Ancient Logbook Documenting Great Pyramid’s Construction Unveiled

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Here, one of the papyri in the ancient logbook, which documented the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

A logbook that contains records detailing the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza has been put on public display at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

The Great Pyramid of Giza was built in honor of the pharaoh Khufu (reign ca. 2551 B.C.-2528 B.C.) and is the largest of the three pyramids constructed on the Giza plateau in Egypt. Considered a “wonder of the world” by ancient writers, the Great Pyramid was 481 feet (146 meters) tall when it was first constructed. Today it stands 455 feet (138 meters) high.

The logbook was written in hieroglyphic letters on pieces of papyri. Its author was an inspector named Merer, who was “in charge of a team of about 200 men,” archaeologists Pierre Tallet and Gregory Marouard wrote in an article published in 2014 in the journal Near Eastern Archaeology. [In Photos: Inside Egypt’s Great Pyramids]

Tallet and Marouard are leaders of an archaeological team from France and Egypt that discovered the logbook at the Red Sea harbor of Wadi al-Jarfin 2013. It dates back about 4,500 years, making it the oldest papyrus document ever discovered in Egypt.

“Over a period of several months, [the logbook] reports — in [the] form of a timetable with two columns per day — many operations related to the construction of the Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza and the work at the limestone quarries on the opposite bank of the Nile,” Tallet and Marouard wrote.

Merer recorded the logs in the 27th year of Khufu’s reign. His records say that the Great Pyramid was near completion, with much of the remaining work focusing on the construction of the limestone casing that covered the outside of the pyramid, Tallet and Marouard wrote.

The limestone used in this casing, according to the logbook, was quarried at Tura near modern-day Cairo, and was brought to the pyramid site by boat along the Nile River and a system of canals. One boat trip between Tura and the pyramid site took four days to complete, the logbook notes.

The logbook also says that in Khufu’s 27th year, the construction of the Great Pyramid was being overseen by the vizier Ankhaf (also spelled Ankhhaf), the half- brother of Khufu. (A vizier was a high official in ancient Egypt who served the king.)

The papyri also reveal that one of the titles Ankhaf held was “chief for all the works of the king,” Tallet and Marouard wrote in the journal article.

Though the logbook said Ankhaf was in charge during the pharaoh’s 27th year, many scholars believe it’s possible that another person, possibly the vizier Hemiunu, was in charge of pyramid building during the earlier part of Khufu’s reign.

In the press release museum representatives did not specify how long the logbook will be on public display.

 

Source:  LiveScience.com    (07-2016)

Mystery of the Mummy from KV55: Dr. Zahi Hawass

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Akhenaten, Egypt’s first and only monotheistic Pharaoh, has intrigued Egyptologists for centuries. Has the Egyptian Mummy Project finally found his mummy?

The Valley of the Kings, on the west bank of the Nile across from the ancient city of Thebes, is famous as the final resting place of the pharaohs of the New Kingdom — Egypt’s “Golden Age.” There are 63 known tombs in the valley, of which 26 belonged to kings. Beginning with the great female pharaoh Hatshepsut, or perhaps her father Thutmose I, almost all of the rulers of the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth dynasties built their tombs in this silent valley.

Only one king from this period, Amenhotep IV or Akhenaten, is known to have chosen a different burial site. Akhenaten rejected the worship of Amun, the principal state god of his forefathers, in favor of the sun disk, the Aten. He abandoned Thebes, then the religious capital of Egypt, and moved his government to a virgin site in Middle Egypt known today as El-Amarna; it was near this new capital city that he had his final resting place prepared.

Akhenaten’s tomb is similar in some ways to those built in the Valley of the Kings; it consists of a number of chambers and passages cut deep into the limestone cliffs of a remote valley. It is decorated, however, with unique scenes connected with the worship of the sun-god Aten, and with images of the royal family. Akhenaten’s beautiful wife, Queen Nefertiti, figures prominently in his tomb decorations, as in much of the art of the Amarna period. Although Akhenaten’s tomb at El-Amarna was never completely finished, there is little doubt that the king was buried there.

