Egyptology is entering another golden age, with dazzling new discoveries of hidden chambers under the Pyramids and in Tutankhamun’s tomb. A cynic could almost say it’s hype for the desperate tourist industry
Egypt never seems to stop revealing its ancient wonders and mysteries. Now, it seems we may be on edge of new discoveries as marvellous as when Howard Carter opened the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922.
The most astonishing claims being made concern that very tomb. The “wonders” of the young king’s burial are exhibited today in Cairo. Yet it seems that Carter may have missed something potentially just as extraordinary, right in front of him. The dazzle of Tutankhamun’s gold probably satisfied the tomb’s discoverers – and besides, it has taken 21st-century technology to find the new mystery: traces of what may be well-hidden and still unopened chambers behind the tomb of the boy king.
Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves believes – controversially – that the hidden space may be the lost tomb of Queen Nefertiti, who may have been young Tut’s mother. If Reeves is right, the sands of Egypt could be about to yield one of their greatest secrets – something epochal.
And that’s not all. Archaeologists scanning the pyramids at Giza have found “thermal anomalies” that may also reveal hidden chambers, including one deep within the Great Pyramid. So the pyramids too (which are considerably older than the tombs of Tutankhamun and, perhaps, his mother) are apparently still full of marvels ready to be uncovered.
These remarkable finds, or promises, have surely not appeared accidentally at the same time? It is easy to see that an earth-shattering discovery would be very welcome in an Egypt ravaged by recent events, whose tourism certainly needs a boost. But I don’t think that should make us doubt these reports, or view them as hype by a desperate tourist industry. Egypt has always attracted tourists – like the ancient Greek traveller Herodotus, or Napoleon, or Agatha Christie – because its past is unparalleled and its archaeology uniquely seductive.
The Egyptian revolution didn’t just damage tourism – it disrupted archaeology. The Cairo Museum itself was looted. Egypt’s most famous Egyptologist, the swashbuckling Zahi Hawass, was implicated in the fallen Mubarak regime, narrowly escaped jail, and was sacked. Was Egyptology finished? Instead it appears to have entered a new golden age. International teams using the latest gear are working on these spectacular, barnstorming projects.
I hope it does all boost tourism, and I hope these hidden chambers really are full of what Carter called “wonderful things”.