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Tutankhamun: The Boy Pharaoh

The first tomb found by modern-day archaeologists that still contained treasure.


Of all the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, Tutankhamun is the most famous. This is due to the unprecedented wealth of artefacts found in his tomb, which was "discovered" by British archaeologist Howard Carter, in 1922, some 3000 years after Tutankhamun's death. The quantity of objects astounded archaeologists who had until then not found a tomb still containing treasures.

In Ancient Egypt death was regarded as a crossing point between two lives. Beyond death, Tutankhamun would continue his life as a pharaoh and so his tomb was filled with everything he'd need. These included thrones, jewellery and chariots as well as practical items such as furniture and food. Tutankhamun's famous death mask, which covered the face of his mummy, was made from two sheets of gold, inlaid with coloured glass, carnelian and lapis lazuli.

The archaeologists took ten years to empty out Tutankhamun's tomb. Before anything was removed, it was numbered, described on a record card and photographed in position. It took two and a half years to clear out the burial chamber alone. The objects were first taken to another tomb at the far end of the Valley of the Kings, where they were cleared of dust and detailed notes made. They were then wrapped and packed into crates, pushed in the blistering sun eight kilometres along a railway track down to the Nile and shipped to Cairo, where they were put on display in the Egyptian Museum, where they have been admired by millions of people.

And what of the curse of Tutankhamun? The death (from pneumonia) of Lord Carnarvon, who'd sponsored Carter's dig, led to newspapers inventing a story that hieroglyphics in the tomb said it was cursed (Death Shall Come on Swift Wings To Him Who Disturbs the Peace of the King) and that anyone who entered it would die. And, indeed, a few people who had visited the site or were connected with the excavation team did die. One of these was an American businessman, Jay Gould, who caught a cold while visiting the tomb and subsequently died of pneumonia. But most people didn't. Carter lived until 65.

Ironically, very little is known about Tutankhamun's life because he was the son of Akhenaten, a pharaoh who was declared a heretic (he introduced a new religion, the worship of Aten, and banned other gods and closed temples) and records mentioning him and his successors were destroyed by officials. It is known that Tutankhamun became pharaoh at the tender age of nine, in 1336BCE, that he married his half-sister, Ankhesenamun, didn't have children who survived, and died suddenly in 1327BCE in the ninth year of his reign. Some Egyptologists believe he was murdered by his successor Ay. An X-ray done in 1968 shows a piece of bone within Tutankhamun's skull, which could have been caused by a fall, a hit on the head, or during the mummification. Like so much about Tutankhamun, we'll never know for sure.


It seems King Tutankhamun wasn't murdered after all, but died from a broken leg. According to National Geographic (December 2006) a new CT scan of King Tutankhamun's mummy "showed a thin coating of embalming resin around the leg break, suggesting that Tut broke his leg just before he died and that his death may have resulted from an infection or other complications."

Team leader, Ashraf Selim, who is a radiologist at the the Cairo University's teaching hospital, is quoted as saying: "The resin flowed through the wound and got into direct contact with the fracture and became solidified, something we didn't see in any other area". No signs of healing of the bone had been found and, without antibiotics, "the probability of a severe infection resulting from such a break would be quite high".

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