After Akhenaten’s death, Egypt returned to the worship of the old gods, and the name and image of Akhenaten were erased from his monuments in an effort to wipe out the memory of his ‘heretical’ reign.
In January 1907, the British archaeologist Edward Ayrton discovered another tomb in the Valley of the Kings. This tomb, KV55, is located just to the south of the tomb of Ramesses IX, very close to the famous tomb of Tutankhamun. KV55 is small, uninscribed and undecorated, but despite its simplicity it has great historical value, because it is also connected with the royal family of El-Amarna.

A flight of 21 stairs leads down to the entrance, which Ayrton found blocked with limestone. Although the blocking may have been opened and then resealed in ancient times, the excavators found that it was still stamped with the necropolis seal, a jackal atop nine bows representing the traditional enemies of Egypt. Beyond the entrance lay a corridor, partially filled with pieces of limestone, leading to a rectangular burial chamber containing a gilded and inlaid wooden coffin. Inside this coffin rested a badly decayed mummy, which had been reduced to little more than a skeleton. The lower three quarters of the coffin’s gilded mask had been ripped away and the cartouches (oval rings containing royal names) that once identified the owner were removed, leaving the remains inside both faceless and nameless. The identity of the mummy found in KV55 is one of Egyptology’s most enduring mysteries.

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The newly renovated Amarna room at the Egyptian museum in Cairo. (Photo by Mohamed Megahed)

The contents of KV55 offer some clues to who the mystery mummy might have been. Although the tomb had been badly damaged over the centuries by floods that periodically inundate the Valley of the Kings, many intriguing artifacts were found inside. Apart from the coffin containing the mysterious mummy, the most spectacular objects were panels from a gilded wooden shrine that had been built to protect the sarcophagus of Queen Tiye, the mother of Akhenaten. Originally, the shrine had borne the name and image of Akhenaten along with that of the queen, but these were erased in ancient times.

Other objects from KV55 included small clay sealings bearing the name of Tiye’s husband Amenhotep III, and Tutankhamun, who may have been her grandson. There were also vessels of stone, glass and pottery, along with a few pieces of jewelry, inscribed with the names of Tiye, Amenhotep III and one of Amenhotep III’s daughters, Princess Sitamun. Four ‘magical bricks’ made of mud were also found in the tomb, stamped with the name of Akhenaten himself. A beautiful set of calcite canopic jars made for Akhenaten’s secondary wife Kiya rested in a niche carved into the southern wall of the burial chamber.

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The Shrine of Queen Tiye. (Photo by Mohamed Megahed)

The cartouches on the coffin might once have held the key to the identity of the KV55 mummy. Even without them, however, many scholars have felt that the remaining inscriptions, which include titles and epithets, might reveal the identity of the coffin’s owner. The great linguist Sir Alan Gardiner argued that the titles showed that the coffin had been made for Akhenaten, and that no one else could have been buried in it. Other scholars, however, have noted that the inscriptions were altered at some point, and it has been suggested that the coffin’s occupant might not be its original owner. The French scholar Georges Daressy thought that it might originally have been made for Queen Tiye, and then altered for Smenkhkare, a mysterious successor of Akhenaten who ruled Egypt for only a short time. Another possibility is that it was made for Smenkhkare during a time when he and Akhenaten ruled together as pharaohs, and then altered when he took the throne as sole ruler.
The mystery of the coffin is made even deeper by the fact that part of it was stolen from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. While its lid is mostly intact, the wood of the lower part had decayed to the point that nothing was left except the gold foil and glass and stone inlay that had covered its surface. The foil and inlay were taken from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and eventually resurfaced at the Museum of Egyptian Art in Munich, Germany. The foil and inlay were recently returned to Cairo, but there are still rumors that pieces of the gold foil from the coffin are still hidden away in storage, in museums outside of Egypt. I do not understand how any museum could purchase an artifact that they knew had been stolen from another!

