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boy-kingTutankhamun was an Egyptian pharaoh of the 18th dynasty (ruled ca. 1332–1323 BC), during the period of Egyptian history known as the New Kingdom.   He is popularly referred to as King Tut. His original name, Tutankhaten, means “Living Image of Aten”, while Tutankhamun means “Living Image of Amun”. In hieroglyphs, the name Tutankhamun was typically written Amen-tut-ankh, because of a scribal custom that placed a divine name at the beginning of a phrase to show appropriate reverence. He is possibly also the Nibhurrereya of the Amarna letters, and likely the 18th dynasty king Rathotis who, according to Manetho, an ancient historian, had reigned for nine years.

The 1922 discovery by Howard Carter and George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon of Tutankhamun’s nearly intact tomb received worldwide press coverage. It sparked a renewed public interest in ancient Egypt, for which Tutankhamun’s burial mask, now in Cairo Museum, remains the popular symbol. Exhibits of artifacts from his tomb have toured the world. In February 2010, the results of DNA tests confirmed that he was the son of Akenaten (mummy KV55) and Akhenaten’s sister and wife (mummy KV35YL), whose name is unknown but whose remains are positively identified as “The Younger Lady” mummy found in KV35.

Tutankhamun was the son of Akhenaten (formerly Amenhotep IV) and one of Akhenaten’s sisters, or perhaps one of his cousins. As a prince he was known as Tutankhaten. He ascended to the throne in 1333 BC, at the age of nine or ten, taking the throne name Nebkheperure. His wet-nurse was a woman called Maia, known from her tomb at Saqqara. A teacher was most likely Sennedjem. Given his age, the king probably had very powerful advisers, presumably including General Horemheb and the Vizier Ay. Horemheb records that the king appointed him “lord of the land” as hereditary prince to maintain law. He also noted his ability to calm the young king when his temper flared.

Evidence of his success is suggested by the gifts from various countries found in his tomb. Despite his efforts for improved relations, battles with Nubians and Asiatics were recorded in his mortuary temple at Thebes. His tomb contained body armor and folding stools appropriate for military campaigns. However, given his youth and physical disabilities, which seemed to require the use of a cane in order to walk, historians speculate that he did not personally take part in these battles.

Tutankhamun was slight of build, and was roughly 180 cm (5 ft. 11 in) tall. He had large front incisors and an overbite that was characteristic of the Thutmosid royal line to which he belonged. Between September 2007 and October 2009, various mummies were subjected to detailed anthropological, radiological, and genetic studies as part of the King Tutankhamun Family Project. It was determined that none of the mummies of the Tutankhamun lineage has a cephalic index of 75 or less, that Tutankhamun actually has a cephalic index of 83.9, indicating brachycephaly, and that none of their skull shapes can be considered pathological. The research also showed that Tutankhamun had “a slightly cleft palate” and possibly a mild case of scoliosis, a medical condition in which the spine is curved from side to side.

There are no surviving records of Tutankhamun’s final days. What caused Tutankhamun’s death has been the subject of considerable debate. Major studies have been conducted in an effort to establish the cause of death.

Although there is some speculation that Tutankhamun was assassinated, the consensus is that his death was accidental. A CT scan taken in 2005 showed that he had suffered a left leg fracture shortly before his death, and that the leg had become infected. DNA analysis conducted in 2010 showed the presence of malaria in his system, leading to the belief that malaria and Kohler disease II combined led to his death. On September 14, ABC News presented a further theory about Tutankhamun’s death, developed by lecturer and surgeon Dr. Hutan Ashrafian, who believed that temporal lobe epilepsy caused a fatal fall which also broke Tutankhamun’s leg.

Research conducted in 2005 by archaeologists, radiologists, and geneticists, who performed CT scans on the mummy, found that he was not killed by a blow to the head, as previously thought. New CT images discovered congenital flaws, which are more common among the children of incest. Siblings are more likely to pass on twin copies of harmful genes, which is why children of incest more commonly manifest genetic defects. It is suspected he also had a partially cleft palate, another congenital defect.

