Although the sun beat down in the middle of the Valley of the Kings and the heat was overwhelming, dozens of Egyptian and foreign journalists and photographers gathered at the footsteps of King Tutankhamun's tomb, anxious to hear the results of a new American-Egyptian radar survey. But they left disappointed.
"The scans have given several data and indications but we cannot announce the results right now because it requires more study to achieve accurate and concrete results," Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany told reporters. El-Enany said seven days at most were still needed for all the data to be analysed and studied by a US-Egypt geophysics team.
"We have indications but I want to highlight that we are not looking for a hidden chamber. We are testing a scientific hypothesis," El-Enany said. “We are keen on science and exploring the truth.”
A new vertical radar survey is to be conducted at the end of April in order to be 100 per cent sure of the results of both previous radar scans.
El-Enany told Al-Ahram Weekly that on 6 May all the results of the three radar surveys are to be discussed by scholars from across the globe during an international conference to be held at the planned Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) overlooking the Giza Plateau.
He described the upcoming discussion as an ”excellent opportunity” to reach the best solution as how to deal with the results taken from the radar surveys and how to explore a newly discovered chamber if studies prove its existence beyond doubt.
“The project has to be efficiently studied and evaluated and anything that would be worthy of [studying] antiquities, we will go ahead with. But anything that could harm antiquities, with frivolity, would be stopped immediately,” El-Enany told the Weekly. “I am not talking about just Tutankhamun’s tomb re-exploration project as such; that goes for any other projects.” “Due to my proficiency and eagerness about scientific credibility, we will listen to all points of view and the project will be studied and the final results will be announced during the conference in May,” El-Enany said.
“I guarantee that no one can touch the paintings in Tutankhamun’s tomb, and the suggestion to use a tiny optic camera to probe by boring a one-inch hole from the treasury room of Tutankhamun’s tomb, which has no paintings in it, to explore what lies behind the north and west walls is, until now, just a suggestion,” El-Enany asserted. “If the surveys and studies prove 100 per cent that there is something behind the north wall, the scientific discussion in May would provide the best solution.Although the exploratory mission received the approval of the ministry’s permanent committee, I don’t want to get ahead of the events,” El-Enany said.
Eric Berkenpes, the American geophysicist who carried out the radar survey, said the scientific team conducted 40 radar scan images to collect data which were sent for analysis.
Former Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Al-Damati told the Weekly that the recent radar scans do not contradict previous work carried out by Japanese experts because it shows anamolies and differences in the thicknesses of the walls. But, Al-Damati added, it has to be analysed. "This one requires only a seven-day analyses which is quicker than that of the Japanese which took 30 days."
Professor of rock mechanics at the Faculty of Engineering in Cairo University Yasser Al-Shayeb, who is on the scientific team of King Tutankhamun’s tomb re-exploration mission, told the Weekly that the two scientific teams from the US and Egypt are now analysing the data “because we want to look at it with a different perspective. Once we get the reports back, we will take all the results for discussion at the conference.
"There is one anomaly behind the west wall but it is still a preliminary result which cannot be verified until the completion of the analyses," Al-Shayeb said. He said the radar scan carried out Thursday night was conducted on the four walls of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber, not only the north and west walls, in order to measure the thickness of every wall of the chamber.
“No fault is permissible in such a search,” Al-Shayeb said. “Therefore, the team used two kinds of radars in the survey and measured the thickness of every wall of the burial chamber at three different levels. The first radar is 900-megahertz wave frequency while the second 400 megahertz, like the radar used in November last year by Japanese expert Hirokatsu Watanabe.”
Al-Shayeb said that the third radar to be used in April will scan the burial chamber vertically from outside the tomb. It will be installed on the main rock of the Valley of the Kings. “The radar can scan walls 40 metres deep, which could give us a clearer picture of what lies behind them,” Al-Shayeb said, adding that if the scan proves efficient it will be used to scan every inch in the Valley of the Kings and explore more tombs to reveal the valley’s secrets.
Professor at the National Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics Abbas Mohamed, a member of the scientific team, is more than satisfied with the new radar survey. He described it as "efficient and more accurate than that of the Japanese because it is not an unknown hand-made device like the Japanese but a professional device devised by a well-known international company named Geophysical Search Survey Inc. which therefore would give a most efficient and accurate result.”
The radar has two antennas with 400 megahertz and 900 megahertz, which gives deeper depth and higher resolution data. "The recent survey,” explains Mohamed, scans four segments on every wall of the burial chamber at a distance of 20cm “which could enable us to create 3D images and sizes of what could lie behind these walls”.
El-Enany at the footstep of Tutankhamun's tomb
This article was originally published in Al-Ahram Weekly