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Was there really a curse on King Tutankhamen's tomb?

On Feb. 17, 1923, a crowd of about 20 invited g­uests gathered in an antechamber deep within the Valley of the Kings, an elite Egyptian city of the dead. Archaeologists and Egyptian dignitaries were there to view the unsealing of King Tutankhamen's burial chamber. While the tomb's outer rooms had already revealed a treasure trove of Egyptian art and furnishings, excavators were hoping to find something more: the undisturbed mummy of King Tut.

As Howard Carter, the expedition's chief archaeologist, cleared away the stone filling between the two rooms, the assembled audience watched in silence. After 10 drawn-out minutes of work, Carter created a small opening -- just large enough to peer into the chamber and see light bounce off the wall of a solid gold shrine.

While the treasure of Egypt's more prominent kings and queens had long since been looted, Tutankhamen's tomb lay protected for millennia by the debris of an ancient construction project. Although thieves had entered the tomb at least twice, they had never penetrated past the second shrine of the burial chamber.

Over the next several years, Carter would excavate the most famous cache of Egyptian treasure ever found. The burial chamber's nesting shrines, solid gold coffin and famous placid-faced mask would soon eclipse the splendor of the antechamber and annex.

But the excavation of the young king's tomb would also become famous for more ghoulish reasons. By April 1923, only two months after the chamber's unsealing, the project's financier, George Herbert, Lord Carnarvon, died of complications from a mosquito bite. Then his dog died. Then other people connected to the dig began to die under suspicious circumstances.

Rumors began to spread that Carnarvon and the others had stirred up the "mummy's curse," a Pharaonic hex dooming those who disturbed the rest of the dead kings and queens. An inscription supposedly carved on Tutankhamen's tomb warned that "Death will come on swift pinions to those who disturb the rest of the Pharaoh" [source: Ceram].

So is there any truth behind the curse? Can you really get sick from an ancient tomb? In the next section, we'll find out if the curse had any supernatural or scientific basis.

The European and American public, already stricken by Egyptomania, seized upon the idea of the curse. Newspapers sensationalized the deaths of people connected with the expedition or its principles. Richard Bethell, Howard Carter's assistant Bethell's father, Lord Westbury A.C. Mace, Carter's partner and Lady Elizabeth Carnarvon were all victims of the so-called "Revenge of the Pharaohs" [source: Ceram]. Judging by the list of victims, native Egyptians were not affected by the curse.

Carter, as famous for surviving the mummy's curse (at least until his death in 1939) as he is for discovering Tutankhamen's tomb, hated the sensationalism that surrounded the excavation. He was deeply disturbed by the public's willingness to be taken in by superstition. Carter even tried to argue that Pharaonic curses had no place in Egyptian death rituals. Tomb inscriptions sometimes contained protective formulas, messages meant to frighten off enemies from this world or beyond, but usually just wished the dead well.

In 1933, a German Egyptologist, Professor Georg Steindorff, wrote a pamphlet on Pharaonic curses, attempting to debunk the myth -- while also riding on its coattails. He studied the lives and deaths of the "victims," determining that many had never been near the dig and had only tenuous connections to the principle archaeologists or financiers.

But like all good curses, that of Tutankhamen's tomb stuck around in the public's imagination. Eighty years after the tomb's discovery, the British Medical Journal published a scientific study of the mummy's curse. Mark R. Nelson of Monash University, Australia, examined the survival rates of 44 Westerners identified by Carter as being in Egypt during the examination of the tomb.

Nelson assumed that because the curse was a "physical entity," it had power over only those physically present during the opening of a chamber or coffin (thus removing Lord Carnarvon's dog from the roster of victims) [source: BMJ]. Nelson defined several specific dates of exposure: the Feb. 17, 1923, opening of the third door, the Feb. 3, 1926, opening of the sarcophagus, the Oct. 10, 1926, opening of the coffins and the Nov. 11, 1926, examination of the mummy. For people who were present at more than one opening or examination, Nelson accounted for their increased exposure.

Out of 44 identified Westerners, 25 were present during an opening or examination. These 25 lived an average of 20.8 years after exposure, while the unexposed lived 28.9 years. The mean age at death for the exposed was 70 years and 75 for the unexposed. Nelson determined that the results proved there was no curse [source: BMJ].

But what if there's a scientific explanation for the phenomena some mistook as a curse? Can a tomb make an already sick person sick enough to die? Find out on the next page.

Could you really get sick from an ancient tomb?

Supernatural explanations for the mummy's curse may have been discredited by careful translations of protective formulas, study of Egyptian death rituals and even modern investigations, but the myth of the curse refuses to quit. Some still believe that there may be a scientific explanation for Lord Carnarvon's death that links it to Tutankhamen's tomb. The financier died from erysipelas, a bacterial infection that was brought on by a mosquito bite. This led to septicaemia, or blood poisoning, and pneumonia. Could exposure to toxic pathogens in the tomb have killed the already ailing man?

Carter maintained that the tomb was free from "bacillary agents," but modern studies show that respiratory-attacking bacteria are sometimes present in ancient tombs [source: Ceram]. Sarcophagi can also contain formaldehyde, hydrogen sulfide and ammonia gas -- all agents that assault the lungs. Ancient meat, vegetable and fruit funerary offerings, not to mention preserved human bodies, can attract dangerous molds like Aspergillus niger and Aspergillus flavus while bat droppings can grow fungus.

But regardless of the potential for nasty microorganisms, experts don't think Lord Carnarvon's death was tomb-related. He died in the excavation's off-season, the time of year when it's too hot to dig in Egypt. He had been exposed to any potential bacteria, fungus or mold months before his illness.

Carter also maintained that the conditions of the tomb were more sanitary than most of 1920s Egypt -- that essentially, Lord Carnarvon was more likely to pick up a bacterial infection in modern Cairo, where he died, than in Tutankhamen's sequestered tomb. And even if a person were to catch an infection from a tomb, it would be nearly impossible to tell whether the agents that caused the infection were, in fact, ancient.

