Tutankhamun (originally Tutankhaton) was an ancient Egyptian king (pharaoh) of the 18th Dynasty (New Kingdom) who ruled from about 1332 to 1323 BC. He became known when Howard Carter discovered his nearly unplundered tomb (KV62) in the Valley of the Kings in 1922.
The archaeologist and former secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, had searched for fragments of a block from Hermopolis for renewed investigations in the magazine for the purpose of proving Tutankhamun”s parenthood, the inscription of which reads: Son of the king from his body, loved by him, Tut-anchu-Aton. The block had already been published in 1969 after it had been discovered during the excavations in Hermopolis (1929-1939) by Günther Roeder and other members of the German Hermopolis Expedition. The inscription identifies Tutankhamun (here still Tutankhaton) as the son of an unnamed king, but the inscription on the block names not only Tutankhamun but also his sister Anchesenpaaton. However, the part of the block is badly damaged, which is why the name of Anchesenpaaton could only be inferred, but for both royal children it must point to Akhenaten as father, since Anchesenpaaton is demonstrably indicated as daughter of Akhenaten in further inscriptions. Zahi Hawass was already convinced in 2008 before the DNA analysis carried out in 2010 that only Akhenaten was possible as the father of Tutankhamun. The DNA analysis of 2010 confirmed this assumption, which was also held by numerous other Egyptologists.
A CT scan revealed that the identified person from grave KV55 died at about 35 to 45 years of age. Earlier estimates assumed a younger age. Zahi Hawass stated that, in combination with the inscription, it is now proven beyond doubt that the person from tomb KV55 is Akhenaten and thus Tutankhamun”s father. The female mummy KV35YL (since she was buried with another mummy whose name was “Elder Lady”) from tomb KV35 was identified according to the investigations not only as Tutankhamun”s mother but also as the sister of the mummy from KV55. The name is unknown at present, but the motherhood is proven.
Doubts were occasionally expressed about the reliability of DNA analysis to the effect that the test results may contain some uncertainties due to the age and possible contamination of the samples. As sole evidence, they would not allow a flawless identification. So far, Queen Nefertiti, her daughter Maketaton or Akhenaten”s concubine Kija have been suspected as possible mothers. In Sakkara (Bubasteion) is the tomb of Maia, who was demonstrably Tutankhamun”s wet nurse.
According to the current findings about Tutankhamun”s origin, he had at least six sisters-half-sisters: Meritaton, Maketaton, Anchesenpaaton, Neferneferuaton tascherit, Neferneferure and Setepenre. Uncertain is the assignment of Semenchkare in the family relationships, who is often regarded as a brother-half-brother.
Wife and children
Tutankhamun”s Great Royal Wife was Anchesenamun (originally called Anchesenpaaton), daughter of Akhenaten and thus a sister or half-sister of Tutankhamun.
There are no findings that prove through inscriptions that Tutankhamun and Anchesenamun had children. The two mummified fetuses found in his tomb, one premature and one stillborn, were thought to be his daughters. However, this was not considered certain because a large number of objects from the Amarna period were found in Tutankhamun”s tomb as well as in KV55, so that the fetuses might also have been taken from a tomb at Amarna. From the circumstance of the find alone such a close relationship (father-daughter) could only be assumed.
The results of DNA examinations published in February 2010 finally showed that both child mummies were almost certainly Tutankhamun”s daughters. After completion of the investigations the mummy KV21A from tomb KV21 is considered to be the mother of both fetuses, but so far this mummy could not be genetically confirmed as the daughter of the mummy from KV55, which is considered to be Akhenaten. Therefore, it is uncertain whether this mummy is Tutankhamun”s wife Anchesenamun.
Tutankhaton ascended the throne of Egypt four years after the death of Akhenaten. In between there was probably a three-year reign of Semenchkare or a ruler with the throne name Anch-cheperu-Re. The identities of these two persons are unknown. Partly it is assumed that behind both names is hidden Akhenaten”s royal wife Nefertiti.
