Monday, 26 November 2007


Tutankhamun was a Pharaoh of the Eighteenth dynasty (ruled 1333 BC – 1322 BC in the conventional chronology). On this day in 1922 Howard Carter first peered into his tomb. Tutankhamun was only 8 years old when he became pharaoh. He died 11 years later, at age 19. In historical terms, Tutankhamun is of only moderate significance, and most of his modern popularity stems from the fact that his tomb in the Valley of the Kings was discovered almost completely intact. If Tutankhamun is the world's best known pharaoh, it is mainly because his tomb is among the best preserved, and his image and associated artifacts the most-exhibited.

Tutankhamun seems to have faded from public consciousness in Ancient Egypt within a short time after his death, and he remained virtually unknown until the early twentieth century. 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.

On 4 November 1922, after 15 years of searching and being funded, Carter found the steps leading to Tutankhamun's tomb (subsequently designated KV62). He wired his sponsor Lord Carnarvon to come, and on 26 November 1922, with Lord Carnarvon, Carnarvon's daughter, and others in attendance, Carter made the famous "tiny breach in the top left hand corner" of the doorway, and was able to peer in by the light of a candle and see that many of the gold and ebony treasures were still in place. He did not yet know at that point whether it was "a tomb or merely a cache", but he did see a promising sealed doorway between two sentinel statues. When Carnarvon asked him if he saw anything, Carter replied: "Yes, wonderful things".

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 first entered the tomb. However, a recent study of journals and death records indicates no statistical difference between the age of death of those who entered the tomb and those on the expedition who did not. Indeed, most lived past seventy.

On September 24, 2007, it was announced that a team of Egyptian archaeologists led by Zahi Hawass, discovered eight baskets of 3,000 year old doum fruit in the treasury of Tutankhamun's tomb. Doum comes from a type of palm tree native to the Nile Valley. The doum fruit are traditionally offered at funerals. Twenty clay pots bearing Tutankhamun's official seal were also discovered. According to Dr Hawass, the containers probably contain provisions that were destined to travel with the pharaoh to the afterlife. He said the containers will be opened soon. The objects were originally discovered, but not opened or removed from the tomb, by Howard Carter.

King Tutankhamun still resides in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings, in a temperature-controlled glass case. On November 4, 2007, 85 years to the day since Howard Carter's discovery, the actual face of the 19-year-old monarch was put on view in his underground tomb at Luxor, when the linen-wrapped mummy was removed from its stone sarcophagus for display in a climate-controlled glass box. This was done to prevent the heightened rate of decomposition caused by the humidity and heat from tourists visiting the tomb.

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