Gardiner’s claim that the inscriptions on the coffin could only have referred to Akhenaten, together with the presence of the ‘heretic’ pharaoh’s name on other artifacts in KV55, convinced many scholars that this mysterious king had been brought to Thebes for reburial after his original tomb at El-Amarna was desecrated. The bones belong to a male, with a highly elongated skull. This trait is found in artistic representations of Akhenaten and his family, and can also be seen in the mummy of Tutankhamun, who may have been Akhenaten’s son. In addition, the KV55 mummy shares a blood type with the golden king; studies have indicated that the remains from the Amarna Cache belonged to an individual closely related to Tutankhamun. Taken together, the clues lead to the seemingly inevitable conclusion that the KV55 mummy is Akhenaten.
Most previous forensic studies have concluded that the skeleton belonged to a man who died in his early 20s, or at the latest about 35. Historical sources indicate that Akhenaten must have been well over 30 at his death. The majority of Egyptologists, therefore, are inclined to believe that the KV55 mummy is that of Smenkhkare, who may have been an older brother or even the father of Tutankhamun. The identification of the mummy as Smenkhkare, however, poses problems of its own. Little is known about this short-lived king..

Re-opening the Case
As part of the Supreme Council of Antiquities’ ongoing Egyptian Mummy Project, we decided to CT scan the KV55 skeleton in the hope of discovering new information that might shed light on the debate. Our forensic team has studied a number of mummies, and made many exciting discoveries. Our most recent work resulted in the identification of the mummy of Queen Hatshepsut.

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Dr. Hawass inspects the KV 55 mummy before its CT scan

When we brought the remains from KV 55 out, it was the first time that I had actually seen them. It was immediately clear to me that the skull and the other bones are in very bad condition. Dr. Hani Abdel Rahman operated the equipment, and our gifted radiologist Dr. Ashraf Selim worked with us to interpret the results.
Our CT scan put Akhenaten squarely back in the running for the identity of the mummy from KV55. Our team was able to determine that the mummy may have been older at death than anyone had previously thought. Dr. Selim noted that the spine showed, in addition to slight scoliosis, significant degenerative changes associated with age. He said that although it is difficult to determine the age of an individual from bones alone, he might put the mummy’s age as high as 60. The jury is still out, but it is certainly tempting to think that Akhenaten has finally been found.

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Scans of Tutankhamun’s mummy (left) and the bones from KV 55 seem to show similar elongated shape

Akhenaten, Nefertiti and the Amarna period have received a great deal of attention in recent years. One of the main reasons for this continued interest is that I have requested the loan to Egypt of the head of Nefertiti in the collection of the Egyptian Museum in Berlin. So far, the Berlin museum has not agreed to our request to bring the head to Egypt for three months as part of an exhibition to celebrate the opening in 2010 of the Akhenaten Museum in Minya. I do believe that Egypt’s people have the right to see this beautiful sculpture — a vital part of their heritage and identity — in person.

In the meantime, the wonderful artifacts in the newly renovated Amarna room at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo are reminders of the achievements of this period. The shrine of Queen Tiye and the lid of the coffin from KV55 adorn this gallery. A quartzite bust of Nefertiti, perhaps even more beautiful than the painted limestone bust in Berlin, also offers a glimpse of the splendor of the Amarna age. You can also see the gold foil and inlay from the bottom part of the KV55 coffin, mounted on a plexiglass base to show how they were arranged on the original coffin.

My friend Mark Linz, the head of the American University in Cairo Press, told me that he felt that the renovated Amarna room is amazing and unique, adding that he hopes that it will bring the glory of the Amarna period to life and tell people the story of Akhenaten, the first king to believe in a single god.
The Valley of the Kings still holds many mysteries. This coming year, we will begin DNA studies of the mummy from KV55, along with those of Tutankhamun and others, with hopes that DNA evidence will add even more to our understanding of this period.

