KING TUTANKHAMUN (KING TUT, ruled from 1334 to 1325 B.C.)


Tut mask
King Tutankhamun, better known as King Tut, became a pharaoh at age 9 and died when he was 19. Little is known of his life. Nothing in particular distinguished his career, and he probably would not be remembered were it not for the discovery of his unlooted tomb in 1922, which caused a big brouhaha even though relative to other Pharaohs it was not even a particularly grand tomb. Tutankhamun’s name was not even included on the classic “King’s List” at the temples of Abydos and Karnak. Despite all this King Tut is the Pharaoh the public knows best. [Source: Richard Covington, Smithsonian magazine, June 2005]

King Tutankhamun was the last heir of a powerful family that ruled ancient Egypt for many centuries. Although his rule was unfilled his death was treated with great fanfare as he was the last of his line. It is astonishing how Tutankhamun continues do fascinate people today. More than 8 million people showed up to see his mask and artifacts from his tomb during the King Tut tour of the United States in the 1977. The comedian Steve Martin gave his career a big boost when he recorded a silly song about the pharaoh around the time of the tour. An exhibit in the mid 2000s called Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs --- similar to one in 1977---cleared $10 million in each city it appeared in. The admission fee was as high as $30. More than a million people saw the exhibit in Chicago and Philadelphia and nearly a million saw it in Los Angeles. The tour took place in spite of a ban that had been imposed after a gilt statue from Tut’s tomb was broken during a tour of Germany in 1982.

King Tutankhamun's Life

For a long time scholars were not even sure who Tutankhamun’s parents were. They believed his father or grandfather was Akhenaten (also known as Amenhotep IV) and his mother was Akhenaten’s beloved secondary wife Kiya. It was also plausible for Tutankhamun to be Akhenaten’s half brother. In February 2010, researchers from Egypt, Italy and Germany---using DNA analysis--- determined Tutankhamun’s father was Akhenaten and his mother was Akhenaten’s sister. The DNA analysis also determined that Tutankhamun’s father Akhenaten was the son of Amenhotep III and identified Queen Tiye as the mother of both Akhenaten and his sister-wife.

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King Tutankhamun was most likely born in 1341 B.C. in Ankhetaten (present-day Tell al-Amarna). He was first called Tutankhaten, meaning “living image of Aten.” He changed his name to Tutankhamun meaning “Living Image of Amun” after he became Pharaoh. His name is perhaps a reference to his perceived duty of restoring the old ways after Akhenaten’s disruptions (Amun was an important god before Akhenaten’s monotheism campaign).

Little is known about Tutankhamun’s childhood. He grew up in the new capital city of Amaran and is believed to have received a palace education and probably lived a sheltered and perhaps claustrophobic life. Some have assumed he was raised as a warrior based on weaponry and chariots found in his grave.

Some believe Tut's mother was a commoner and it was great scandal for Tutankhamun's father to marry her. It would have been less scandalous---and in fact the proper thing to do---if he married his mother or sister to keep the royal blood pure.♀

Tutankhamun married Ankhesenamun, who may have also been his half sister. Ankhesenamun was around the same age as Tutankhamun, and had been married to her own father. A scene on gilded wooden shrine from his tomb show her handing Tutankhamun an arrow to shoot some ducks hiding among papyrus reeds. The couple produced two children, both girls but they died in the womb.

King Tutankhamun's Rule

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Tutankhamun cartouche
Tutankhamun ascended to throne as the child husband of Akhebaten’s third daughter, a marriage arranged to cement his claim to the throne. He took the throne at age 8 or 9 during a period of great turmoil. It had only been four years since Akhenaten's death. Egypt was on the brink of civil war over monotheism. There was trouble in Syria and with the Hittites. It is believed that Tutankhamun was manipulated by the general Horemheb and a courtier named Ay. Some think Ay, who may have been Nefertiti’s father, was responsible for installing Tutankhamun as a puppet pharaoh to heal the divided kingdom.

In his book on finding Tutankhamun’s tomb, Howard Carter wrote the empire under Akhenaten “had crumpled up like a pricked balloon.” Merchants were bitter about the loss of trade. Soldiers “condemned to a mortified inaction were seething with discontent.” Ordinary Egyptians, upset over the loss of their gods, “were changing slowly from bewilderment to active resentment at the new heaven and new earth that had been decreed for them.”

