The search for a secret chamber behind King Tutankhamun’s tomb took another turn on Thursday, as Egypt’s antiquities minister said radar scans have revealed fresh evidence of an empty space behind the 3,000-year-old tomb.
The space is believed by some to be the lost burial site of Queen Nefertiti, thought to be the ancient king’s stepmother, who died in the 14th century B.C. Confirmation of Nefertiti's final resting place would be the most significant Egyptian archaeological find so far this century.
An analysis of radar scans done last November has revealed the presence of two empty spaces behind two walls in King Tut’s chamber, Egypt's antiquities minister Mamdouh el-Damaty said at a news conference in Cairo on Thursday.
“[The scans point to] different things behind the walls, different material that could be metal, could be organic," he said.
In November, Mr. Damaty said there was a 90 percent chance that “something” was behind the wall of King Tut’s chamber after an initial radar scan was conducted and then sent to Japan for analysis.
In order to avoid disturbing the contents of King Tut’s chamber, the antiquities ministry collaborated with researchers from Cairo University and the HIP Institute, a French institute using technology to study and preserve cultural heritage to scan the chamber.
The effort, the first of a larger project called “Scan the Pyramids,” uses infrared scans that can effectively peer through the tomb’s walls because different materials return different frequencies of light when hit with an infrared beam.
The first scan took 24 hours. “The team was very impressed and full of emotion to spend the night in the tomb," Mehdi Tayoubi, HIP Institute president and co-director of the mission, told Discovery News in November.
The researchers are most intrigued by potential cold spots revealed by the scans, which could be drafty and indicate a previously undiscovered empty space such as a hallway or a room contained within the tomb.
The scans in November follow claims by British Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves, who said high-resolution images of the tombs provided hints of hidden doors to unexplored chambers.
Next up is a more advanced scan that is set to be conducted at the end of March with an international team of researchers who hope to confirm whether the empty spaces are in fact chambers. At that point, Damaty said he can discuss the possibility of how and when a team could explore the rooms.
While he says he’s 90 percent certain that chambers are there, “I never start the next step until I’m 100 percent," he said.
Dr. Reeves, who is leading the investigation, believes that the young king’s mausoleum was originally occupied by Nefertiti, particularly citing its small size, and that she lies undisturbed behind he what he believes is a partition wall.
The find could also be a boon to Egypt’s tourism industry, an important segment of the Egyptian economy that has suffered a range of setbacks since an uprising toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
The discovery of Nefertiti herself — known for her regal beauty captured in a 3,300 year-old bust in a Berlin museum — would provide valuable information about what remains a mysterious period of Egyptian history.
“It can be the discovery of the century,” said Damaty, the antiquities minister. “It’s very important for Egyptian history and the world.”
This report contains material from Reuters and The Associated Press.