In late 2013, scientists from the Cranfield Institute performed a “virtual autopsy” of Tutankhamun, revealing a pattern of injuries down one side of his body. Car-crash investigators then created computer simulations of chariot accidents. They concluded that Tutankhamun was killed in a chariot crash: a chariot smashed into him while he was on his knees, shattering his ribs and pelvis. There was evidence that Tutankhamun’s body was burnt while sealed inside his coffin. Embalming oils combined with oxygen and linen had caused a chemical reaction, creating temperatures of more than 7002473150000000000♠200 °C. The charring and possibility that a botched mummification led to the body spontaneously combusting shortly after burial was entirely unexpected.

A further investigation, in 2014, revealed that it was unlikely he had been killed in a chariot accident. Scans found that all but one of his bone fractures, including those to his skull, had been inflicted after his death. The scans also showed that he had a partially clubbed foot and would have been unable to stand unaided, thus making it unlikely he ever rode in a chariot; this was supported by the presence of many walking sticks among the contents of his tomb. Instead, it is believed that genetic defects arising from his parents being siblings, complications from a broken leg and his suffering from malaria, together caused his death.

In historical terms, Tutankhamun’s significance stems from the fact that his reign was close to the apogee of Egypt as a world power and from his rejection of the radical religious innovations introduced by his predecessor and father, Akhenaten. Secondly, his tomb in the Valley of the Kings was discovered almost completely intact—the most complete ancient Egyptian royal tomb ever found. As Tutankhamun began his reign at such an early age, his vizier, and eventual successor Ay, was probably making most of the important political decisions during Tutankhamun’s reign.

Kings were venerated after their deaths through mortuary cults and associated temples. Tutankhamun was one of the few kings worshiped in this manner during his lifetime. A stela discovered at Karnak and dedicated to Amun-Ra and Tutankhamun indicates that the king could be appealed to in his deified state for forgiveness and to free the petitioner from an ailment caused by sin. Temples of his cult were built as far away as in Kawa and Faras in Nubia.

Tutankhamun was buried in a tomb that was small relative to his status. His death may have occurred unexpectedly, before the completion of a grander royal tomb, so that his mummy was buried in a tomb intended for someone else. This would preserve the observance of the customary seventy days between death and burial.   King Tutankhamun’s mummy supposedly still rests in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings. On November 4, 2007, 85 years to the day after the discovery, the 19-year-old pharaoh went on display in his underground tomb at Luxor, when the linen-wrapped mummy was removed from its golden sarcophagus to a climate-controlled glass box. The case was designed to prevent the heightened rate of decomposition caused by the humidity and warmth from tourists visiting the tomb.

His tomb was robbed at least twice in antiquity, but based on the items taken (including perishable oils and perfumes) and the evidence of restoration of the tomb after the intrusions, it seems clear that these robberies took place within several months at most of the initial burial. Eventually the location of the tomb was lost because it had come to be buried by stone chips from subsequent tombs, either dumped there or washed there by floods. In the years that followed, some huts for workers were built over the tomb entrance, clearly not knowing what lay beneath. When at the end of the 20th Dynasty the Valley of the Kings burials were systematically dismantled, the burial of Tutankhamun was overlooked, presumably because knowledge of it had been lost and his name may have been forgotten.

For many years, rumors of a “Curse of the Pharaohs” (probably fueled by newspapers seeking sales at the time of the discovery persisted), emphasizing the early death of some of those who had entered the tomb. However, a recent study of journals and death records indicated no statistical difference between the age of death of those who entered the tomb and those on the expedition who did not.   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. “The pharaoh who in life was one of the least esteemed of Egypt’s Pharaohs has become, in death, the most renowned.”

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. 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. 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 November 1976 through April 1979. More than eight million attended. I was fortunate that I was able to get to see the exhibition at the Met. It was so fascinating and intriguing.  The exhibition includes 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 1972–1979 tour, as the Egyptian government has determined that the mask is too fragile to withstand travel and will never again leave the country.

 Kathy Kiefer

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