Due to his very young age, there is the assumption that the child king was strongly influenced by the pressure of the priesthood, high officials and probably also by Eje, who had the title “God the Father”. The minor king was easily persuaded to limit the worship of the god Aton and to restore the conditions before Akhenaten”s “revolution”. This is evident in the slow turn away from the cult of Aton at the beginning and during his reign. Tutankhamun takes the throne name “Neb-cheperu-Re” at his accession and is married to Anchesenpaaton, the third daughter of Akhenaten, who was thus his sister or half-sister.
He changed his birth name from Tutankhaton (“living image of Aton”) to Tutankhamun (“living image of Amun” or “in honor of Amun”) and that of his wife from Anchesenpaaton (“she lives forthrough Aton”) to Anchesenamun (“she lives forthrough Amun”). After the abandonment of Akhenaten”s newly founded capital Achet-Aton in the second year of his reign (not to Thebes, as is often erroneously read.
The most significant evidence of the policy carried out under Tutankhamun is his “Stele of Restoration,” later seized by Haremhab and found at Karnak. On it, the decline of the empire under Aton is described, and he proclaims the return to the old gods. Throughout the country, the young Pharaoh has the temples of the old gods restored. In the temple of Luxor, the decoration of the colonnade is completed, Karnak receives two new chapels, and work resumes on the Avenue of the Sphinxes. In Medinet Habu he builds his temple of the dead (perhaps the former temple of Anch-cheperu-Re). From Giza to Nubia there is evidence of his building activity. However, some of these monuments are later also usurped by Haremhab.
However, the transition from the Amarna period did not occur suddenly: Tutankhamun”s tomb contains numerous objects on which the classic motif of the Amarna period – Aton as a life-giving solar disc – can be seen. The most famous example is the throne chair used by Tutankhamun in his first years of reign. In art, too, the Amarna period continues to have a long-lasting effect, which can be seen especially in the elements of statics and perspective. Thus, a forced departure from the old religious course is quite unlikely, for in that case there would have been iconoclasm, with care taken to distinguish precisely from the old styles. There are numerous connections, so that Egyptologists count the pharaohs Tutankhamun and Eje also to the Amarna period (sometimes differentiated by after Amarna).
Besides Eje and Haremhab, various other officials are attested under Tutankhamun. The southern vizier was a certain Usermonth, and Pentu was another vizier who is attested so far only by a pot inscription in Tutankhamun”s tomb. An important personality was also the treasury chief Maya, whose tomb was found in Sakkara, and which was richly decorated with reliefs. Chief treasurer was Iniuia, and finally viceroy of Kush was Huy, who is best known from his magnificently decorated tomb at Thebes. Amenemone was head of the royal workshops and goldsmiths. Nachtmin was another general. Sennedjem was “chief of the teachers”.
Cause of death
The January 6, 2005 CT scan revealed an age at death of 18 to 20 years and was consistent with earlier scientific estimates by anatomist Douglas E. Derry (1882-1969) of Cairo University, radiologist Ronald George Harrison (1921-1983) of the University of Liverpool, dental surgeon Frank Filce Leek (1903-1985) of the University of Manchester, and biologist and Egyptologist Renate Germer of the University of Hamburg. Leek, however, referred to a diary entry by Carter dated November 14, 1925:
“Die Ergebnisse der Studie von Dr. DERRY und BEY (…..) haben es ihnen ermöglicht, eine definitive Aussage über das Alter von Tut-ankh-Amen zu machen. Diese umstrittene Frage ist nun geklärt und sein Alter definitiv zwischen 17 und 19 Jahren festgelegt.
The assumption of an age of 23-27 years, for example by Gabolde, Wente and Harris, was thus refuted. On this occasion, the then Secretary General of the Egyptian Antiquities Authority, Zahi Hawass, once again lamented the poor condition of the mummy, which he attributed to the improper treatment by Howard Carter.