But regardless of the tomb's bacillary contents, any ancient grave undoubtedly lends itself to a good ghost story.

For more information on mummies, ghosts and other spooky topics, be sure to visit the next page.

The fascination with King Tutankhamen's tomb, curse and treasure extends to his own death. What killed the ruler? A 1968 X-ray showed a hole in the mummy's cranium, leading to the popular assumption that Tutankhamen was murdered. However, modern CT scans revealed greater detail, allowing scholars to recreate his face and deflate the theory of murder by blunt force. Scientists now believe archaeologists caused the hole when they removed Tut's famous mask. The CT scan also revealed a broken leg -- probably not life threatening and potentially caused by embalmers. The otherwise healthy teenager could have been poisoned but, for now at least, Dr. Zahi Hawass, Egypt's chief archaeologist, has closed the case on the boy king. In 2010, scientists used DNA studies and CT scans to suggest that Tut, who was also inbred and sickly, died of malaria and a degenerative bone condition called avascular bone necrosis -- all potentially exacerbated by a leg fracture [source: Wilford].

Latest research

According to the latest research by the British Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves, Tutankhamun's funeral mask would have been designed for a pharaoh, probably his mother the famous and beautiful Queen Nefertiti.

This discovery is based upon carefully examining an inscription in the funeral mask. It can be seen that the names of Tutankhamun were written on previously carved symbols, which correspond to the titles given to Queen Nefertiti.

The importance of this finding is that to know the location of the tomb of Tutankhamen, could solve one of the greatest mysteries of Egyptology: where Nefertiti is buried.

It is most likely that the beautiful mother of Tutankhamun was buried anonymously and without honor of Pharaoh. Nefertiti would have been deprived of its titles by the ideological conflict that was lived in Egypt at the time, between the monotheism and the polytheism.

Thus the beautiful mask of Tutankhamun is not only the most important symbol of Egyptian art, but also an authentic witness of one of the most convoluted times in the history of Ancient Egypt.

The Discovery of King Tut&rsquos Tomb

In November of 1922, after a search that had lasted for over a decade, Egyptologist Howard Carter discovered the tomb of pharaoh Tutankhamen, in Egypt&rsquos Valley of the Kings. He sent a telegram to the chief financier of his archaeological expeditions, George Herbert, 5 th Lord of Carnarvon, urging him to hurry to Egypt to witness the opening of the tomb in person. After his patron arrived later that month, Howard Carter proceeded to carefully excavate the site, and on November 29 th , 1922, the tomb was opened.

Howard Carter examining Tutankhamen&rsquos coffin. Odd Salon

After making his way through a tunnel, Carter reached the main burial chamber. There, he made a hole in a sealed door, then thrust a candle inside. After a pause, an eager Lord Carnarvon asked him &ldquocan you see anything?&rdquo He received the reply &ldquoYes, wonderful things!&rdquo As Carter described it later: &ldquoas my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues, and gold &ndash everywhere the glint of gold&ldquo. The following day, the dramatic discovery was announced to the press, catapulting Carter and Tutankhamen to global fame.

The burial chamber was dominated by four shrines, surrounding the pharaoh&rsquos granite sarcophagus. Within were three coffins, nestled inside one another, with the outer two being made of gilded wood, while the innermost one was composed of about 250 pounds of solid gold. It contained the mummified body of Tutankhamen, adorned with a funerary gold mask that weighed about 25 pounds. That death mask, with features simultaneously so familiar and yet so exotic, became the best known symbol of Ancient Egypt.

Wooden bust recovered from Tutankhamen&rsquos tomb. Wikimedia

In addition, there were about 5400 other items in the tomb. They ran the gamut, and included a throne, wine jars, statues of various gods and of the king, and even two fetuses that subsequent DNA examination revealed to have been the stillborn offspring of Tutankhamen. It would take Carter nearly a decade before he could finish cataloguing them them all. Amazingly, the rich haul was what was left over after ancient robbers had twice tunnelled their way into the tomb. Both times, the robbery was discovered, and the tunnels filled in.

The find triggered a wave of Egyptomania. Tutankhamen came to be known as &ldquoKing Tut&rdquo &ndash a name that was soon appropriated by businesses to brand various products. Ancient Egyptian references made their way into popular culture, and musical hits such as &ldquoOld King Tut&rdquo became all the rage. Even US president Herbert Hoover caught the Tutankhamen bug, and named his pet dog King Tut. Subsequent research has revealed, however, that while Tutankhamen is undoubtedly the most famous Egyptian pharaoh today, he was one of the least significant pharaohs back in Ancient Egypt.

Who was Tutankhamun: the history and curiosities of Pharaoh

1. Life of Tutankhamun

Tut-anj-Aten, whose name changed to Tut-anj-Amon with the end of the "Amarna heresy", is the last representative of royal blood of the XVIII Egyptian dynasty , fundamental fact to know who was Tutankhamun. It is believed that the pharaoh was born in 1341 a.C. and died in 1323 a.C., during his reign approximately nine years, between 1332 a.C. and 1323 a.C.

His parents were Pharaoh Akenaton and one of his secondary wives , possibly called Kiya, who was the sister of father and mother of Pharaoh Akenaton. When his father died, Tutankhamun ascended the throne with only 8 years , after an interim of one year in which he ruled another pharaoh named Semenejkara, possibly husband of his older sister Meritaton.

Detail of the back of the throne of Tutankhamun. The young king is seen next to his wife Anjesenamón

The young Tutankhamun was married to another of his half sisters , call Anjesenamon , that was the daughter of Nefertiti. The girl was 3 or 4 years older than him and when he married he received the title of "Great Royal Wife". Tutankhamun had two daughters who were born dead or died at birth as evidenced by the DNA tests performed on two small mummies found in two anthropoid coffins in the tomb of Tutankhamun.

