Historic confusion: King Tut died ages ago, but his tomb remains a mystery

Historic confusion: King Tut died ages ago, but his tomb remains a mystery

At the center of the rumpus is the confrontational enthusiast Nicholas Reeves, 66, who shares a home near Oxford, England, with a nameless house cat.

NEW YORK: More than three millenniums after Tutankhamun was buried in southern Egypt, and a century after his tomb was discovered, Egyptologists are still squabbling over whom the chamber was built for and what, if anything, lies beyond its walls. The debate has become a global pastime.

At the center of the rumpus is the confrontational enthusiast Nicholas Reeves, 66, who shares a home near Oxford, England, with a nameless house cat. In July 2015, Dr. Reeves, a former curator at the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, posited the tantalising theory that there were rooms hidden behind the northern and western walls in the treasure-packed burial vault of Tutankhamun, otherwise known as King Tut.

It was long presumed that the small burial chamber, constructed 3,300 years ago and known to specialists as KV62, was originally intended as a private tomb for Tutankhamun’s successor, Ay, until Tutankhamun died prematurely at 19. Dr. Reeves proposed that the tomb was, in fact, merely an antechamber to a grander sepulcher for Tutankhamun’s stepmother and predecessor, Nefertiti. What’s more, Dr. Reeves argued, behind the north wall was a corridor that might well lead to Nefertiti’s unexplored funerary apartments, and perhaps to Nefertiti herself.

The Egyptian government authorised radar surveys using ground-penetrating radar that could detect and scan cavities underground. At a news conference in Cairo in March 2016, Mamdouh Eldamaty, then Egypt’s antiquities minister, showed the preliminary results of radar scans that revealed anomalies beyond the decorated north and west walls of the tomb, suggesting the presence of two empty spaces and organic or metal objects.

To much fanfare, he announced that there was an “approximately 90 percent” chance that something — “another chamber, another tomb” — was waiting beyond KV62. (Dr. Reeves said: “There was constant pressure from the press for odds. My own response was 50-50 — radar will either reveal there’s more to Tutankhamun’s tomb than we currently see, or it won’t.”)

Yet, two years and two separate radar surveys later, a new antiquities minister declared that there were neither blocked doorways nor hidden rooms inside the tomb. Detailed results of the final scan were not released for independent scrutiny. Nonetheless, the announcement prompted National Geographic magazine to withdraw funding for Dr. Reeves’s project and a prominent Egyptologist to say, “We should not pursue hallucinations.”

Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s onetime chief antiquities official and author of “King Tutankhamun: The Treasures of the Tomb,” said: “I completely disagree with this theory. There is no way in ancient Egypt that any king would block the tomb of someone else. This would be completely against all their beliefs. It is impossible!” (Dr. Reeves countered by pointing out that every successor king was responsible for closing the tomb of his predecessor, as the mythical Horus buried his father, Osiris. “This is even demonstrated in what we currently see on the burial chamber’s north wall — as labelled, Ay burying Tutankhamun,” Dr. Reeves said.)

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