Ay served as a regent while Tutankhamun was growing up. He is believed to have advised Tutankhamun to bring back the pagan religion his father worked so hard to eradicate and move the capital back to Thebes and move the administrative center back to Memphis. Inscriptions say the young king "spent his time making images of the gods.”

Some scholars credit Tutankhamun with restoring order to the troubled Egyptian kingdom. A stelae raised outside the Amun temple in Karnak apologized for deeds of Akhenaten and boasted of all the things Tutankhamun did to help the kingdom, including “Doubling, tripling and quadrupling the silver, gold, turquoise and lapis lazuli” in the temples.

Images show shows Tutankhamun with a pulled bow trampling Nubians under the wheels of his chariot. A Hittite text described an Egyptian attack on Kadesh in present-day Syria during Tutankhamun’s rule. W. Raymond Johnson of the University of Chicago says Tutankhamun “may have led the charge” but most historians discount such claims as propaganda or fiction. More likely Tutankhamun, historians say, spent his time in Memphis with occasional trips to his hunting lodge in Giza and to Thebes for various religion duties at the temples there.

King Tut’s Place in History

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Zahi Hawass wrote in National Geographic, “To me the story of Tutankhamun is like a play whose ending is still being written. The first act of the drama begins in about 1390 B.C., several decades before Tutankhamun's birth, when the great pharaoh Amenhotep III assumes the throne of Egypt. Controlling an empire stretching 1,200 miles from the Euphrates in the north to the Fourth Cataract of the Nile in the south, this king of the 18th dynasty is rich beyond imagining. Along with his powerful queen Tiye, Amenhotep III rules for 37 years, worshipping the gods of his ancestors, above all Amun, while his people prosper and vast wealth flows into the royal coffers from Egypt's foreign holdings.[Source: Zahi Hawass, National Geographic, September 2010]

If Act I is about tradition and stability, Act II is revolt. When Amenhotep III dies, he is succeeded by his second son,Amenhotep IV---a bizarre visionary who turns away from Amun and the other gods of the state pantheon and worships instead a single deity known as the Aten, the disk of the sun...The end of Akhenaten's reign is cloaked in confusion---a scene acted out behind closed curtains. One or possibly two kings rule for short periods of time, either alongside Akhenaten, after his death, or both. Like many other Egyptologists, I believe the first of these "kings" is actually Nefertiti. The second is a mysterious figure called Smenkhkare, about whom we know almost nothing.

What we know for sure is that when the curtain opens on Act III, the throne is occupied by a young boy: the nine-year-old Tutankhaten ("the living image of the Aten"). Within the first two years of his tenure on the throne, he and his wife, Ankhesenpaaten (a daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti), abandon Amarna and return to Thebes, reopening the temples and restoring their wealth and glory. They change their names to Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun, proclaiming their rejection of Akhenaten's heresy and their renewed dedication to the cult of Amun.

Then the curtain falls. Ten years after ascending the throne, Tutankhamun is dead, leaving no heirs to succeed him. He is hastily buried in a small tomb, designed originally for a private person rather than a king. In a backlash against Akhenaten's heresy, his successors manage to delete from history nearly all traces of the Amarna kings, including Tutankhamun.

Ironically, this attempt to erase his memory preserved Tutankhamun for all time. Less than a century after his death, the location of his tomb had been forgotten. Hidden from robbers by structures built directly above, it remained virtually untouched until its discovery in 1922. More than 5,000 artifacts were found inside the tomb. But the archaeological record has so far failed to illuminate the young king's most intimate family relationships. Who were his mother and father? What became of his widow, Ankhesenamun? Are the two mummified fetuses found in his tomb King Tutankhamun's own prematurely born children, or tokens of purity to accompany him into the afterlife?

