Using ground-penetrating radar, three independent teams of researchers failed to detect the presence of doors or empty spaces behind the walls of King Tut’s funeral chamber. It’s a disappointing result, as archaeologists were hoping to find the final resting place of Queen Nefertiti.
“We conclude, with a very high level of confidence, that the hypothesis concerning the existence of hidden chambers adjacent [to] Tutankhamun’s tomb is not supported by the [ground-penetrating radar] data,” stated Franco Porcelli of the Polytechnic University of Turin, the lead investigator, in his final report. Porcelli and his colleagues disclosed their findings on Sunday 6 May at the fourth annual International Tutankhamun GEM Conference, which was held at the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) in Giza, as reported by National Geographic.
It’s an unhappy result, but such is science. The discovery—if it can be called that—discredits a theory proposed by Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves stating that Queen Nefertiti’s tomb is located behind the walls of King Tutankhamun’s burial chamber. The theory was given added credence in 2015 when radar specialist Hirokatsu Watanabe detected signs of apparent hidden doors behind the north and west walls of the 3,300-year-old burial chamber. A subsequent scan performed by engineers with the National Geographic Society could not replicate Watanabe’s results, prompting a “tie breaker” investigation.
The third effort, conducted in February 2018, was more comprehensive than the prior two. The investigation involved three independent teams, including researchers with the Polytechnic University of Turin and specialists with the private companies Geostudi Astier and 3DGeoimaging. The teams relied on ground-penetrating radar, which is typically used in seismology and for searches of oil and gas reserves, spending an entire week at the site and altogether scanning a total of 1.6 surface miles.
Each team used different scanning frequencies, either high, medium, or low. The lower the frequency, the deeper the distance scanned—but at a diminished resolution compared to those made at higher frequencies. The teams individually interpreted their findings and crossed-checked each others’ results. All teams concluded that no evidence of doors or voids exist beyond Tut’s funeral chamber at depths of up to 13 feet (four metres). The researchers attributed the anomalous 2015 results to “ghost signals”—stray radar reflections that exist in front of, and not behind, the walls.
The north wall of King Tutankhamun’s burial chamber at his tomb at the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt. (Photo: AP)
It’s not the result anyone was hoping for, but the investigation shows how useful ground-penetrating radar can be for archaeologists. Without this technology, archaeologists would have stayed ignorant about the area behind Tut’s chamber, as drilling through the wall—an irreplaceable artefact featuring elaborate paintings—would have caused an unacceptable level of damage.
But this is not to say that ancient Egypt isn’t without its secrets. The 2017 discovery of a void hidden inside the Great Pyramid of Giza is a mystery that still needs to be solved. [National Geographic]