Friday, April 1, 2011

King Tut

Tutankhaten was born in about 1341 B.C. His parents were Akhenaten, who was the current pharaoh of Egypt, and Kiya, one of his wives. Akhenaten died in 1332 B.C. though, and Tutankhaten became the new pharaoh! age nine. Other people ran Egypt for him until he was a little older, much like Peter the Great who inherited his Russian Empire at ten and whose mother basically ran the show for a while. As soon as Tutankhaten was crowned, he married Ankhesenamun. OK, for those who saw the new version of The Mummy with Brendan Fraser, her name is pronounced like the chick that the mummy was trying to bring back to life. OK, so he got married pretty young, but to make it even weirder, she was his half-sister and daughter of his father and his main wife, Nefertiti. Gross.

King Tut didn't make many important decisions as pharaoh, though he did let his advisers enact a few things. Unlike where Peter the Great's mother ran the show, Tut's top adviser, Ay, and the head of the military, Horemheb, basically ran everything. Tut's father had tried to replace the ancient Egyptian religious system of gods like Ra, Osiris, and Anubis, with a single, previously minor god named Aten. That's actually how Tutankhaten got his name. It meant "the living image of Aten." Ay and Horemheb didn't like this and after two years of Tut ruling, changed everything back to Ra decor. Statues, pillars, curtains, bedsheets and everything. They then changed Tutankhaten's name to Tutankamen, which means "living image of Amun." Amun was the god of air.

In 1323 B.C., at the age of 18, Tut died. He didn't leave any heirs, so Ay, his top adviser became the de facto leader. This was of course after he married Tut's wife. Oh, I forgot to mention that Ay was Ankhesenamun's (Tut's wife) grandfather. Egyptians are weird. Since Tut was considered a crumb bum of a pharaoh who didn't do anything, his mummified body was relegated to a small, out-of-the-way tomb in the Valley of the Kings, home to all the pharaohs' tombs. Over the years, stone chips that had crumbled off other tombs buried Tut's. The tombs of the Valley of the Kings were looted during the 11th century B.C., but Tut's was spared because nobody knew it was there.

So why is King Tut basically the most famous ancient Egyptian in the western world? Well, the 1922 discovery of his nearly entirely intact tomb by British researcher Howard Carter was a major world event. Carter's team had found a lot of treasure around the sarcophagus and took that and the treasure back to the British Museum. Carter removed Tut's burial mask-which is basically what we associate King Tut with-by peeling it off with scalding hot knives. The team then basically looted the unwrapped mummified corpse. While they were stealing all of Tut's treasures, they noticed that Tut had a large indentation in his head, which lead the discoverers to speculate that Tut was murdered, most likely by Ay.

This was what people thought til 2005. It was at this time that they put the mummified body through a series of CT scans and were able to decipher what the boy king looked like. He was 5'11", had an overbite, an elongated skull, and a slightly cleft palate. This is also when the team discovered that the indentation was actually a hole that had been drilled into the King's head, likely by an embalmer who'd removed Tut's brain. The scan revealed that there were a series of fractures to Tut's left thigh bone, likely caused during a fall, probably from a horse. It turns out that Tut died from the wound getting infected, which caused blood poisoning. So, whatever you do kids, don't ride horses, for they are the killer of Kings! So, it turns out there was no foul play, Tut just sucked at horseback riding. Today's King Tut's body rests in its tomb in a museum in the Valley of the Kings. The corpse is unwrapped and sits in a climate-controlled glass case. You can also see a computerized recreation of what Tut's face actually looked like.

What about that curse though? Well, this was fueled by the fact that a bunch of people who were there when Carter opened the tomb, or visited the tomb later, either died a few years after, or had massive amounts of bad luck. First was Lord Carnarvon. He was bitten by a mosquito, scratched it with his razor and then died of blood poisoning due to infection. This was strange back then, but considering what Tut died of, this is even stranger now. Speculation arose that it was a curse from King Tut for disturbing his tomb. This made people all around the world go crazy. In 1925, the anthropologist Henry Field, accompanied by Breasted, visited the tomb and recalled the kindness and friendliness of Carter. He also reported how a paperweight given to Carter's friend Sir Bruce Ingham was composed of a mummified hand with its wrist adorned with a scarab bracelet marked with, "Cursed be he who moves my body. To him shall come fire, water and pestilence." Soon after receiving the gift, Ingram's house burned down, followed by a flood when it was rebuilt. Some people just don't listen. Next to die from the group was George Jay Gould, who caught a fever after visiting the tomb a year later and abruptly died. Carter died in 1939, though of Lymphoma, which led people to believe that he was part of the curse. Five other people who had visited the tomb or been there the day of its opening died within a year or two, but many think the curse is nonsense since there were over fifty people who were at the excavation, and the rest were fine. Whether or not the curse of King Tut is true or not, it's still a fascinating story, and one that I loved reading when I was young.

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