Study of the DNA of King Tut and His Family

Tutanhkamun Shabti
Zahi Hawass wrote in National Geographic, To answer questions about Tutankhamun and his family “we decided to analyze Tutankhamun's DNA, along with that of ten other mummies suspected to be members of his immediate family. In the past I had been against genetic studies of royal mummies. The chance of obtaining workable samples while avoiding contamination from modern DNA seemed too small to justify disturbing these sacred remains. But in 2008 several geneticists convinced me that the field had advanced far enough to give us a good chance of getting useful results. We set up two state-of-the-art DNA-sequencing labs, one in the basement of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and the other at the Faculty of Medicine at Cairo University. The research would be led by Egyptian scientists: Yehia Gad and Somaia Ismail from the National Research Center in Cairo. We also decided to carry out CT scans of all the mummies, under the direction of Ashraf Selim and Sahar Saleem of the Faculty of Medicine at Cairo University. Three international experts served as consultants: Carsten Pusch of the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen, Germany; Albert Zink of the EURAC-Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, Italy; and Paul Gostner of the Central Hospital Bolzano. [Source: Zahi Hawass, National Geographic, September 2010]

The identities of four of the mummies were known. These included Tutankhamun himself, still in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings, and three mummies on display at the Egyptian Museum: Amenhotep III, and Yuya and Tuyu, the parents of Amenhotep III's great queen, Tiye. Among the unidentified mummies was a male found in a mysterious tomb in the Valley of the Kings known as KV55. Archaeological and textual evidence suggested this mummy was most likely Akhenaten or Smenkhkare.

Our search for Tutankhamun's mother and wife focused on four unidentified females. Two of these, nicknamed the "Elder Lady" and the "Younger Lady," had been discovered in 1898, unwrapped and casually laid on the floor of a side chamber in the tomb of Amenhotep II (KV35), evidently hidden there by priests after the end of the New Kingdom, around 1000 B.C. The other two anonymous females were from a small tomb (KV21) in the Valley of the Kings. The architecture of this tomb suggests a date in the 18th dynasty, and both mummies hold their left fist against their chest in what is generally interpreted as a queenly pose.

Finally, we would attempt to obtain DNA from the fetuses in Tutankhamun's tomb---not a promising prospect given the extremely poor condition of these mummies. But if we succeeded, we might be able to fill in the missing pieces to a royal puzzle extending over five generations.

To obtain workable samples, the geneticists extracted tissue from several different locations in each mummy, always from deep within the bone, where there was no chance the specimen would be contaminated by the DNA of previous archaeologists---or of the Egyptian priests who had performed the mummification. Extreme care was also taken to avoid any contamination by the researchers themselves. After the samples were extracted, the DNA had to be separated from unwanted substances, including the unguents and resins the priests had used to preserve the bodies. Since the embalming material varied with each mummy, so did the steps needed to purify the DNA. In each case the fragile material could be destroyed at every step.

At the center of the study was Tutankhamun himself. If the extraction and isolation succeeded, his DNA would be captured in a clear liquid solution, ready to be analyzed. To our dismay, however, the initial solutions turned out a murky black. Six months of hard work were required to figure out how to remove the contaminant---some still unidentified product of the mummification process---and obtain a sample ready for amplifying and sequencing.

Discovering King Tut’s Father and Mother from the Study of the

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Zahi Hawass wrote in National Geographic, “After we had obtained DNA as well from the three other male mummies in the sample---Yuya, Amenhotep III, and the mysterious KV55---we set out to clarify the identity of Tutankhamun's father. On this critical issue the archaeological record was ambiguous. In several inscriptions from his reign, Tutankhamun refers to Amenhotep III as his father, but this cannot be taken as conclusive, since the term used could also be interpreted to mean "grandfather" or "ancestor." Also, according to the generally accepted chronology, Amenhotep III died about a decade before Tutankhamun was born. [Source: Zahi Hawass, National Geographic, September 2010]

Many scholars believe that his father was instead Akhenaten. Supporting this view is a broken limestone block found near Amarna that bears inscriptions calling both Tutankhaten and Ankhesenpaaten beloved children of the king. Since we know that Ankhesenpaaten was the daughter of Akhenaten, it follows that Tut’ankhaten (later Tutankhamun) was his son. Not all scholars find this evidence convincing, however, and some have argued that Tutankhamun's father was in fact the mysterious Smenkhkare. I always favored Akhenaten myself, but it was only a theory.