The burial date can be narrowed down to the period from mid-March to early May, since flowers were found as grave goods that bloom only during this season. Death must have occurred between the end of December 1324 BC and mid-February 1323 BC, the period of which could be determined by including the seventy-day embalming period. Bob Brier stated in his book The Tutankhamun Murder Case that death would have occurred by violent external impact. He assumed an unnatural cause of death. He proved this with old X-ray photographs, on which an injury of the skull is to be seen. This was very controversial in Egyptological circles, but also among physicians, because it was a misunderstanding: On the X-ray a splintered piece of bone can be seen, which came loose after death.
The 2005 CT scan revealed that the cause of Tutankhamun”s death could not have been a blow to the head, as no injuries to the skull caused in this way could be detected. To the general surprise, a previously undiscovered fracture of the femur of the left leg has been found. Some specialists of the same examination team also detected a fracture of the left lower thigh, in addition to a fracture of the right kneecap and the right lower leg. The findings suggest that the fractures were caused by an accident before Tutankhamun”s death; no evidence of murder was found. Most Egyptologists now assume that a hunting accident caused Tutankhamun”s subsequent death. Zahi Hawass joined this thesis and energetically denied the seriousness of a murder theory, which, however, is in contrast to earlier statements. However, these need not have had a serious basis and may have been based on other motives (press, tourism).
Furthermore, it showed a pressure injury, which could have been caused by a blow or a tumor. Brier opted for a blow, but this was a fallacy – as determined by the 2005 CT scan. The mummy”s now-missing sternum and ribs were still present after Carter and Carnarvon were recovered. A photograph taken just prior to Tutankhamun”s reburial after Carter”s examinations shows the mummy still in an intact state. According to new findings, the damage was caused by tomb robbers during the World War II period. In order to access the jewelry, which was firmly attached to the mummy by the embalming resin, the ribs and sternum had to be sawn out. The CT scan confirmed this process, as no break-offs were found, but smooth separations.
After further examination of the old X-ray images, the examining radiologist Richard Boyer had already concluded that Tutankhamun suffered from scoliosis (deformation of the spine). The investigators of the computer tomography of 2005 could not confirm a scoliosis and suspected that the undoubtedly existing slight deformation of the spine had been caused by the mummification. A CT and DNA examination of 2010, however, proved Boyer right and established that Tutankhamun – as well as close relatives including his father, presumably Akhenaten – had suffered from a slight scoliosis; in the mummy of his great-grandmother Tuja even a severe form was proven. In addition, the 2010 investigation also revealed other bone diseases in Tutankhamun (e.g., Köhler-Albau type II disease) and his close relatives. Boyer had also diagnosed radiographically a Klippel-Feil syndrome (fusion of several cervical vertebrae together), but neither the CT examination of 2005 nor five years later the DNA and CT examinations took a position on this. Finds such as the limestone relief known as the “Walk in the Garden”, which according to established opinion shows Tutankhamun with a walking stick and Anchesenamun, furthermore led to a debate about the orthopedic state of health of the king.
Zahi Hawass assumes that the king died from a malaria infection, since gene sections of the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum had been discovered. Christian Timmann and Christian Meyer, scientists at the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg, doubt this and suspect that he died of sickle cell anemia. They published convincing circumstantial evidence for this cause of death. The offer of cooperation by Timmann and Meyer with Zahi Hawass and the Egyptian Antiquities Authority was flatly rejected in a letter from Hawass to Christian Meyer.
In 2013, a new study, which took into account the distorting influence of overheating of the corpse caused by the embalming process on previous analysis results, concluded that Tutankhamun had died in an accident, as previously suspected, and probably in a chariot race, in any case not as a result of the skull injury that occurred postmortem. In contrast to the usual ancient Egyptian mummification practice, the heart was supposedly removed from Tutankhamun”s corpse, which led to the assumption that it could have been injured so severely in an accident and, according to the ideas of the time, would no longer have been usable in the afterlife. ORF.at cites a Channel4 documentary (dated Nov. 10, 2013) based on a recent British study that an “incredible chemical reaction” of the embalming oils led to spontaneous combustion of the oils or the corpse shortly after its burial in the sarcophagus. This chemical reaction had already been pointed out by Douglas E. Derry in 1925 when he examined the mummy.
