Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Mysterious Boy-King

Copyright © Egypt, Cradle of Civilization

Was it a natural death or was he murdered? After almost 3,000 years and with very little evidence and so many conspiracy theories it's hard to determine exactly how the boy-king died! 28 years ago after X-rays were taken of his mummy by the anatomy department of the University of Liverpool everyone was convinced that Tutankhamun died of unnatural causes, presumably a blow to the back of the head.

The main suspect was Aye, his vizier in conspiracy with Horemheb, the commander-in-chief of the army. Seeming to gain from the king's death, Aye succeeded, ruling Egypt for 4 years before he died and was then succeeded by Horemheb. Both were powerful men who were present during the reign of King Tut. But they both would have had no reason to murder him since he was young and did not hold much authority and they were probably making the decisions any way. And as it happened, Tutankhamun had no enemies; he was loved by the priests and the population because he was the one to re-establish the religion of Amun-Re after the death of his heretic father Akhenaten, who outlawed it, replacing it with the monotheistic worship of Aten.

Tutankhamun belonged to the Eighteenth dynasty and ruled Egypt at a time of turbulence. Originally Tutankhaten, meaning the "Living Image of Aten", was changed when he came to power to Tutankhamun, meaning the "Living Image of Amun". Tutankhamun was the son of Akhenaten also known as Amenhotep ΙV, and his minor wife Queen Kiya. He came to reign at the age of 9 and at the age of 13 married Ankhesenamun, who was probably his half-sister, as it is recorded that Ankhesenamun as one of the six daughters of Akhenaten and Nefertiti. At the age of 19 the king died suddenly and was buried in a crammed tomb in the "Valley of the Kings", now known as Al-Amarna. The Valley of the Kings was declared a World Heritage Site in 1927, it lies on the west bank just across the Nile from Thebes (modern Luxor), and is the valley where, for 500 years, tombs for kings of the New Kingdom were constructed.

KV62 (the tomb of Tutankhamun) was first discovered, by the British archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922, who came upon it by chance. The tomb remains the only royal Egyptian tomb discovered in modern times virtually intact. The rubble that concealed the tomb and its occupant protected it for over 30 centuries, preserving its treasures from grave robbers of antiquity who looted so many other tombs. His tomb was robbed at least twice in antiquity, but from the items taken (including perishable oils and perfumes) and the evidence of restoration of the tomb after the intrusions, it is clear that these robberies took place within several months at most of the initial burial.

The tomb of Tutankhamun consists of 3 chambers within which is crammed thousands of masterpieces of jewelry, furniture, and art objects. Over 5000 artifacts, the treasures included four nested boxes, or shrines, of gilded wood, then three mummy-shaped coffins (two gilded and one of solid gold) all inside a red quartzite sarcophagus. But the most significant finding was the mummy of King Tut himself, with a stunning mask of gold covering his head and shoulders. More so this was a first in modern history, the discovery of the mummy of an Egyptian king, lying intact in his original burial furniture.

To remove the jewelry and amulets from the body, Carter and his team had to cut up the mummy into various pieces: the arms and legs were detached, the torso cut in half and the head was severed. Hot knives were used to remove it from the golden mask to which it was cemented by hardened embalming resin. This had taken its toll on the mummy's condition and is one of the reasons why it is difficult to conclude how Tutankhamun died exactly.

King Tutankhamun still rests in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings, in a temperature-controlled glass case. But his world tour "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs" back from London this August, is currently touring the U.S.A, starting this 15th of November it will be at the Atlanta Civic Center through to May of 2009. The exhibition is organized by National Geographic, Arts and Exhibitions International and AEG Exhibitions, with cooperation from the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities. The tour's proceeds will help raise money to preserve Egypt’s treasures, including the construction of the new Cairo museum (the GEM) which is expected to house 100,000 exhibits making it larger than the British Museum.