During his reign the old cult was restored and the new capital consecrated by his father was abandoned and he returned to Thebes. There is practically no record of military activities, but there are some restorations in temples and buildings made at that time.

Tutankhamun died in 1323 a. C. at 19 years old , approximately, and there are several hypotheses about the causes of Pharaoh's death. It was the last of royal blood of the XVIII dynasty since they happened to him the father of Nefertiti, Ay, and later a general and possibly son-in-law of Ay, called Horemheb, that did not have descendants.

2. Curiosities of Tutankhamun

Tutankhamun stone sarcophagus

In this section of the article, we suggest that we learn together some curiosities that will bring us closer to who Tutankhamun was. Will you know any of them?

  • The IGENEA institute in Zurich reconstructed the genetic profile of Tutankhamun and obtained as a result that it belongs to the R1b1a2 halogroup. Surprisingly, this halogroup 70% of Spanish men share it and British. If you are a Spanish male, the chances that you are a relative of Tutankhamun, is 70%! Throughout Western Europe 50% of males have a common ancestor since they belong to that halogroup.

  • According to the tests carried out on Tutankhamun's mummy, this one it would measure 1.73 m. Tall and would be of thin build, although well fed.
  • Tutankhamun he broke his leg , possibly falling from a battle car, shortly before dying, which has led to one of the hypotheses about his death: an infection derived from the injuries suffered.

  • DNA tests performed on Tutankhamun's mummy pointed out that the young pharaoh suffered from malaria.
  • The tomb of Tutankhamun was placed in such a way that the constellation of Orion remains above the entrance . This fact is not fortuitous since the ancient Egyptians believed that Osiris was the god of the future life and in this way he watched King Tutankhamun for all eternity.
  • Tutankhamun's tomb was small for what is usual in the pharaohs . It only had 4 rooms. The greatest treasures were found in the burial chamber. Among them is the tutankhamun mask, which has become a symbol of Pharaoh.

Facts About King Tut

  • The Pharaoh Tutankhamun was born around 1343 BC
  • His father was the heretic Pharaoh Akhenaten and his mother is thought to be Queen Kiya and his grandmother was Queen Tiye, Amenhotep III’s chief wife
  • Originally, Tutankhamun was known as Tutankhaten he changed his name when he restored Egypt’s traditional religious practices
  • The name Tutankhamun translates as “living image of Amun
  • Tutankhamun ruled for nine years during Egypt’s post-Amarna period c. 1332 to 1323 BC
  • Tutankhamun ascended to Egypt’s throne when he was just nine years old
  • He died at the young age of 18 or 19 in c.1323 BC
  • Tut returned harmony and stability to Egyptian society after his father Akhenaten’s turbulent reign
  • The splendour and vast wealth of the artifacts found in Tutankhamun’s burial fascinated the world and continues attracting huge crowds to the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo
  • An advanced medical inspection of Tutankhamun’s mummy revealed he had a club foot and bone issues
  • Early Egyptologists pointed to damage to Tutankhamun’s skull as evidence he was murdered
  • More recent evaluations of Tutankhamun’s mummy revealed the embalmers inflicted this damage when they removed Tutankhamun’s brain
  • Similarly, other injuries resulted from his body’s forcible removal from his sarcophagus in 1922 when Tutankhamun’s head was separated from his body and the skeleton was physically prised loose from the bottom of the sarcophagus.
  • To this day, stories abound of a mysterious curse, which falls upon anyone who enters Tutankhamun’s tomb. This curse is credited with the deaths of nearly two-dozen people associated with his magnificent tomb’s discovery.

What’s in a Name?

Tutankhamun, which translates as “living image of [the god] Amun,” was also known as Tutankhamen. The name “King Tut” was an invention of the newspapers of the time and perpetuated by Hollywood.

Family Lineage

Evidence suggests Tutankhamun was born around c.1343 BC. His father was the heretic Pharaoh Akhenaten and his mother is thought to be Queen Kiya, one of Akhenaten’s minor wives and possibly his sister.

By the time of Tutankhamun’s birth, the Egyptian civilization was nearing 2,000 years of continual existence. Akhenaten had imperilled this continuity when he abolished Egypt’s old gods, closed the temples, imposed the worship of a single god Aten and moved Egypt’s capital to a new, purpose-built capital Amarna. Egyptologists have come to refer to this period of Egyptian history towards the end of the 18th dynasty as the post-Amarna period.

Initial research by archaeologists into King Tut’s life suggested he belonged to the Akhenaten lineage. One reference discovered at the imposing Aten temple at Tell el-Amarna suggested to Egyptologists that Tutankhamun was in all probability the son of Akhenaten and one of his numerous wives.

Advances in modern DNA technology have been supported these historical records. Geneticists have tested samples taken from the mummy believed to be that of the Pharaoh Akhenaten and compared it to samples taken from Tutankhamun’s preserved mummy. DNA evidence supports the Pharaoh Akhenaten as Tutankhamun’s father. Moreover, the mummy of one of Akhenaten’s minor wives, Kiya, was connected to Tutankhamun by DNA testing. Kiya is now accepted as King Tut’s mother.

Additional DNA testing has connected Kiya, known also as the “Younger Lady,” with the Pharaoh Amenhotep II and Queen Tiye. Evidence suggests Kiya was their daughter. This also means Kiya was Akhenaten’s sister. This is further evidence of the ancient Egyptian tradition of intermarriage between members of the royal family.

Tutankhaten’s wife Ankhesenpaaten was around five years older than Tutankhaten when they married. She was previously married to her father and is believed by Egyptologists to have had a daughter with him. Ankhesenpaaten is believed to have been just thirteen when her half-brother took the throne. Lady Kiya is thought to have died early in Tutankhaten’s life and he subsequently lived with his father, stepmother and numerous half-siblings in the palace at Amarna.