Representation in grave
The names of the pharaoh, his wife and the successor Eje were – like that of all Amarna kings – already a little later deleted by Haremhab or Sethos I in all official documents and scratched off the walls, so that they appear in no king lists. Amenophis III is directly followed there by Haremhab. The tomb escaped complete looting because the entrance was buried with debris from the excavation of Ramesses VI”s tomb. However, persons must have succeeded in entering the tomb at least twice before.
For a long time it was assumed by experts that – although Tutankhamun allegedly wanted to be buried near his grandfather Amenophis III – his highest advisor and successor Eje II had him buried in a small tomb (KV62) in Wadi Biban el-Muluk (Valley of the Kings), which was not originally intended for a royal burial. After recent considerations, however, Egyptologists came to the opinion that Tutankhamun”s tomb (KV62) was intended as such for him from the beginning, since a nearby tomb (KV55) was proven to be that of Kija.
His successor and closest paternal advisor Eje arranged the funeral for Tutankhamun, and he is already depicted in his burial chamber, which was created during the lifetime of the still very young pharaoh with the paintings and inscriptions, as his successor at the mouth opening ceremony. Normally immediately with the death of a Pharaos all work in its tomb plant was stopped, therefore such a representation should not exist. There are several possibilities for this.
When Howard Carter discovered the tomb in the Valley of the Kings in 1922, news of it went around the world and sparked great interest that did not die down for a long time. The tomb, initially declared unopened, was relatively intact, as could be seen when the tomb was opened on February 16, 1923 (opening of the wall between the antechamber with grave goods and the actual coffin chamber with sarcophagus). Tutankhamun, although only an insignificant king, had a rich amount of precious grave goods. As the only mummy of the Egyptian kings, Tutankhamun”s mummy is currently in its tomb, but – in order to better protect it from environmental influences – it has been reburied in a climate-controlled plexiglass coffin.
The grave goods can be roughly divided into two groups. There are objects that were made especially for the burial of the ruler, and there are objects that were apparently already used in everyday life and then placed in the tomb. To the group of objects made especially for a burial belong the coffins, the canopies, but also a set of god figures in shrines, which are also known from other royal tombs of the New Kingdom and were found so far only in burials of kings.
The group of everyday objects includes mainly the furniture, head rests, part of the jewelry and other utensils. The addition of everyday objects in burials is a typical feature of the 18th Dynasty (see: Burial objects (Ancient Egypt)) and occurs only rarely before and later. For this reason, it can certainly be assumed that his tomb was typical for his time, but probably more richly furnished with grave goods than the tomb of important rulers such as Cheops or Sesostris I.
Golden grave goods
Many of the grave goods are made of wood decorated with gold leaf or pure gold, for example, one of the most famous finds: the golden death mask of Tutankhamun. It covered the head, shoulders and chest and weighed a good 12 kilograms alone. The king is depicted wearing the Nemes headscarf typical of the 18th Dynasty. The eyes rimmed with lapis lazuli are also a characteristic feature. Neither before, nor later were death masks of comparable artistry produced. The outermost and middle coffins were gilded, whereas the innermost coffin, which contained the mummy, was made of pure gold and weighed 110.4 kilograms. Gilded were also the four wooden shrines surrounding the sarcophagus, as well as the smaller canopic shrine with the canopic box, other shrines and statues of the king and various deities. The most famous statues are probably the life-size guardian statues from the antechamber, but only a small percentage of them are made of gold.
