Radar scans reveal hidden chamber in King Tut's tomb

The first scans of Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun's underground tomb revealed what might be the "discovery of the century".

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
3 min read

The first radar scans of the tomb of Tutankhamun in Egypt's Valley of the Kings have been completed, strongly indicating the presence of hidden chambers, Egyptian Antiquities Minister Mamdouh el-Damaty announced in a press conference Thursday.

The scans, conducted in late November 2015 by radar specialist Hirokatsu Watanabe, revealed two chambers hidden behind the northern and western walls of the chamber where the pharaoh lies entombed.

El-Damaty did not speculate on whether the rooms are filled with treasure but did note that the radar scan suggested the presence of metal and organic material in the northern chamber and organic material in the western chamber.

However, while there is probably not a wealth of gold and gems behind the walls, the discovery could still be huge.

"This would be like having the discovery of Tutankhamun again," el-Damaty said at the conference. "It could be the discovery of the century. It is very important for Egyptian history and for all of the world."

The scans were ordered in response to a theory proposed by Nicholas Reeves, residential scholar at the University of Arizona's School of Anthropology and senior Egyptologist with the University of Arizona Egyptian Expedition. After studying high-resolution photographs of the tomb, Reeves noted that several lines in the plaster on the walls suggested that they were constructed over door frames.

Inside, he believes researchers will find the lost body of Queen Nefertiti, wife of Tutankhamun's father, the pharaoh Akhenaten. Akhenaten's body was probably found in the Valley of the Kings, according to DNA that links it to Tutankhamun. However, Nefertiti's body has never been found.

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What the radar scan revealed.

Ministry of Antiquities

Reeves believes that Tutankhamun's tomb was originally built for the queen, who died in 1330BC. However, when Tutankhamun died suddenly at the age of 19 in 1323, Reeves theorises, Nefertiti's body was set aside in a chamber that was plastered over and hidden, and the tomb given over to the young pharaoh.

Although Nefertiti was a queen, she may have ruled for six years as king, which would qualify her for burial in the Valley of the Kings. Reeves also believes Tutankhamun's famous burial mask was originally made for a woman.

El-Damaty is a little more open to other possibilities. He believes the chamber could conceal Tutankhamun's mother, Kiya, or his half-sister and wife, Ankhesenamun.

"Maybe it could be the lady of the family, as Reeves has said," he said. "But I think we could find Kiya, or Ankhesenamun."

Whatever is inside, we'll have to wait a little while to find out.

"We can say more than 90 percent that the chambers are there," el-Damaty said. "But I never start the next step until I'm 100 percent."

The next step in the process will be further radar scans with more advanced equipment to get a more detailed idea of the chambers and their exact dimensions. These scans will also determine the thickness of the walls sealing the chambers from the tomb.

What these further scans reveal will be unveiled at another press conference on April 1, when the team will also announce whether the chambers will be unsealed.