We will also embark on the first archaeological expedition in the valley ever to be conducted by an all-Egyptian team. It seems unbelievable that up to this point, every excavation in the Valley of the Kings has been the work of foreign scholars. We are working right now to the north of the tomb of Merenptah, the son and successor of Ramesses II. I truly believe that the tomb of Ramesses VIII may be located in this area. It is possible that even as you read this article, you will hear the announcement of a major discovery in the valley.

There are still more royal tombs yet undiscovered. The tomb of Amenhotep I, for example, is unknown, although it may lie in the area of Deir el-Bahri. There are also many mummies that have never been identified: The remains of Nefertiti, Tutankhamun’s wife Ankhsenamun and many others may still await discovery or identification.
The sand and rocks of the Valley of the Kings hide treasure, both in the form of gold and in the form of information that can help us to reconstruct history. I hope that our new excavations will produce great stories, bringing the thrill of discovery and maybe even tales of the curse of the pharaohs, to the world. I am sure that the Valley of the Kings will reveal some of its mysteries to us — I can feel it, and I can see it in my mind’s eye. Do not laugh… I know that this is true!*

 

Credit: source – http://www.guardians.net/hawass/articles

Also see www.drhawass.com/wp/

The Secret Sphinx Tunnels!?

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There have been rumours of passageways and secret chambers surrounding the Sphinx and during recent restoration work several small tunnels have been re-discovered. One, near the rear of the statue extends down into it for about nine yards. Another, behind the head, is a short dead-end shaft. The third, located mid-way between the tail and the paws, was opened during restoration work in the 1920’s, then resealed.

It is unknown whether these tunnels were constructed by the original Egyptian designers, by visiting aliens or were cut into the statue at a later date.

In 1987 a Japanese team from Waseda University (Tokyo), under the direction of Sakuji Yoshimura carried out an electromagnetic sounding survey of the Khufu Pyramid and Sphinx. They reported evidence of a tunnel oriented north-south under the Sphinx, a water pocket 2.5 to 3 m below surface near the south hind paw, and another cavity near the north hind paw.

In 1991 a team consisting of geologist Robert Schoch (Boston University), Thomas Dobecki, and John Anthony West carried out a survey of the Sphinx using seismic refraction, refraction tomography, and seismic reflection. The investigators interpreted their data to indicate shallower subsurface weathering patterns toward the back and deeper weathering toward the front, which they take to indicate that the back of the Sphinx and its ditch were carved by Khafre later than the front. They interpret their data to likewise indicate subsurface cavities in front of the front left paw, and from the left paw back along the south flank.

The strange tunnel!

In 2009, a story emerged of a collapsed illegal tunnel in the Giza village of Nazlet El Smaan, causing the deaths of 6 men. Although very little was made of the story, a selection of photographs and recorded conversations proved that tunnelling beneath the houses was being financed and operated surreptitiously and rumours were surfacing that that major finds were being discovered, including rumours of ancient alien evidence.

Full Sphynx Profile Pyramid Giza Egypt

Discovery in Matariya Egypt

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ROME – The Egyptian-German Archaeological Mission to Matariya (Ministry of Antiquities of the Arab Republic of Egypt, Egyptian Museum University of Leipzig, University of Applied Sciences Mainz) has discovered new evidence for a sanctuary of Nectanebo I (380-363 BC) in the temple precinct of Heliopolis, according to Dr. Mahmoud Afify, head of the ancient Egyptian antiquities sector at the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities.

Dr. Aiman Ashmawy, head of the Egyptian team at the Mission, said the number of blocks from a limited area proves that the excavation area is the site of the original building built of limestone reliefs and columns, with lower wall zones made in black basalt. An eastern gate was made of brown silicified sandstone and decorated with inscriptions and ritual scenes.

The team also found additional evidence for the representation of geographical processions consisting of Nile gods with accompanying texts. A group of basalt slabs shows the geographical procession of the 6th Nome of Upper Egypt.