When they excavated Tutankhamun’s tomb, Egyptologists discovered a lock of hair. This was later matched with Tutankhamun’s grandmother, Queen Tiye, Amenhotep III’s chief wife. Two mummified fetuses were also found inside Tutankhamun’s tomb. DNA profiling indicates they were the remains of Tutankhamun’s children.

As a child, Tutankhamun had been married to Ankhesenamun his half-sister. Letters written by Ankhesenamun following King Tut’s death include the statement “I have no son,” suggesting King Tut and his wife produced no surviving children to continue his lineage.

Tutankhamun’s Nine-Year Reign

Upon his ascension to the Egyptian throne, Tutankhamun was known as Tutankhaten. He grew up in his father’s royal harem and married his sister at a young age. At this time his wife Ankhesenamun was called Ankhesenpaaten. King Tutankhaten was crowned as pharaoh at nine years of age in Memphis. His reign lasted from c. c. 1332 to 1323 BC.

Following of the Pharaoh Akhenaten’s death, a decision was taken to reverse Akhenaten’s religious reforms and revert to the old gods and religious practices, which worshipped Aten and a host of other deities rather than Amun alone. Both Tutankhaten and Ankhesenpaaten changed their official names to reflect this change in state religious policy.

Politically, this act effectively reconciled the young couple with the entrenched forces of the state representing the vested interests of establishment religious cults. In particular, this bridged the divide between the royal family and the wealthy and influential cult of Aten. In King Tut’s second year on the throne, he relocated Egypt’s capital from Akhenaten back to Thebes and reduced the status of the state god Aten to that of a minor deity.

Medical evidence and surviving historical records indicate Tutankhamun died at 18 or 19 years of age in only his ninth year on the throne. As King Tut was just a child when crowned and ruled for a comparatively short time, analysis of his reign indicated his impact on Egyptian culture and society was minor. During his reign, King Tut benefited from the protection of three dominant figures, the general Horemheb, Maya the treasurer and Ay the divine father. These three men are believed by Egyptologists to have shaped many of the pharaoh’s decisions and overtly influenced his pharaoh’s official policies.

As was to be expected, most of the construction projects commissioned by King Tutankhamun remained unfinished at his death. Later pharaohs had the task of completing the additions to the temples and shrines ordered by Tutankhamun and replaced his name with their own cartouches. Part of the Luxor temple at Thebes comprises construction work initiated during Tutankhamun’s reign yet bears Horemheb’s name and title, even though although Tutankhamun’s name is still evident in some sections.

The Search for Tutankhamun’s Tomb KV62

By the early 20th-century archaeologists had discovered 61 tombs in the Valley of the Kings outside Thebes. Their excavation produced tombs with elaborate wall inscriptions and colourful paintings, sarcophaguses, coffins and a host of grave goods and funerary items. Popular opinion was that this area had been fully excavated by competing expeditions of archaeologists, amateur historians and their wealthy gentleman investors. No major discoveries were thought to be waiting to be discovered and other archaeologists moved on to alternative locations.

Surviving historical records from the time of King Tutankhamun held no mention of the location of his tomb. While archaeologists discovered several tantalising clues in the tombs of others suggesting Tutankhamun was indeed buried in the Valley of the Kings, nothing was found to substantiate a location. Edward Aryton and Theodore Davis unearthed three artifacts referring to Tutankhamun’s location in the Valley of the Kings during several excavations conducted from 1905 through to 1908. Howard Carter pieced these scant clues together as he searched for the elusive pharaoh. A key part of Carter’s deductive reasoning was that Tutankhamun made efforts to restore Egypt’s traditional religious practises. Carter interpreted these policies as further evidence Tutankhamun’s tomb was waiting to be discovered inside the Valley of the Kings.

After six years of fruitless excavations in his search for the elusive pharaoh, which sorely tested the commitment of Lord Carnarvon Carter’s sponsor, Carter made one of the richest and most significant archaeological discoveries of all time.

Wonderful Things

In November 1922, Howard Carter found himself with his final chance to discover King Tutankhamun’s tomb. Just four days into his final dig, Carter moved his team to the base of Ramesses VI’s tomb. Diggers uncovered 16 steps leading to a resealed doorway. Carter was confident of the identity of the owner of the tomb he was about to enter. King Tut’s name appeared all over the entrance.

Resealing the tomb indicated the tomb had been raided by tomb robbers in antiquity. Details found in the tomb’ interior showed ancient Egyptian authorities had entered the tomb and restored it to order before resealing it. Following that incursion, the tomb had lain untouched for the intervening thousands of years. Upon opening the tomb, Lord Carnarvon asked Carter if he could see anything. Carter’s reply “Yes, wonderful things” has gone down in history.

Having worked their way methodically through a staggering amount of precious grave goods, Carter and his team entered the antechamber of the tomb. Here, two life-size wooden statues of King Tutankhamun guarded his burial chamber. Within, they discovered the first intact royal burial ever to have been excavated by Egyptologists.

Tutankhamun’s Magnificent Sarcophagus and Mummy

Four beautifully gilded, intricately decorated funerary shrines protected King Tutankhamun’s mummy. These shrines were designed to provide protection for Tutankhamun’s stone sarcophagus. Inside the sarcophagus, three coffins were discovered. The two outer coffins were beautifully gilded, while the innermost coffin was fashioned from gold. Inside Tut’s mummy lay covered with a breath-taking death mask made of gold, protective amulets and ornate jewellery.

The amazing death mask itself weighs just over 10 kilograms and depicts Tutankhamun as a god. Tutankhamun cradles the symbols of the royal rule over Egypt’s two kingdoms, the crook and the flail, together with the nemes headdress and the beard linking Tutankhamun with the god Osiris Egyptian god of life, death and the afterlife. The mask is set with precious lapis lazuli, coloured glass, turquoise and precious gems. Inlays of quartz were used for the eyes and obsidian for the pupils. On the back and shoulders of the mask are inscriptions of gods and goddesses and powerful spells from the Book of the Dead, the ancient Egyptian guide for the soul’s journey in the afterlife. These are arranged two horizontal and ten vertical lines.

