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Another Egyptian mystery

— Just when you thought it was safe to go back into Egypt's Valley of the Kings, another ancient puzzle has popped up on the radar screen - literally.

The Amarna Royal Tombs Project says radar readings show what could be another 3,500-year-old chamber from the days of Akhenaten and Tutankhamun, not far from the recently explored KV63 chamber.

Is it "a find of the greatest possible significance," as the project hopes?

© Amarna Royal Tombs Project
Radar readings show the
KV64 anomaly, spotted in
a 2000 survey.

The newly publicized "anomaly," dubbed KV 64, appears to be a shaft leading deep underground, according to reports published by the Valley of the Kings Foundation and Archaeology magazine. A similar signature was seen in the strange case of KV63 - which turned out to be a storage chamber for mummification supplies, perhaps converted from an intended royal tomb.

The prospect of finding another tomb raises hopes anew that the mortal remains of well-known personages from Egypt's pharaonic heyday may yet turn up: for example, Nefertiti, the fabled wife of Akhenaten (although some think Nefertiti has already been found).

Nicholas Reeves, project director for the Amarna Royal Tombs Project, theorizes that the royal remains associated with Akhenaten's family were relocated from the controversial pharaoh's home base in Amarna to the Valley of the Kings - and that KV63 and KV64 could have figured in that relocation.

Reeves told Archaeology magazine that he was motivated to publicize the data about KV64 because of the buzz over KV63:

"It was clearly only a matter of time before the hunt was on in earnest for the further tomb which that deposit evidently signaled. It was becoming apparent to several observers that KV63 is to the Valley's next undiscovered tomb what the KV54 embalming cache was to the tomb of Tutankhamun. My principal fear was the impact that realization would have on the surrounding, less glamorous and certainly more vulnerable archaeology of the site: I don't want to see it damaged in a random, aimless hunt for more tombs. Of course I'm not against finding new tombs - how could I be? - but the work has to be done in a controlled fashion. I want to remove the element of chance, to focus any search. Public disclosure will hopefully do just that - point the way and reduce the danger and amount of collateral damage. I hope, too, it will provide a breathing space for archaeology, time for some sort of considered excavation procedure to be formulated for dealing with such a tomb by the wider international archaeological community - this is after all a World Heritage Site - and set in place by the Supreme Council of Antiquities."

He called on his fellow archaeologists to come up with a "formal protocol for excavators on how to deal with what might turn up" - rather than reverting to the dig-happy derring-do that held sway in the days when King Tut's tomb was discovered. Nowadays the Egyptian authorities seem to have the Valley of the Kings well under control, but Reeves argues that the promise of discoveries on the scale of Tut's tomb could bring back those bad old days.

Reeves is reading a lot into a blip on the radar screen. Will this generate an earthshaking find, or contentiousness reminiscent of the brouhaha surrounding the Bosnian "pyramid"? Stay tuned - and as always, feel free to leave your comments.