Additionally, objects like a sculptor’s practice pieces and a bronze figurine of the goddess Bastet were found in the same area. Dr. Dietrich Raue from the Egyptian Museum of the University of Leipzig/Germany focused on excavations in a second area in the southeast part of the temple, where a workshop from the 4th century BC and a superseding Ptolemaic stratum were discovered. “This fits to the growing evidence for the enormous activity of the kings of the 30th Dynasty in this sanctuary,” he said. A new temple site of Ramses II was discovered between the location of the temple-site of Ramesses II at the Suq el-Khamis and the area of the Nectanebo temple. Fragments of colossal statuary as well as large blocks with wall reliefs were also found.

*Article initially appeared on http://www.ansamed.info/

Is Egypt Blocking The Discovery Of Nefertiti’s Tomb?

 

statue of Nefertiti

A well known Egyptologist named Nicholas Reeves may have found Nefertiti’s resting place in two hidden chambers in King Tut’s tomb.  His preliminary radar scans of the monument have found “two open spaces, with signs of metal and organic matter” behind the tombs western and northern walls.

His theory is that undiscovered chambers lie behind the tomb and likely contain the tomb of Queen Nefertiti, one of  Egypt’s most famous figures. The theory has prompted new exploration and it has been extensively scanned by radar.

When he presented his theory at the the Egyptian conference May 8-9, 2016 he was met with disdain and denial.

“In all my career… I have never come across any discoveries in Egypt due to radar scans.” Zahi Hawass said.  He further suggested the team should go take their radar somewhere else, and practice on other monuments known to have hidden chambers.

But what Hawass said isn’t accurate.  In 2000 Reeves’ team found an undisturbed funerary chamber (KV63) using ground-penetrating radar in the Valley of the Kings.

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Tomb found in GPR study in 2000.

The Antiquities Minister Khaled el-Anani, said he would continue to allow scans of the tomb but that they wouldn’t be allowed to do any physical exploration until he was “100 percent sure there is a cavity behind the wall.”

reevesThe thing is that Nicholas Reeves isn’t just some archaeologist off the street. He is the Director of the Amarna Royal Tombs Project and the Senior Egyptologist with the University of Arizona Egyptian Expedition.  He graduated with honors and received his PhD 31 years ago for his thesis on tomb robbery and mummy caching.  He has previously been the Curator of the Department of Egyptian Antiquities at The British Museum.

In other words – Reeves is highly qualified and yet the Egyptian Antiquities department is blocking him.

Why?nefertiti 2

Could it be because Egypt doesn’t want anyone to know what is behind that wall?  Nefertiti and her entire family are known for their elongated skulls.

A new discovery, one so public, would be impossible to cover up.  DNA evidence taken from a mummy carries a lot of weight.  Many have theorized that both Tutankhamun parents, Akhenaten and Nefertiti, are ancient aliens, or a lost human species.

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Akhenaten and Nefertiti shown with daughters. All have elongated skulls.

Nefertiti ruled alongside her husband during the 18th dynasty. Following Akhenaten’s death around 1336 BC Nefertiti ruled independently for 14 years.  She was known to be a shrewd military commander as well as a beautiful, graceful woman.  She became Tutankhamen’s guardian and gained further power by marrying him to one of her daughters.

Mystery and intrigue surround her disappearance, because the queen simply vanished from the world scene after the 14th year.  While her tomb has never been found she is said to have been buried with military weapons of gold that lay beside her mirror, fan, and jewels.

In closing Nicholas Reeves said “I was looking for the evidence that would tell me that my initial reading was wrong, but I didn’t find any evidence to suggest that. I just found more and more indicators that there is something extra going on in Tutankhamun’s tomb.”

We can only hope that enough pressure is put on Egypt to allow him to find out.

