Mummy Mystery: Multiple Tombs Hidden in Egypt: Page 2

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Radar instruments and related computing power have vastly improved in the last couple of decades, scientists say. Even so, it "is difficult to avoid false positives in a place like the Valley of the Kings. There (are) many faults and natural features that can look like walls and tombs. Our work did help refine the technology for use here and it does have a place."

In one instance, radar work carried out by a previous team suggested that tombs dating from the Amarna period (the period within the New Kingdom in which Tutankhamun lived) could be found in a certain area of the main valley. The team excavated the spot but didn't find any tombs.

When the undiscovered tombs — those that do exist — are unearthed, they may not hold their original occupants. For instance, KV 64, a small tomb discovered in 2011by a University of Basel team, was found to hold a female singer named Nehmes Bastet who lived around 2,800 years ago. She apparently re-used a tomb that was created for an earlier, unknown, occupant.

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Still, Ghonim said they could indeed find a tomb whose original occupants are buried within. "It is not impossible however for one or more to be intact," he said. And if they do find such pharaohs, they may also find their brains, as work by Hawass and Dr. Sahar Saleem of Cairo University suggests the Egyptians didn't remove the brains of their dead pharaohs in the mummification process.

An ancient flood control system

While the prospect of new tombs is tantalizing, they are but one of many things the researchers looked for in the valley. Last spring, the researchers gave a taste of what was to come at the Current Research in Egyptology conference at the University of Cambridge.

We "made a number of finds, which we believe will change our understanding of how the ancient Egyptians managed and utilized the site," Ghonim wrote in the email.

The researchers discovered, for instance, the ancient Egyptians created a flood control system in the valley that, for a time, prevented the tombs from being damaged by water and debris.

They detected a deep channel that would have run through the valley about 32 feet (10 meters) below the modern-day surface. As part of their anti-flood measures the Egyptians would have emptied this channel of debris and built side channels that diverted water into it, allowing water and debris to pass through the valley without causing damage. (Images: Beautiful Sarcophagus of an Egypt Pharaoh)

Strangely enough, the ancient Egyptians "for some reason after building it, they let it fall into disrepair rather quickly. By (the) time Tutankhamun was buried, flooding events had become a problem again," Ghonim said.

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"That was bad for most tombs, but good for Tutankhamun since, at least according to one theory, flooding events effectively sealed the tomb and made it inaccessible to later tomb robbers."

Today flood control is still a problem in the Valley of the Kings, and scientists are looking at ways to protect the tombs.

"There have been many studies recommending what to do, but the need to keep the valley open and the costs involved remain a problem. There's also the need to develop a consensus on such an important thing," Ghonim said.

More discoveries and challenges

Many more finds will be detailed in scientific publications in the future, including the excavation of huts used by the workers who built the tombs and the documentation of graffiti left throughout the valley's history.

One important challenge that Egyptian antiquities in general face is the need to bring tourists back to Egypt. In June, at a lecture at Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum, Hawass explained such tourist money not only helps Egypt's economy but also provides much needed funds for excavation and conservation.

The flow of tourists has been disrupted at times since the 2011 revolution as the political turmoil has kept many foreign visitors away. The lecture by Hawass was given a few weeks before the ouster of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi.

Original article on LiveScience.

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