Another important find is the golden throne. The front of the backrest is inlaid with semi-precious stones and silver and depicts the anointing of the pharaoh by his wife under the rays of Aton, who holds out an anch sign to each of the royal couple. The name of the god Aton is attested here as the “new doctrinal name of Aton”, which was used from the 9th year of Akhenaten”s reign. Furthermore, it is remarkable that on the two armrests of the throne both different name variants of the king are found: on the left armrest inside the form Tut-anch-Amun, on the right armrest outside the form Tut-anch-Aton.
This scene is in the style of Amarna art, as known in the intimacy of Akhenaten and Nefertiti. The back of the backrest does not contain inlays in gold leaf and shows ducks flying up from the papyrus thicket. On the wooden struts running vertically, the title and name of the king and queen are mentioned.
Furthermore, many pieces of golden jewelry were found in the form of rings, earrings, bracelets or pectorals. In addition, Tutankhamun was also enclosed items of clothing, including golden sandals with a cord running between the big toes.
Other important grave goods were bow and arrow as well as several chariots disassembled into parts and other hunting utensils, which the young king had probably used on his hunting expeditions. A dagger blade made of meteoric iron was also found in the burial chamber. Several writing pallets were also found with the king, in which even dried paint was found. One bears the name of Meritaton, the eldest daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, as well as the cartouche of Nefertiti, which identifies the palette as a votive offering.
Among the abundance of other individual parts, a golden, large fan has become known. This consists of a long rod with a semicircular, large two-dimensional attachment. Originally, the upper attachment had contained ostrich feathers; however, after Carter and Carnarvon”s regular request to visitors to pull on it vigorously (in order to convince themselves of its stability with their own eyes), only the golden part ultimately arrived at the museum. A wreath of flowers also fell victim to them. The grave researchers interpreted this romantically as the gift of the grieving widow. For his physical well-being, the pharaoh was also given wine in jugs, 26 of which have been preserved. On these, the exact winery, often even the parcel of origin are recorded. Thus, for example, on jug No. 571 the inscription sweet wine of the house Aton from Karet, cellar master Ramose is to be read.
There were also found brass instruments similar to trumpets, the so-called “Scheneb” (Šnb), which are probably the oldest surviving specimens. These instruments probably served as signal instruments in the military field.
The two fetuses
Other important grave goods are the two mummified premature births. In contrast to the common opinion, these are not an isolated find, several other finds of mummified fetuses are known. Thus, the Italian archaeologist Ernesto Schiaparelli discovered in 1903-1906 in the tomb (QV 55) of Amuncherchepeschef – a son of Ramesses III – in the Valley of the Queens also a fetus, presumably a child of Ramesses III. Also in the shaft below the tomb of Haremhab the skeleton of a late fetus or a premature birth was found. Furthermore, burials of fetuses are known in a cemetery of Roman times in the Daleh Oasis.
The two fetuses were found in Tutankhamun”s tomb in small coffins, which do not bear the names of the children, but simply refer to them as “Osiris”, a title that each dead person bore. They are kept today under the inventory numbers “Carter 317a” and “Carter 317b” in the Faculty of Medicine of Cairo University.
317a is the smaller of the two fetuses and was in very good condition when it was discovered, it even had remains of the umbilical cord. The body was artificially mummified, so traces of mummified viscera were discovered in the body cavity and traces of embalming material in the skull. The hands of the fetus are placed on the inner thighs. However, the mummy is now in such poor condition that no incision to remove the organs or damage to the skull to remove the brain could be detected. Also, the information from earlier investigations that the fetus was female can no longer be confirmed today. The fetus is 29.9 cm tall and is estimated to be 24.5 weeks old.
