Tuesday, March 1, 2016


The famous gold mask from the mummy of Tutankhamun.
Ask many people today to name a famous Egyptian ruler, and you’ll probably hear the name “King Tut” a.k.a. Tutankhamun. Most, however, are likely unaware that until his tomb was discovered in the Valley of the Kings in 1922, he was known to Egyptologists as not much more than an obscure pharaoh who followed a particularly disruptive period in Egyptian politics, religion and culture.  Ascending the throne as a child, one can be quite sure he wasn’t making the important decisions needed to return Egypt to its former stability.  More likely, Tut was a puppet king manipulated by those of power and influence.   The discovery of his virtually intact tomb (now designated KV62), though, made him a household name which continues still almost 100 years later.

We have been working just around the corner from Tut's tomb and it's amazing to contemplate that it remains perhaps the most amazing archaeological discovery of all time.  Given its popularity, I thought it might be interesting to present a few fascinating but little known facts:

- The terms “intact” and “unplundered” are often applied to the tomb.  There is, however, evidence that the tomb was probably lightly pilfered at least twice in ancient times.  If the robbers were apprehended, the punishment would have been severe.  The tomb’s long-time survival over three millennia was assisted by it being buried deeply under flash-flood debris, and being covered with chippings from a large tomb later constructed above . The tomb contained an immense quantity of well-preserved objects which now take up an enormous amount of display space in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.  Curiously, over 90 years after the tomb’s discovery, most of these artifacts have yet to be formally studied and published to scholarly standards.

The Valley of the Kings. Tut's tomb is situated in the lower right hand corner of this image.
- The tomb has been open to visitors for years.  It’s quite small and its layout is simple: just a set of stairs leading to four rooms.  Visitors can look over a railing and view the burial chamber where Tut’s stone sarcophagus remains with the outermost of his three nesting coffins visible beneath a sheet of glass.  His mummy is on display – not a pretty sight - in a glass case in the first chamber with only his head and bare feet visible.   As one might expect, KV 62 is very popular with tourists and they are required to purchase a special ticket for the experience.  All of the traffic, though, is having an impact and during February this year, a team from the Getty Institute was busy at work conserving the paintings in the burial chamber, the only room in the tomb with  decorated walls.  In another effort to preserve the tomb, a Spanish company, Factum Arte, made detailed high-resolution scans of the tomb’s walls in order to produce an exact replica that could be used to reduce traffic in the original.  The replica opened to the public in 2014 at a site a couple of miles from the Valley of the Kings.  It is hoped that will take some tourist pressure off the original.

- In what is becoming a HUGE story, my good friend, Nicholas Reeves, has proposed that there are two additional rooms hidden behind the burial chamber’s painted walls, perhaps even concealing another burial.  His idea is based on his study of the high-resolution scans along withother data including studies of other royal tombs.  With the cooperation of the Egyptian government, radar scans were conducted in November 2015 and the results will likely be announced in the next few months.  No matter the results, Nick should be congratulated for his new creative approach to studying a very old tomb.

- We’re not sure how Tutankhamun died but there are a lot of theories including murder, disease, a chariot wreck, and even a fatal bite from a hippo.  What we do know is there was no curse associated with King Tut’s tomb.  The hoax was apparently a fabrication of a journalist needing a story while the tomb was still being investigated. The best evidence against such a curse is that Howard Carter, the man who discovered the KV 62 and worked there for years, died in 1939, seventeen years after he first entered the tomb.  One might expect him to be the first to go!

- The discovery of the tomb and subsequent international touring exhibitions of a selection of its objects was an international sensation that inspired a variety of cultural phenomena and a general fascination with ancient Egypt.  This phenomenon is called “Tutmania” and some of my favorite manifestations of such are novelty songs such as “Old King Tut Was A Wise Old Nut” and of course, Steve Martin’s “King Tut” in which it is claimed that the boy king “gave his life for tourism.”  Perhaps the most classic tune is “Old King Tut” written by William Jerome and Harry Von Tizler in 1923. What it lacks in historical accuracy it makes up for with a catchy chorus.  An excerpt:

“Three thousand years ago, King Tutty reigned you know.
He must have traveled greatly in his time.
For in his tomb out there, was gold and silverware,
From big hotels of every land and clime.
While going through his royal robes they found up in his sleeve,
The first fig leaf that Adam gave to Eve…”

“A thousand girls would dance each day,
With lots of hip-hip-hip-hooray,
In old King Tut-Tut-Tut-Tut-Tut-Tut, King Tutty's Day”

Here's a classic rendition by Sophie Tucker:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJQIryIXmac

1 comment:

  1. What's been the average number of tourists to visit the East Valley in recent times?