Written by: Camara Cassin

References:

Fox News: http://www.foxnews.com/science/2016/05/09/archaeologists-clash-in-egypt-over-king-tut-tomb-theory.html

Nicholas Reeves: http://www.nicholasreeves.com/

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nefertiti

 

 

Archaeologists Find Sunken Egyptian City

In an article written by ABC News back in June of 2001, they make mention of an ancient Egyptian city that was discovered 6.5 km off of modern Egypt’s coastline which revealed fascinating relics of Heracleion, also known as Thonis. Lets review…

The city’s ruins are located in Abu Qir Bay, originally existing near Alexandria, 2.5 km off the coast and only 10 metres underwater. According to the classical tale of Heracleion, in the fading days of the pharaohs, the city of Heracleion was the gateway to Egypt. In the 4th century BC, this was an opulent and prosperous place adorned with statues and sphinxes. It was a city of religious significance and home to the temple of Amun. It was engulfed by the sea around 1,500 years ago.

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Using magnetic wave technology, the divers found the basin of what used to be the city’s harbor and electronically surveyed and charted it, finding palaces and temples. Next to the harbor, they found 10 antique shipwrecks.

A coliseum, houses, temples and several other artifacts lay amazingly intact at the bottom of the sea, the archaeologists said. They said they found the statues on the site of what used to be the Great Temple of Herakleion.

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The cities had been known only through ancient writings, such as travelogues and comedies, until Goddio’s team announced its discovery about a year ago. They say they discovered the ruins in 1996. The writings recounted the city’s splendor and decadence, and also referred to a temple dedicated to Heracles — or, in Latin, Hercules — the legendary son of the supreme god Zeus, from whose name the city appears to have taken its name.

The writings put the founding of the city more than 2,300 years ago, before ancient Alexandria was founded in 331 B.C.

What could have caused this sacred city to plunge into the sea? Could this be another example of an antediluvian city wiped out by an ancient cataclysm?

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What lies beneath?

A tantalising clue to the location of a long-sought pharaonic tomb

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NOTHING has inspired generations of archaeologists like the discovery in 1922 of the treasure-packed tomb of Tutankhamun. What if another untouched Egyptian trove lies buried, not in a distant patch of desert, nor even nearby amid the overlapping tomb-shafts of Luxor’s Valley of the Kings, but instead just a millimetre’s distance from plain view?

This is the dramatic hypothesis of a just-published paper by Nicholas Reeves, a British Egyptologist who co-discovered an undisturbed Egyptian tomb in 2000, and who is at the University of Arizona. His key evidence is disarmingly simple, and in fact free to see on the internet in the form of photographs published by Factum Arte, a Madrid- and Bologna-based specialist in art replication that recently created a spectacular, life-sized facsimile of Tutankhamun’s tomb, intended for tourists to visit without endangering the original.

What Mr Reeves found in these ultra-high-resolution images, which reveal the texture of walls beneath layers of paint in the original tomb, was a number of fissures and cracks that suggest the presence of two passages that were blocked and plastered to conceal their existence. (See image, with proposed new areas in yellow.) One of these would probably lead to a storeroom; its position and small size mirror that of an already-uncovered storeroom inside the multi-chambered tomb. The other, bigger possible doorway in the north wall of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber suggests something much more exciting.

There are several oddities about Tutankhamun’s tomb. It is small compared with others in the valley. The objects found in it, while magnificent, seemed hurriedly placed and were found to be largely second-hand; even the boy-king’s famous gilded funerary mask sports the strangely unmanly feature of pierced ears. The tomb’s main axis is angled to the right of the entrance shaft, an arrangement typical of Egyptian queens rather than kings.

Noting that the bigger of the two doorways he may have located aligns perfectly with both sides of the tomb’s entrance chamber, Mr Reeves thinks it could conceal a corridor continuing along the same axis, in the scale and shape of other nearby royal tombs. All this, as well as evidence that the tomb’s decoration and construction were executed at different stages, leads him to conclude that this corridor would lead to the burial chamber of a queen, or perhaps several princesses.

