By Trevor C. Hale
Photography by Michelle Hale
Holy crap. I’m standing at the entrance of King Tut’s tomb in Luxor’s legendary Valley of the Kings. The same spot where in 1922 Howard Carter unearthed the mostly intact tomb of the boy king 33 centuries after he was laid to rest. Even the most cynical, “been there, got the T-shirt” globe-trotters are in awe in the presence of such profound history. There are 63 tombs on the winding dirt trails that cut through the limestone valley. Each entrance is about 10 meters apart. Some of the tombs have hundreds of rooms, and some go as deep as 350 meters.
The tomb of Tut Ank Amon (as it is written in hieroglyphs) is of course famous for being intact and yielding extraordinary treasures and knowledge about ancient Egypt. As if being here is not enough, there are remarkable new theories that Tut’s tomb has at least two secret chambers that might hold the remains of his stepmother Nefertiti. It’s an archaeological bombshell recently put forward by British archaeologist Nicholas Reeves.
The Egyptian government commissioned an exact replica of Tut’s tomb to be built near the entrance of the Valley to minimize tourist traffic to the actual burial chamber. The government was determined to reproduce it as precisely as possible and painstakingly scanned each wall with state-of-the art laser equipment. Reeves studied the scans and found what appeared to be irregularities on the north wall, which could indicate a hidden entrance that had been plastered over. The paint looks and feels different over the plastered area (which seems to describe a rectangular opening) and the pattern of mold on the area could indicate a space behind it.
National Geographic’s Peter Hessler writes, “…last week, after I was allowed to spend several hours in the tomb, I was struck by how even a layman can recognize some of the physical evidence that seems to support the new theory.” Another telltale sign, writes Hessler, is that a carved line on the tomb’s ceiling, typically made when workers use chisels to fashion right angles between the ceiling and wall, runs in a way that suggests the chamber was originally part of a longer corridor that eventually widens. In November, a team will use sophisticated radar equipment to determine if there are indeed chambers behind the walls. A discovery of this magnitude would be a boon to Egypt’s struggling tourism industry, which has suffered since the first of two revolutions in 2011.
Remember when the Tutankhamun exhibit came to the Birmingham Museum of Art? I do, and like a fool, I kept putting it off until it was too late and it had left town. The archaeologist Reeves had seen a similar tour in the 1970s, which gave him a lifelong passion to become an Egyptologist.
My family and I were in Egypt for four days during a long holiday weekend to explore Cairo and Luxor. Cairo is only a three-hour flight from our home in Dubai and these days there are great deals to be had.
Our trip started in Cairo with a quad bike tour in the desert north of the Great Pyramids. Arriving in Giza and seeing these massive monuments in person for the first time made me palpably giddy. The four-wheelers were in bad shape, and we passed a dead horse on the way to the desert entrance, but other than that…holy crap. We had a proper visit to the pyramids the next day. The greatest of the seven wonders of the ancient world and the only one to survive, the pyramids were built as tombs and were subsequently plundered; hence, the eventual royal burial relocation to Luxor.
The majestic and mysterious sphinx seems to purr beside the pyramids while contemplating the Nile, giving up none of its secrets. Our guide says, that no, Napoleon didn’t shoot off its nose, and that newly analyzed patterns of erosion could date it to 9,000 years old.
We saw the Cairo Museum, which is literally overflowing with crates full of statues and sarcophagi (two new museums in Cairo are in the works.) The mummy room and King Tut’s burial display were highlights. Seeing the boy king’s golden mask in person is another “holy crap” moment. And the shrunken black face of Ramses II is so well-preserved after 3,200 years you almost expect his eyes to open with a menacing stare. Holy crapcicles.
If you never make it to Egypt, catch a traveling Tut tour or check out the Egyptian wing in the New York’s Metropolitan Museum. Stay tuned for news of Nefertiti, the secret chamber, and the hype that follows.