Hidden King Tut chambers? Not so fast, officials caution

Egypt's new antiquities minister, Khaled El Anany, sounded caution this morning at a press conference in Luxor over the claim that Tutankhamun's tomb holds two hidden chambers.

Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves, of the Amarna Royal Tombs Project, had proposed that two hidden chambers were lurking in the tomb of Tutankhamun and that the hidden rooms may hold the tomb of Queen Nefertiti, the stepmom of King Tutankhamun.

Radar scans conducted last year by Japanese radar technologist Hirokatsu Watanabe supposedly supported this idea. On March 17, Egypt's ministry of antiquities, led at the time by Mamdouh El-Damaty, stated that Watanabe's scans "suggest the presence of two empty spaces or cavities beyond the decorated north and west walls of the burial chamber," as well as the "presence of metallic and organic substances."

The radar scans also showed what could be door lintels that indicate the presence of doorways, the antiquities minster said at the time in a statement to media. [See Photos of King Tut's Burial and Radar Scans]

However, radar experts not affiliated with the project disputed the results of those scans. These experts noted that the sediment layers at the Valley of the Kings, where King Tut's tomb is located, contain natural voids and rock inclusions that make it difficult for radar to distinguish between archaeological remains and natural phenomena.

Over the past two weeks, the antiquities minister at the time, ?El-Damaty, along with Egypt's minister of tourism, Hisham Zazou, were replaced in a cabinet shuffle. Yesterday, a team supported by the National Geographic Society conducted new radar scans. Those scans are being processed and analyzed; however, the new antiquities minister — El Anany — sounded a note of caution at today's press conference.

"We are not looking for hidden chambers but for the reality of the truth," El-Anany said. "We are very keen to follow the scientific procedures," he said, adding that more radar work would be performed in late April, followed by an international conference in May in which experts would review the results. Egypt's former antiquities minister, El-Damaty, was also at today's press conference and said that while the two cavities could exist, "we have to be sure 100 percent."

Even so, the Egypt's antiquities ministry said in a statement that "the preliminary results [of yesterday's scans] reached so far do not contradict with the results of the previous radar scans."

Reeves also said that the two cavities, possibly holding a tomb, could still exist.

No new radar images were released to media.

Third set of scans

For the next scan, scheduled for the end of April, another team of scientists will use a different radar-scanning method on King Tut's tomb. In the previous two scans, scientists tried to peer behind the walls of the Tutankhamun burial chamber. The new scans will take place in the hills above Tutankhamun's tomb, using radar equipment that can peer 40 meters (130 feet) below the ground to see if hidden chambers exist.

The international conference to review the results will be held in the Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo, El Anany said. There, experts will discuss whether the two chambers exist, and if so, what could be in them and what would be the best way to access them. Scientists will not use any methods that could damage the artwork in Tutankhamun's tomb, El Anany said.

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