Among the tombs and royal mummies that archaeologists have identified from Tutankhamun’s dynasty, Ancient Egypt’s 18th, there remains one gaping absence. Nefertiti, the wife of Tutankhamun’s father Akhenaten, was not only a famed beauty, as the world knows from her famous bust in Berlin. Her titles indicate that she served as co-regent and possibly also as a pharaoh in her own right after Akhenaten’s death, meaning Nefertiti’s tomb and its contents would be every bit as magnificent as her stepson’s. Indeed, if Mr Reeves is right, what Tutankhamun got was her leftovers; even his face mask might originally have been intended for the queen.

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Tut’s gem hints at space impact?

In 1996 in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Italian mineralogist Vincenzo de Michele spotted an unusual yellow-green gem in the middle of one of Tutankhamun’s necklaces.

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The jewel was tested and found to be glass, but intriguingly it is older than the earliest Egyptian civilisation.

Working with Egyptian geologist Aly Barakat, they traced its origins to unexplained chunks of glass found scattered in the sand in a remote region of the Sahara Desert.

But the glass is itself a scientific enigma. How did it get to be there and who or what made it?

The BBC Horizon programme has reported an extraordinary new theory linking Tutankhamun’s gem with a meteor.

Sky of fire

An Austrian astrochemist Christian Koeberl had established that the glass had been formed at a temperature so hot that there could be only one known cause: a meteorite impacting with Earth. And yet there were no signs of a suitable impact crater, even in satellite images.

American geophysicist John Wasson is another scientist interested in the origins of the glass. He suggested a solution that came directly from the forests of Siberia.

“When the thought came to me that it required a hot sky, I thought immediately of the Tunguska event,” he told Horizon.

In 1908, a massive explosion flattened 80 million trees in Tunguska, Siberia.

Although there was no sign of a meteorite impact, scientists now think an extraterrestrial object of some kind must have exploded above Tunguska. Wasson wondered if a similar aerial burst could have produced enough heat to turn the ground to glass in the Egyptian desert.

Jupiter clue

The first atomic bomb detonation, at the Trinity site in New Mexico in 1945, created a thin layer of glass on the sand. But the area of glass in the Egyptian desert is vastly bigger.

Whatever happened in Egypt must have been much more powerful than an atomic bomb.

A natural airburst of that magnitude was unheard of until, in 1994, scientists watched as comet Shoemaker-Levy collided with Jupiter. It exploded in the Jovian atmosphere, and the Hubble telescope recorded the largest incandescent fireball ever witnessed rising over Jupiter’s horizon.

Mark Boslough, who specialises in modelling large impacts on supercomputers, created a simulation of a similar impact on Earth.

The simulation revealed that an impact could indeed generate a blistering atmospheric fireball, creating surface temperatures of 1,800C, and leaving behind a field of glass.

“What I want to emphasise is that it is hugely bigger in energy than the atomic tests,” said Boslough. “Ten thousand times more powerful.”

Defence lessons

The more fragile the incoming object, the more likely these airborne explosions are to happen.

In Southeast Asia, John Wasson has unearthed the remains of an event 800,000 years ago that was even more powerful and damaging than the one in the Egyptian desert; one which produced multiple fireballs and left glass over three hundred thousand square miles, with no sign of a crater.

“Within this region, certainly all of the humans would have been killed. There would be no hope for anything to survive,” he said.

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Dr Aly Barakat holds up one of the many, huge chunks of glass in the desert

According to Boslough and Wasson, events similar to Tunguska could happen as frequently as every 100 years, and the effect of even a small airburst would be comparable to many Hiroshima bombs.

Attempting to blow up an incoming asteroid, Hollywood style, could well make things worse by increasing the number of devastating airbursts.

“There are hundreds of times more of these smaller asteroids than there are the big ones the astronomers track,” said Mark Boslough. “There will be another impact on the earth. It’s just a matter of when.”

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