Once the mummies' DNA was isolated, it was a fairly simple matter to compare the Y chromosomes of Amenhotep III, KV55, and Tutankhamun and see that they were indeed related. (Related males share the same pattern of DNA in their Y chromosome, since this part of a male's genome is inherited directly from his father.) But to clarify their precise relationship required a more sophisticated kind of genetic fingerprinting. Along the chromosomes in our genomes there are specific known regions where the pattern of DNA letters---the A's, T's, G's, and C's that make up our genetic code---varies greatly between one person and another. These variations amount to different numbers of repeated sequences of the same few letters. Where one person might have a sequence of letters repeated ten times, for instance, another unrelated person might have the same sequence stuttered 15 times, a third person 20, and so on. A match between ten of these highly variable regions is enough for the FBI to conclude that the DNA left at a crime scene and that of a suspect might be one and the same.

Reuniting the members of a family separated 3,300 years ago requires a little less stringency than the standards needed to solve a crime. By comparing just eight of these variable regions, our team was able to establish with a probability of better than 99.99 percent that Amenhotep III was the father of the individual in KV55, who was in turn the father of Tutankhamun.

DNA of King Tut and His Family

Tutankhamun and his wife
We now knew we had the body of Tut's father---but we still did not know for certain who he was. Our chief suspects were Akhenaten and Smenkhkare. The KV55 tomb contained a cache of material thought to have been brought by Tutankhamun to Thebes from Amarna, where Akhenaten (and perhaps Smenkhkare) had been buried. Though the coffin's cartouches---oval rings containing the pharaoh's names---had been chiseled off, the coffin bore epithets associated only with Akhenaten himself. But not all the evidence pointed to Akhenaten. Most forensic analyses had concluded that the body inside was that of a man no older than 25---too young to be Akhenaten, who seems to have sired two daughters before beginning his 17-year reign. Most scholars thus suspected the mummy was instead the shadowy pharaoh Smenkhkare.

Now a new witness could be called on to help resolve this mystery. The so-called Elder Lady (KV35EL) mummy is lovely even in death, with long reddish hair falling across her shoulders. A strand of this hair had previously been matched morphologically to a lock of hair buried within a nest of miniature coffins in Tut’ankhamun's tomb, inscribed with the name of Queen Tiye, wife of Amenhotep III---and mother of Akhenaten. By comparing the DNA of the Elder Lady with that from the mummies of Tiye's known parents, Yuya and Tuyu, we confirmed that the Elder Lady was indeed Tiye. Now she could testify whether the KV55 mummy was indeed her son.

Much to our delight, the comparison of their DNA proved the relationship. New CT scans of the KV55 mummy also revealed an age-related degeneration in the spine and osteoarthritis in the knees and legs. It appeared that he had died closer to the age of 40 than 25, as originally thought. With the age discrepancy thus resolved, we could conclude that the KV55 mummy, the son of Amenhotep III and Tiye and the father of Tutankhamun, is almost certainly Akhenaten. (Since we know so little about Smenkhkare, he cannot be completely ruled out.)

Our renewed CT scanning of the mummies also put to rest the notion that the family suffered from some congenital disease, such as Marfan syndrome, that might explain the elongated faces and feminized appearance seen in the art from the Amarna period. No such pathologies were found. Akhenaten's androgynous depiction in the art would seem instead to be a stylistic reflection of his identification with the god Aten, who was both male and female and thus the source of all life.

And what of Tutankhamun's mother? To our surprise, the DNA of the so-called Younger Lady (KV35YL), found lying beside Tiye in the alcove of KV35, matched that of the boy king. More amazing still, her DNA proved that, like Akhenaten, she was the daughter of Amenhotep III and Tiye. Akhenaten had conceived a son with his own sister. Their child would be known as Tutankhamun.

