Rooms Without a View: New Possibilities in Tutankhamun’s Tomb

What an amazing several months it’s been for scientific discovery! We’ve ranged from New Horizons’ incredible encounter with Pluto, named after the Roman god of the underworld, to exciting new possibilities concerning the ancient dead of Egypt, who have long been residents of that underworld. Resources on planetary exploration will be a good subject for another time, but is there more to Tutankhamun’s tomb than anyone ever thought? Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves believes he has identified two sealed-up doorways in the decorated walls where Tutankhamun was laid to rest in his golden mask.

But wouldn’t Howard Carter have discovered any such hidden doors when he found and excavated the tomb in the 1920s? Wouldn’t any number of Egyptologists and visitors since have noticed them? Modern technology made the difference. In creating a full-size replica for visitors in order to save the original tomb from environmental deterioration, very high resolution scans were made of the burial chamber walls; these scans were also posted online:

(Please note that all of the links in this article will take you away from the Consortium Library’s website.) Click on the central square and then on the subsequent text to see the painting on the entire north wall. Notice the controls at the bottom, particularly the tiny white triangle; click on that triangle to bring up the scans for all four walls. But there are eight scans! Modern scanning enables you to see what the surface of the walls look like with and without their paintings. Being able to view the walls stripped of the distraction of their paintings is what ultimately led Reeves to believe that there are previously undiscovered rooms in the tomb. If they are actually there, perhaps they are simply storage rooms, or perhaps they conceal the burial place of Nefertiti or another royal woman. And whether you can see the outlines of Reeves’ doorways or not, looking closely at the black and white scans will reveal lines where the drawings were etched in the walls before they were painted.

In late September, a physical examination of the tomb by Reeves and the Egyptian antiquities authorities found indications that these theoretical doorways might actually exist. In November, a special radar unit from Japan will be used to determine whether there are spaces beyond the walls or not. Here’s National Geographic’s report, written just after the examination:

We do have the National Geographic Virtual Library under ‘Databases’ on the library’s home page; while this story is too new to be in it yet, the NGVL does have plenty of other articles on ancient Egypt (and many other things as well). You can even find a lengthy May 1923 article on the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb, which would have been the first in-depth account that most Americans would have read. Just search on Tutankhamun in NGVL to find it.

But what else do we have in the library that might help bring ancient Egypt to life as we wait for the radar results? Quite a lot! To give a few examples, you could start with Howard Carter’s own three-volume report on the discovery and excavation:

DT 87.5 .C37                    The tomb of Tutankhamen

Or start with a summation of much more modern research, as well as with relevant biographical works and genealogical works:

DT58.9.H28 2005          Tutankhamun and the golden age of the pharaohs

DT87.45.T95 1999          Nefertiti: Egypt’s sun queen

DT87.4.S55 2006            Akhenaten and Tutankhamun

DT83.D63 2004              The complete royal families of Ancient Egypt

And what Egyptian tomb-related list is complete without at least one title on the pyramids?

DT63.R66 2007              The Great Pyramid: ancient Egypt revisited

There are also some Reference titles that make for enjoyable browsing:

eBook                                Companion to Ancient Egypt

eBook                                Experience of Ancient Egypt

REF DT58.O94 2001     Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt (3 vols.)

REF DT58.W55 2005    Thames & Hudson dictionary of ancient Egypt

REF DT 61 .S63 2014    The Complete Cities of Ancient Egypt

The last title is well-illustrated; it not only covers individual cities, but it also describes what it would have been like to be a resident in an Egyptian city.

We have titles on the entire Valley of the Kings as well; for instance, this resource from the Theban Mapping Project, which can also be found online on the Project’s website:

G2492.V3 A8 2005   Atlas of the Valley of the Kings

You can examine tomb locations in the valley and view plans of the various tombs (which were named after their sequence of discovery in the Kings’ Valley; for instance, Tutankhamun’s is KV62). In the online version, you can measure interior distances in feet, meters, and even cubits; they used lasers to measure as accurately as possible. In addition, we have two works by the lead archaeologist of the Theban Mapping Project, Kent Weeks:

DT73.B44 W43 1998    The Lost Tomb

DT73.B44 K95 2000    KV 5: a preliminary report on the excavation of the tomb of the sons of Rameses II in the Valley of the Kings

The lost tomb refers to KV5, a tomb of few rooms and little interest first discovered in 1825 and later lost again; the mapping work of the 1990s revealed it to be the largest tomb complex ever found in the Valley of the Kings, with well over 120 rooms and corridors.

We also have books on mummies, hieroglyphics, mythology, and many other related subjects worth investigating. And speaking of mummies, with Halloween only a week and a half away, there’s even time to catch Boris Karloff in one of his iconic roles while we’re waiting for the radar results. While we don’t have a dvd of ‘The Mummy’ ourselves, the Loussac public library branch has two copies, complete with sequels!