The Mystery of King Tutankhamun’s Death

When King Tut’s mummy was initially discovered, archaeologists found evidence of trauma to his body. The historical mystery surrounding King Tut’s death unleashed numerous theories centred on murder and palace intrigue amongst the Egyptian royal family. How did Tutankhamun die? Was Tutankhamun murdered? If so, who was the primary suspect for the murder?

Those initial examinations by a team led by Dr Douglas Derry and Howard Carter failed to identify a clear cause of death. Historically, many Egyptologists accepted his death was a result of a fall from a chariot or a similar accident. Other more recent medical examinations query this theory.

Early Egyptologists pointed to damage to Tutankhamun’s skull as evidence he was murdered. However, the more recent evaluation of Tutankhamun’s mummy revealed the embalmers inflicted this damage when they removed Tutankhamun’s brain. Similarly, the injuries to his body resulted from its forcible removal from his sarcophagus during the 1922 excavation when Tutankhamun’s head was separated from his body and the skeleton was brutally prised loose from the bottom of the sarcophagus. The resin used to preserve the mummy caused it to stick to the bottom of the sarcophagus.

These medical studies have indicated King Tutankhamun’s health was never robust during his life. Scans showed Tutankhamun suffered from a clubfoot complicated by a bone disorder requiring the aid of a cane to walk. This may explain the 139 gold, silver, ivory and ebony walking canes discovered inside his tomb. Tutankhamun also suffered from bouts of malaria.

Preparing King Tut for the Afterlife

Tutankhamun’s status as an Egyptian pharaoh necessitated a highly elaborate embalming process. Researchers estimate his embalming took place sometime between February and April following his death and required several weeks to complete. Embalmers removed King Tutankhamun’s internal organs, which were preserved and placed in alabaster Canopic jars for burial in his tomb.

His body was then dried using natron. His embalmers then treated with an expensive mixture of herbs, unguents and resin. The pharaoh’s body was then covered in fine linen, to both preserve his body shape in preparation for its journey into the afterlife and to preserve it to ensure the soul could return to it every evening.

Remnants of the embalming process were discovered in the vicinity of Tutankhamun’s tomb by archaeologists. This was custom for the ancient Egyptians who believed all traces of the embalmed body should be preserved and buried with it.

Water vessels typically used during purifying funeral rites were found in the tomb. Some of these vessels are delicate and frail. A variety of bowls, plates and dishes, which once contained offerings of food and drink were also found in Tutankhamun’s tomb.

King Tut’s tomb was covered with elaborate mural paintings and furnished with ornate objects, including chariots and superb gold jewellery and slippers. These were the everyday objects King Tut would be expected to use in the afterlife. Accompanying the valuable funerary objects were highly preserved remnants of rennet, blue cornflowers, picris and olive branches. These were decorative plants in ancient Egypt.

The Treasures of King Tut

The burial of the young pharaoh contained a phenomenal treasure trove of over 3,000 individual artifacts, the majority of which were created from pure gold. King Tutankhamun’s burial chamber alone held his multiple golden coffins and his exquisite golden death mask. In a nearby treasury chamber, guarded by an imposing figure of Anubis, god of mummification and the afterlife, held a golden shrine housing the Canopic jars containing King Tut’s preserved internal organs, wonderful jewelled chests, ornate examples of personal jewellery, and model boats.

In all, it took ten years to painstakingly cataloguing the enormous number of funerary items. Further analysis revealed Tut’s tomb was hastily prepared and occupied a significantly smaller space than usual given the scope of his treasures. King Tutankhamun’s tomb was a modest 3.8 metres (12.07 feet) high, 7.8 metres (25.78 feet) wide and 30 metres (101.01 feet) long. The antechamber was in total chaos. Dismantled chariots and golden furniture were haphazardly piled into the area. Additional furniture together with jars of food, wine oil and ointments were stored in Tutankhamun’s annex.

Ancient attempts at tomb robbing, a quick burial and the compact chambers, help explain the chaotic situation inside the tomb. Egyptologists suspect the Pharaoh Ay, King Tut’s replacement, accelerated Tut’s burial to smooth his transition to Pharaoh.

Egyptologists believe that in their haste to complete Tut’s burial, Egyptian priests entombed Tutankhamun before the paint on his tomb walls had time to dry. Scientists discovered microbial growth on the tomb walls. These indicate the paint was still wet when the tomb was finally sealed. This microbial growth formed dark spots on the tomb’s painted walls. This is yet another unique aspect of King Tut’s tomb.

King Tutankhamun’s Curse

The newspaper frenzy surrounding the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s lavish burial treasures converged in the imaginations of the popular press with the romantic notion of a handsome young king dying an untimely death and a series of events following the discovery of his tomb. Swirling speculation and Egyptmania create the legend of a royal curse upon anyone who entered Tutankhamun’s tomb. To this day, popular culture insists those who come into contact with Tut’s tomb will die.

The legend of a curse started with the death of Lord Carnarvon from an infected mosquito bite five months after the tomb’s discovery. Newspaper reports insisted that at the precise moment of Carnarvon’s death all Cairo’s lights went out. Other reports say Lord Carnarvon’s beloved hound dog howled and dropped dead in England at the same time as its master died. Prior to the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb, mummies were not considered cursed but were seen as magical entities.

Reflecting on the Past

King Tutankhamun’s life and reign were short. However, in death, he captured the imagination of millions with the magnificence of his opulent burial, while a spate of deaths amongst those who discovered his tomb spawned the legend of the mummy’s curse, which has enthralled Hollywood ever since.

