A Tale of Three Tombs and the Irrelevance of Peer Review


The most recent news update on the subject informs us that Egyptian officials – presumably from the Antiquities Ministry – are now 90% sure that there is a hidden chamber in Tutankhamun’s tomb. It seems likely that if this recess exists, it houses the undisturbed tomb of Queen Nefertiti, so this would unquestionably be one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time if it is true.

As you’ll see from the contents of the link I’ve provided, the views of the Egyptian officials are based on the detailed theories and observations of an English archaeologist by the name of Nicholas Reeves. The collective body of evidence he’s assembled thus far is sufficiently convincing to make the Egyptian authorities give an official pronouncement and to speak with optimism about the likelihood of discovering another undisturbed royal tomb, so with this in mind, I was amazed to see the final sentence in the BBC report, which reads “His theory has yet to be peer-reviewed and leading Egyptologists have urged caution over the conclusion.”

What on Earth does peer review have to do with this matter and what possible relevance does it possess? Either there  is a previously unnoticed recess concealed behind the north wall of Tutankhamun’s tomb or there isn’t, while it seems to me that no amount of deliberation by other experts is ever going to prove the matter one way or the other.

By another one of those cosmic coincidences, we learned of an almost identical matter just a few days ago, when archaeologists from the University of Reading announced that they had excavated the site where, in 1191, monks from Glastonbury claimed to have discovered the graves of King Arthur and his wife Guinevere. I suppose you could argue that the archaeologists had ‘peer-reviewed’ the announcement made by these long-dead monks, but if so, they did it not by means of indulging in interminable arguments, but by excavating the site in question. They discovered that the precise location described by the monks was a pit containing material that dated from the 11th to the 15th centuries, making it virtually impossible that it had once held the remains of notable figures from the Dark Ages, but the mystery was only resolved by excavation, not by conjecture – informed or otherwise – or by peer review.

Over the years, I’ve learned that some people can become very heated indeed by matters such as this. During the time that I was writing at length about Stonehenge, I published some lengthy and extremely detailed essays dealing with subjects such as the location of the ‘lost’ altar stone from the monument, the notion that Vespasian’s Camp was once the City of Apollo as described by Pytheas of Massilia, the earliest depiction of Stonehenge, the idea that the obscure mediaeval poem “The Ruin” had been written with Stonehenge in mind and numerous others.

Many of these publications and theories were taken up by the local, national and international media, to the delight of all those who yearned for original material on Stonehenge from a credible source that was crammed with convincing detail. At the same time, there was a small but highly vocal sector who consistently screamed blue murder when I had the sheer gall to publish my thoughts on these matters, on the dubious grounds that I hadn’t tugged my forelock, scraped and bowed, then sheepishly submitted them for peer review first.

Even if I had been inclined to do so in a fit of temporary madness, the matter was further complicated by my detractors complaining that I wasn’t a proper archaeologist because I didn’t possess A Degree in Archaeology, so if this were the case, then I’m at a complete loss as to who my peers might therefore be and what contribution even a favourable judgement from such people might make towards ultimately solving the mysteries in question. Fortunately for my peace of mind, I really couldn’t care less about all this, because it’s more than sufficient for me to be content with what I wrote and when I wrote it, and that’s pretty much an end of the matter.

I’ve already mentioned Queen Nefertiti and King Arthur, so the final tomb to which I’ve alluded in the title of this post is Silbury Hill, that huge, strange mound that was reputed to be the last resting place of King Sil or King Zil. Modern technology has failed to locate any hidden chamber in which the remains of this prehistoric king may be buried and I doubt that any such hidden space exists; nonetheless, I have my own many reasons for believing that King Zil lies buried somewhere within the vastness of this unparalleled earthwork, so it’s something else I really should write about.

Once again, no amount of peer review will make the slightest difference to this, because I’m either right or else I’m wrong, a judgement that can only be passed long after I’ve gone to join the ancestors, when either the hill has finally crumbled, laying bare everything it had concealed for millennia, or else when scientists have discovered a means of looking through the monument as if it were made of glass, like the enigmatic fortress described in the Spoils of Annwn.

“Cerca Trova”.
Giorgio Vasari.


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