The larger fetus 317b was less well preserved when discovered, but is now in better condition than 317a. It is 36.1 cm tall and still exhibits hair fuzz as well as eyebrows and eyelashes. The hands are placed on either side of the body. There is a 1.8 cm incision on the side of the mummy through which the viscera were removed. The brain was removed with a tiny instrument. This tool was so small that it must have been specially made for the mummification of the fetus. The medical examiner at the time, Douglas Derry, threw it away. The fetus was 30-36 weeks old (dates vary depending on the investigation) and was fully viable. However, it has some genetic abnormalities: spren malformation, spinal dysphrasia syndrome, and mild scoliosis. The fetus is female.
Many of the grave goods are objects of use of the king; partly he possibly used them until his death, partly (like the child”s throne from Amarna) they had not been in use for a long time. There are many grave goods which carried the names of Tutankhamun”s relatives; a writing palette came – as described above – from the possession of Merit-Aton, likewise a child”s rattle with a dedication of the queen Teje, as well as a small box with the representation and the name of Nefer-neferu-Re, the second youngest daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti.
The finds from Amarna were brought at an earlier time, before the death of the king. Near Tutankhamun”s tomb is tomb KV55, whose destroyed mummy, according to the findings of a CT scan, could most likely be that of Akhenaten. The contents of the tomb consist of objects from Amarna – and from different owners. Probably, an expedition was sent to Amarna, which brought besides all these things also the mummies of Kija, Teje (tomb KV35) and Akhenaten. According to the reconstruction of the lid, the sarcophagus can be clearly assigned to Akhenaten.
It is not sufficiently clear whether the Egyptian custom involved gifts from relatives in the tomb, and whether the grave goods were newly made or people took utilitarian items as well. It is most likely that both utilitarian items (insignia of office, for example) were taken, and some pieces were made new specifically for the afterlife.
However, there is the possibility that Tutankhamun”s tomb was filled hastily and that there is not a conscious intention behind all old or “donated” things. This could be supported by the circumstantial evidence that the king”s mummy was mummified in a very short time and possibly not sufficiently dried out. Furthermore, Christine El-Mahdy has proven that the wine jars did not dry out over the centuries, but that they were already empty when they were placed in the tomb.
The mysterious Dachamunzu affair, which possibly followed Tutankhamun”s death, is partly interpreted as a clever move by the royal advisor Eje, who wanted to get general Haremhab, who also acted as advisor, out of the way so that he could not claim the throne for himself. Despite all this, it is only one theory among several, and one can interpret the clues in other ways as well.
The curse of the pharaohs
In connection with the excavation work and the lively interest of the world press, the legend of the Pharaoh”s curse spread after the discovery of the tomb. Much fabrication was made about the curse of the mummy, which supposedly struck the discoverers. Several members of Carter”s excavation team died within the first five years after the sarcophagus was raised, including the financier of the excavations at KV62, Lord Carnarvon, who died from an infection on April 5, 1923.
The causes of the deaths were investigated: Five members of the discovery team committed suicide based on the publications of the other deaths. Other causes were thought to be infections caused by mold spores in the air of the burial chamber or mosquito bites. Diseases already existing when the tomb was opened also led to death, which would have occurred even without a connection to the tomb. Statistical investigations even showed an increased average age of all alleged victims.
The finds today
The main finds from the tomb, including the golden death mask, are in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and in magazines in Cairo and Luxor. The pharaoh”s mummy is the only one of an Egyptian king that is still in the original tomb in the Valley of the Kings after the discovery and opening of the tomb. In the course of the revolution in Egypt in 2011, there was looting in the Egyptian Museum, which also affected the finds from Tutankhamun”s tomb. A small gilded statuette (JE 60710.1) and the top of another have been missing since then. Some other statues were broken, but could be restored.
In January 2015, it became known that the death mask had been damaged in August 2014 during the replacement of lighting fixtures on the armored glass display case: the pharaoh”s beard broke off and was inexpertly reattached with resin glue. In the process, glue dripped onto the mask, which was subsequently scraped off, causing further damage. In early 2016, charges were brought against eight Egyptians in this matter, including the former director of the Egyptian Museum and the chief conservator at the time. Meanwhile, the mask could be restored again.