchers will enter the tomb of King Tutankhamun to find what is believed to be a legendary lost chamber. Photo / AP
Researchers will enter the tomb of King Tutankhamun to find what is believed to be a legendary lost chamber. Photo / AP

Once again, the question seeks an answer: Is there a secret chamber inside what is arguably the world's most famous tomb?

Later this month, a team of Italian researchers is expected to enter the tomb of the boy-king Tutankhamun in Egypt's famed Valley of the Kings. Once inside, they will use state-of-the-art radar technology, capable of viewing through 32 feet of solid rock.

Their goal is to find what is believed to be a legendary lost chamber inside the king's 3300-year-old resting place.

"It will be a rigorous scientific work and will last several days, if not weeks," Franco Porcelli, the project's director, told Seeker, a science news service. "Who knows what we might find as we scan the ground," he added.

The quest is the third investigation to find a concealed chamber in the past two years.

It has triggered hopes within Egypt for a possible turnaround in its tourism sector, battered by the bombing of a Russian charter flight in 2015 that killed all 224 people, shortly after it left the airport of the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. The attack, claimed by the Islamic State's affiliate in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, raised questions about airport security and prompted travel warnings and flight bans.

Now, with several European nations recently lifting travel restrictions to Sinai, the finding of a new chamber inside the tomb of King Tut, as he's widely known in the West, could attract hordes of tourists to bolster the country's sagging economy.

In 2015, a British Egyptologist, Nicholas Reeves, first claimed there is a secret chamber that could contain the remains, and possibly the grave, of Queen Nefertiti. She was King Tut's stepmother, married to his father, the pharaoh Akhenaten. Initial radar scans revealed a great possibility that the tomb concealed two chambers, on the north and eastern walls.

That was welcomed enthusiastically last year by Egypt's government, prompting Egypt's tourism minister, Hisham Zaazou, to all but declare that it could alter the world of archaeology.

The north wall of King Tutankhamun's burial chamber at his tomb at the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt. Photo / AP
The north wall of King Tutankhamun's burial chamber at his tomb at the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt. Photo / AP

"We do not know if the burial chamber is Nefertiti or another woman, but it is full of treasures," he told ABC, a Spanish national newspaper. "It will be a 'Big Bang' - the discovery of the 21st century."

But another radar scan carried out the National Geographic Society failed to confirm the initial findings. Expectations died down further when archaeological experts at an international conference last year in Cairo expressed scepticism about the theory of secret chambers inside King Tut's tomb. And soon, Egypt's antiquities minister vowed that no exploration that could in any way damage the tomb would be allowed.

Porcelli and his team from the Polytechnic University of Turin are already engaged in a larger project to geographically map the Valley of the Kings, the primary burial site of Egypt's pharaohs. Three powerful radar systems, capable of penetrating the ground, as well as other sophisticated equipment will scan depths of up to 32 feet to provide information on any underground structures within the tomb, Porcelli told Seeker.

"This will be the final investigation," Porcelli said. "We will provide an answer which is 99 percent definitive."

- Washington Post

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