Erasing Tutankhamen: Horemheb’s Attempt to Rewrite History

In an attempt to rewrite history, Horemheb usurped monuments made by previous pharaohs and inscribed his own name on them. (Image: JMSH photography/Shutterstock)

The Ninth and Tenth Pylons

Like every pharaoh, Horemheb wanted to show that he is a great builder. Like other pharaohs before him, he built a great pylon, a gateway, for himself at Karnak. He actually built two pylons, called the ninth and tenth pylons. How did he build this pylons?

Akhenaten built temples at Karnak for Aten. After Akhenaten passed away, these temples reminded people of the bad times, of how the pharaoh had tried to enforce monotheism. In an effort to erase the memory of Akhenaten’s heresy, Horemheb took down Akhenaten’s temple, and filled his ninth pylon with the blocks of this temple.

This is a transcript from the video series History of Ancient Egypt. Watch it now, on Wondrium.

Erasing Tutankhamen’s Name

Horemheb also usurped all of Tutankhamen’s monuments. Every monument that Tutankhamen had been advised to erect, Horemheb had the young pharaoh’s name erased and his own inserted in its place. That is why it is so hard to find any information about Tutankhamen.

So, Horemheb was trying to systematically erase all trace of Tutankhamen, who was also seen as being associated with the heresy of his father, Akhenaten. There are so many monuments that were originally erected by Tutankhamen, from which the name of the young pharaoh has been obliterated.

The Restoration Stela

Tutankhamen erected a stela, like all Egyptian kings had done in the past. It is called the ‘Restoration Stela’, because of what it says. As the name suggests, the inscription on the stela talks about restoring old traditions. “When I became king, the temples were in disarray. There were weeds growing in them. All the statues of the gods had been melted down. The military was not respected. If it rode off, nobody attended.”

All pharaohs used to erect stelas to talk about what they thought and did. (Image: Claudio Caridi/ Shutterstock)

Tutankhamen is really saying in this inscription that Egypt had gone downhill under Akhenaten’s reign. In the end, he says, “I will restore it all. I have had new statues of the gods made. The temples are open again.” Despite the fact that Akhenaten was his father, Tutankhamen had to make this announcement because this is what the people wanted to hear.

But Horemheb, as soon as he became the king, had put his name on the stela. One will not find Tutankhamen’s name on it. If one looks at the cartouche on the stela, it will say “Horemheb”.

The Luxor Colonnade

There is another monument that was very important for Tutankhamen, but one cannot find Tutankhamen’s name there. It’s called the Luxor Colonnade. When Tutankhamen’s grandfather Amenhotep III died, he left a monument unfinished. He had started a hall with tall columns, which is why it is called a colonnade. He had built it at Luxor Temple.

When Akhenaten moved to Akhetaten, he left behind his father’s undecorated and unfinished monument. When Tutankhamen moved back from Akhetaten to Thebes, Aye probably advised him to finish this monument. Why? Tutankhamen would have wanted to be associated with his grandfather—whom everybody loved—rather than his heretic father. So, Tutankhamen’s major project during the 10 years of his reign was restoring and completing the Luxor colonnade.

The Opet Festival

Tutankhamen had the artists put scenes from the ‘Opet Festival’ on the Luxor colonnade. Opet festival was the most sacred festival in Egypt. He did this to show to the people of Egypt that he was a traditionalist. It can be read as his declaration of not associating himself with his father, but with his grandfather.

The three major gods of Thebes during this time were Amun, ‘the Hidden One’, Mut, his wife, and Khonsu, their ram-headed son. These gods had statues at Karnak Temple. Karnak Temple is only about a mile and a half away from Luxor Temple. And once a year, during the festival of Opet, the statues of Amun, Mut and Khonsu, would be placed in a little boat shrine and taken from Karnak to Luxor, where they would spend a fortnight or so.

The work on the colonnade at the Luxor temple was begun by Amenhotep III and completed by Tutankhamen. (Image: Dmitri Kalvan/ Shutterstock)

During the festival, people saw the statues of the gods and arrangements were made for food and drink as well. And the king paid for it all. It was a wonderful town feast. That is what Tutankhamen had made the artists put on the Luxor colonnade.

The Opet festival declared to the subjects that their pharaoh, Tutankhamen was bringing back the old traditions. Tutankhamen took part in this festival. We know this from the scenes in the Luxor temple that show Tutankhamen making offerings to the gods.

Rewriting History

If one looks very carefully at the Luxor colonnade, one can’t find Tutankhamen’s name. His name has been erased from the monument and one finds Horemheb’s name, instead.

Horemheb was the traditionalist who tried to restore old order in Egypt. And what he had to do for official reasons, at least what he attempted to do, was erase all traces of the Akhenaten’s heresy. So, he wiped out everything, including Aye’s name. We are left with no traces, no real official records of Akhenaten, Tutankhamen, and Aye.

Horemheb had rewritten history to erase his heretic predecessors and establish himself as a true pharaoh, who had restored the old order.

Common Questions about Horemheb’s Attempt to Rewrite History

When Horemheb built the Ninth pylon at Karnak, he took down the temple built by Akhenaten, and filled the pylon with the broken blocks of Akhenaten’s temple.

Horemheb was trying to systematically erase all trace of Tutankhamen and his father Akhenaten because Akhenaten was seen as a heretic king by many.

The Restoration Stela was originally erected by Tutankhamen to declare his intention to restore traditional ways in Egypt. Later, Horemheb replaced Tutankhamen’s name from this stela with his.

King Tut Mysteries Solved: Was Disabled, Malarial, and Inbred

"Frail boy" needed cane, says study, which also found oldest genetic proof of malaria.

King Tut may be seen as the golden boy of ancient Egypt today, but during his reign, Tutankhamun wasn't exactly a strapping sun god.

