Archaeologists may be closing in on the hidden tomb of an ancient Egyptian queen after a radar scan found a “90 per cent” chance that Tutankhamun’s burial chamber has two undiscovered rooms.
A scan of the boy pharaoh’s 3000-year-old burial site in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings appears to show two untouched chambers hidden beyond the ornate walls of his own tomb.
The radar sweep, conducted last year by a Japanese technician, cannot detect what exactly is there but has picked up signals of both metallic and organic materials.
The combination raises the tantalising prospect that the rooms could be another burial chamber and perhaps the final resting place of Tutankhamun’s stepmother, Queen Nefertiti.
No tomb has ever been found for the queen, who was married to the Tutankhamun’s father and was fabled for her beauty.
Late last year the British archaeologist Nicholas Reeves said he believed Nefertiti may have been buried behind Tutankhamun’s own burial chamber.
It is soon to tell if Dr Reeves’ theory is correct but the results of the radar scan have electrified the Egyptologist community and raised hopes of a discovery on par with the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922.
Mamdouh el-Damaty, Egypt’s antiquities minister, said the preliminary scan showed a 90 per cent chance of “two hidden rooms behind the burial chamber”.
The mummy of King Tutankhamun. Photo / AP
A second scan will be carried on March 31 to measure the thickness of the walls and get a better picture of what might lie behind them. Only after that could a decision be made on what to do next, Dr Damaty said.
“We have reached a stage we can call, serious stage,” he said.
When asked if the organic material detected in two spots could be a mummified body, the minister said: “I cannot say. I can only say we have here some organic materials.”
Dr Damaty, who is an archaeologist himself, raised the possibility of alternatives to Nefertiti. A tomb attached to Tutankhamun’s could also contain his own mother, Kiya, or another family member, he said.
A diagram presented by the antiquity ministry show that the two potential rooms are adjacent to Tutankhamun’s burial chamber, one to the north and one to the west.
The sarcophagus of King Tutankhamun is displayed inside his small tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Photo / Getty Images
In the northern room, the radar scan found two possible metal substances and one organic, while the western room had one organic hit.
While it may be tempting to simply drill through the walls and see what lies beyond, such a move could destroy the ancient paintings that decorate the tomb. One alternative could be insert a small camera into the walls.
Dr Reeves’ theory is that the tomb was originally intended for Nefertiti who died around 1330 BC.
But when Tutankhamun died unexpectedly at around the age of 19, the tomb may have been hastily repurposed for him and a partition wall was built to seal off his stepmother.
One room could contain Nefertiti’s remains while the room might be a storeroom, Dr Reeves proposed.
Nefertiti was married to the pharaoh Akhenaten, who is believed to have been Tutankhamun’s father.
The family governed in turbulent times more than a thousand years before Christ and their reign appears to have ended in a military coup by a top general.
The speculation about the tomb is a welcome boost for Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a general who himself took power in a coup.
Egypt’s economy has been suffering since an Islamic State bomb destroyed a Russian airliner last October, leading to a ban on British and Russian flights into Sharm el-Sheikh.