Instead, a new DNA study says, King Tut was a frail pharaoh, beset by malaria and a bone disorder—his health possibly compromised by his newly discovered incestuous origins. (King Tut Pictures: DNA Study Reveals Health Secrets.)

The report is the first DNA study ever conducted with ancient Egyptian royal mummies. It apparently solves several mysteries surrounding King Tut, including how he died and who his parents were.

"He was not a very strong pharaoh. He was not riding the chariots," said study team member Carsten Pusch, a geneticist at Germany's University of Tübingen. "Picture instead a frail, weak boy who had a bit of a club foot and who needed a cane to walk."

Regarding the revelation that King Tut's mother and father were brother and sister, Pusch said, "Inbreeding is not an advantage for biological or genetic fitness. Normally the health and immune system are reduced and malformations increase," he said.

Short Reign, Lasting Impact of King Tut

Tutankhamun was a pharaoh during ancient Egypt's New Kingdom era, about 3,300 years ago. He ascended to the throne at the age of 9 but ruled for only ten years before dying at 19 around 1324 B.C. (Pictures: "King Tut's Face Displayed for First Time.")

Despite his brief reign, King Tut is perhaps Egypt's best known pharaoh because of the wealth of treasures—including a solid gold death mask—found during the surprise discovery of his intact tomb in 1922. (See pictures of King Tut tomb treasures or see them in person in Toronto through April 30.)

The new study, published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, marks the first time the Egyptian government has allowed genetic studies to be performed using royal mummies.

"This will open to us a new era," said project leader Zahi Hawass, the Secretary General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) and a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. (National Geographic News is part of the National Geographic Society.)

"I'm very happy this is an Egyptian project, and I'm very proud of the work that we did."

(See "King Tut: Unraveling the Mysteries of Tutankhamun"—a 2005 National Geographic magazine report on forensic studies that recreated Tut's face, among other developments.)

King Tut's Close-Knit Family

In the new study, the mummies of King Tut and ten other royals that researchers have long suspected were his close relatives were examined. Of these ten, the identities of only three had been known for certain.

Using DNA samples taken from the mummies' bones, the scientists were able to create a five-generation family tree for the boy pharaoh.

The team looked for shared genetic sequences in the Y chromosome—a bundle of DNA passed only from father to son—to identify King Tut's male ancestors. The researchers then determined parentage for the mummies by looking for signs that a mummy's genes are a blend of a specific couple's DNA.

In this way, the team was able to determine that a mummy known until now as KV55 is the "heretic king" Akhenaten—and that he was King Tut's father. Akhenaten was best known for abolishing ancient Egypt's pantheon in favor of worshipping only one god.

Furthermore, the mummy known as KV35 was King Tut's grandfather, the pharaoh Amenhotep III, whose reign was marked by unprecedented prosperity.

Preliminary DNA evidence also indicates that two stillborn fetuses entombed with King Tut when he died were daughters whom he likely fathered with his chief queen Ankhensenamun, whose mummy may also have finally been identified. (See "King Tut Tomb Fetuses May Reveal Pharaoh's Mother.")

Also, a mummy previously known as the Elder Lady is Queen Tiye, King Tut's grandmother and wife of Amenhotep III.

King Tut's mother is a mummy researchers had been calling the Younger Lady.

While the body of King Tut's mother has finally been revealed, her identity remains a mystery. DNA studies show that she was the daughter of Amenhotep III and Tiye and thus was the full sister of her husband, Akhenaten.

Some Egyptologists have speculated that King Tut's mother was Akhenaten's chief wife, Queen Nefertiti—made famous by an iconic bust (Nefertiti-bust picture). But the new findings seem to challenge this idea, because historical records do not indicate that Nefertiti and Akhenaten were related.

Instead, the sister with whom Akenhaten fathered King Tut may have been a minor wife or concubine, which would not have been unusual, said Willeke Wendrich, a UCLA Egyptologist who was not involved in the study.

"Egyptian pharaohs had multiple wives, and often multiple sons who would potentially compete for the throne after the death of their father," Wendrich said.

Inbreeding would also not have been considered unusual among Egyptian royalty of the time.

King Tut Plagued by Malaria, Required Cane

The team's examination of King Tut's body also revealed previously unknown deformations in the king's left foot, caused by the necrosis, or death, of bone tissue.

"Necrosis is always bad, because it means you have dying organic matter inside your body," study team member Pusch told National Geographic News.

The affliction would have been painful and forced King Tut to walk with a cane—many of which were found in his tomb—but it would not have been life threatening.

Malaria, however, would have been a serious danger.

The scientists found DNA from the mosquito-borne parasite that causes malaria in the young pharaoh's body—the oldest known genetic proof of the disease.

The team found more than one strain of malaria parasite, indicating that King Tut caught multiple malarial infections during his life. The strains belong to the parasite responsible for malaria tropica, the most virulent and deadly form of the disease.

The malaria would have weakened King Tut's immune system and interfered with the healing of his foot. These factors, combined with the fracture in his left thighbone, which scientists had discovered in 2005, may have ultimately been what killed the young king, the authors write.

Until now the best guesses as to how King Tut died have included a hunting accident, a blood infection, a blow to the head, and poisoning.

UCLA's Wendrich said the new finding "lays to rest the completely baseless theories about the murder of Tutankhamun." (Related: "King Tut Not Murdered Violently, CT Scans Show" [2005].)

King Tut's Father Not "Egyptian Quasimodo"

Another speculation apparently laid to rest by the new study is that Akhenaten had a genetic disorder that caused him to develop the feminine features seen in his statutes, including wide hips, a potbelly, and the female-like breasts associated with the condition gynecomastia. (See "Men With Breasts: Benign Condition Creates Emotional Scars.")

When the team analyzed Akhenaten's body using medical scanners, no evidence of such abnormalities were found. Hawass and his team concluded that the feminized features found in the statues of Akenhaten created during his reign were done for religious and political reasons.

In ancient Egypt, Akhenaten was a god, Hawass explained. "The poems said of him, 'you are the man, and you are the woman,' so artists put the picture of a man and a woman in his body."

Egyptologist John Darnell of Yale University called the revelation that Akhenaten's appearance was not due to genetic disorders "the most important result" of the new study.

In his book Tutankhamun's Armies, Darnell proposes that Akhenaten's androgynous appearance in art was an attempt to associate himself with Aten, the original creator god in Egyptian theology, who was neither male nor female.

"Akenhaten is odd in his appearance because he belongs to the time of creation, not because he was physically different," said Darnell, who also did not participate in the DNA research.

"People will now need to consider Akenhaten as a thinker, and not just as an Egyptian Quasimodo."

(Read more about Akhenaten in National Geographic magazine's "Pharaohs of the Sun.")

"Beautiful DNA" Found in King Tut Study

The generally good condition of the DNA from the royal mummies of King Tut's family surprised many members of the team.

Indeed, its quality was better than DNA gathered from nonroyal Egyptian mummies several centuries younger, study co-author Pusch said.

The DNA of the Elder Lady, for example, "was the most beautiful DNA that I've ever seen from an ancient specimen," Pusch said.

The team suspects that the embalming method the ancient Egyptians used to preserve the royal mummies inadvertently protected DNA as well as flesh. (Related: "King Tut Move Designed to Save Mummy.")

"The ingredients used to embalm the royals was completely different in both quantity and quality compared to the normal population in ancient times," Pusch explained.

Preserving DNA "was not the aim of the Egyptian priest of course, but the embalming method they used was lucky for us."

Discovery Of His Tomb

The tomb was discovered by Howard Carter, an archaeologist who had spent five years exploring the Valley of the Kings. Carter and his team found the entrance to the tomb in November 1922. Once they finally got inside, Carter was astounded by the treasures that he found inside. Over 5,000 items were found inside including chariots, gold jewelry, clothes, a gold coffin, a gold death mask, weapons, and a gold throne. The discovery sparked what some call Tut-mania in the western world. Artifacts from the tomb toured museums around the world and inspired numerous films and fashion.


If Tutankhamun is the world's best known pharaoh, it is largely because his tomb is among the best preserved, and his image and associated artifacts the most-exhibited. As Jon Manchip White writes, in his foreword to the 1977 edition of Carter's The Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamun, "The pharaoh who in life was one of the least esteemed of Egypt's Pharoahs has become in death the most renowned."

The discoveries in the tomb were prominent news in the 1920s. Tutankhamen came to be called by a modern neologism, "King Tut". Ancient Egyptian references became common in popular culture, including Tin Pan Alley songs the most popular of the latter was "Old King Tut" by Harry Von Tilzer from 1923, which was recorded by such prominent artists of the time as Jones & Hare and Sophie Tucker. "King Tut" became the name of products, businesses, and even the pet dog of U.S. President Herbert Hoover.

Relics from Tutankhamun's tomb are among the most traveled artifacts in the world. They have been to many countries, but probably the best-known exhibition tour was The Treasures of Tutankhamun tour, which ran from 1972 to 1979. This exhibition was first shown in London at the British Museum from 30 March until 30 September 1972. More than 1.6 million visitors saw the exhibition, some queuing for up to eight hours. It was the most popular exhibition in the Museum's history. [ citation needed ] The exhibition moved on to many other countries, including the USA, USSR, Japan, France, Canada, and West Germany. The Metropolitan Museum of Art organized the U.S. exhibition, which ran from 17 November 1976 through 15 April 1979. More than eight million attended.

In 2004, the tour of Tutankhamun funerary objects entitled Tutankhamen: The Golden Hereafter, consisting of fifty artifacts from Tutankhamun's tomb and seventy funerary goods from other 18th Dynasty tombs, began in Basel, Switzerland and went on to Bonn, Germany, on the second leg of the tour. This European tour was organised by the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), and the Egyptian Museum in cooperation with the Antikenmuseum Basel and Sammlung Ludwig. Deutsche Telekom sponsored the Bonn exhibition. [70]

In 2005, Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, in partnership with Arts and Exhibitions International and the National Geographic Society, launched a tour of Tutankhamun treasures and other 18th Dynasty funerary objects, this time called Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs. It featured the same exhibits as Tutankhamen: The Golden Hereafter in a slightly different format. It was expected to draw more than three million people. [71]

The exhibition started in Los Angeles, then moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Chicago and Philadelphia. The exhibition then moved to London [72] before finally returning to Egypt in August 2008. An encore of the exhibition in the United States ran at the Dallas Museum of Art from October 2008 to May 2009. [73] The tour continued to other U.S. cities. [74] After Dallas the exhibition moved to the de Young Museum in San Francisco, followed by the Discovery Times Square Exposition in New York City. [75]

In 2011, the exhibition visited Australia for the first time, opening at the Melbourne Museum in April for its only Australian stop before Egypt's treasures returned to Cairo in December 2011. [76]

The exhibition included 80 exhibits from the reigns of Tutankhamun's immediate predecessors in the Eighteenth dynasty, such as Hatshepsut, whose trade policies greatly increased the wealth of that dynasty and enabled the lavish wealth of Tutankhamun's burial artifacts, as well as 50 from Tutankhamun's tomb. The exhibition does not include the gold mask that was a feature of the 1972&ndash1979 tour, as the Egyptian government has decided that damage which occurred to previous artifacts on tours precludes this one from joining them. [77]

A separate exhibition called Tutankhamun and the World of the Pharaohs began at the Ethnological Museum in Vienna from 9 March to 28 September 2008, showing a further 140 treasures. [78] Renamed Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs, the exhibition toured the US and Canada from November 2008 to 6 January 2013. [79]

Watch the video: Tutankhamuns Treasures Full Episode. Lost Treasures of Egypt (January 2022).