With this discovery, we now know that it is unlikely that either of Akhenaten's known wives, Nefertiti and a second wife named Kiya, was Tutankhamun's mother, since there is no evidence from the historical record that either was his full sister. We know the names of five daughters of Amenhotep III and Tiye, but we will probably never know which of Akhenaten's sisters bore him a child. But to me, knowing her name is less important than the relationship with her brother. Incest was not uncommon among ancient Egyptian royalty. But I believe that in this case, it planted the seed of their son's early death.” The results of the DNA analysis were published in February 2010 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

King Tutankhamun's Health Determined from CT Scans and DNA Tests

King Tutankhamun was five feet six inched tall and slightly built and 18 to 20 when he died. In the June 2005 issue of National Geographic, artists and scientists produced striking images of what they believed King Tutankhamun looked like using a CT (computerized tomography) scans and facial reconstruction. The images that were produced showed a fair-skinned young man with a ski-sloped nose, a small cleft planate, an elongated skull, good teeth, and a slight overbite possessed by other members of his family. He had no cavities in his teeth. [Source: A.R. Williams, National Geographic, June 2005]

Tutankhamun age was determined by the maturity of his skeleton (his skull had not closed) and his wisdom teeth (which hadn’t grown in yet). Careful examinations of his head revealed he had a distinctive egg-shaped head, and he lacked the feminine appearance he seems to have in his death mask and other artifacts. He may have fractured his thighbone.

CT images, which were part of a study published in the February 2010 of the Journal of the American Medical Association, revealed that Tutankhamun had a club foot and other deformities, meaning he probably had to walk with a cane. DNA analysis of Tutankhamun and his relatives seem to indicate that he had several disorders, some of which ran in his family such as a bone disease and club foot. The authors of the study wrote Tutankhamun was “a young but frail king who needed canes to walk because of the bone-necrotic and sometimes painful Koehler disease II, plus oligodactyly (hypophalangism) in the right foot and clubfoot on the left.”

Zahi Hawass wrote in National Geographic,” When we began the new study, Ashraf Selim and his colleagues discovered something previously unnoticed in the CT images of the mummy: Tutankhamun's left foot was clubbed, one toe was missing a bone, and the bones in part of the foot were destroyed by necrosis---literally, "tissue death." Both the clubbed foot and the bone disease would have impeded his ability to walk. Scholars had already noted that 130 partial or whole walking sticks had been found in Tutankhamun's tomb, some of which show clear signs of use.” [Source: Zahi Hawass, National Geographic, September 2010]

“Some have argued that such staffs were common symbols of power and that the damage to Tutankhamun's foot may have occurred during the mummification process. But our analysis showed that new bone growth had occurred in response to the necrosis, proving the condition was present during his lifetime. And of all the pharaohs, only Tutankhamun is shown seated while performing activities such as shooting an arrow from a bow or using a throw stick. This was not a king who held a staff just as a symbol of power. This was a young man who needed a cane to walk.” [Ibid]

King Tutankhamuns and Royal Incest

All of these maladies are thought to have been the result of inbreeding between his father and mother---his father’s sister. Zahi Hawass wrote in National Geographic, “In my view...Tutankhamun's health was compromised from the moment he was conceived. His mother and father were full brother and sister. Pharaonic Egypt was not the only society in history to institutionalize royal incest, which can have political advantages. (See "The Risks and Rewards of Royal Incest.") But there can be a dangerous consequence. Married siblings are more likely to pass on twin copies of harmful genes, leaving their children vulnerable to a variety of genetic defects. Tut’ankhamun's malformed foot may have been one such flaw. We suspect he also had a partially cleft palate, another congenital defect. Perhaps he struggled against others until a severe bout of malaria or a leg broken in an accident added one strain too many to a body that could no longer carry the load. [Source: Zahi Hawass, National Geographic, September 2010]

There may be one other poignant testimony to the legacy of royal incest buried with Tutankhamun in his tomb. While the data are still incomplete, our study suggests that one of the mummified fetuses found there is the daughter of Tutankhamun himself, and the other fetus is probably his child as well. So far we have been able to obtain only partial data for the two female mummies from KV21. One of them, KV21A, may well be the infants' mother and thus, Tutankhamun's wife, Ankhesenamun. We know from history that she was the daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, and thus likely her husband's half sister. Another consequence of inbreeding can be children whose genetic defects do not allow them to be brought to term.

So perhaps this is where the play ends, at least for now: with a young king and his queen trying, but failing, to conceive a living heir for the throne of Egypt. Among the many splendid artifacts buried with Tutankhamun is a small ivory-paneled box, carved with a scene of the royal couple. Tutankhamun is leaning on his cane while his wife holds out to him a bunch of flowers. In this and other depictions, they appear serenely in love. The failure of that love to bear fruit ended not just a family but also a dynasty.

King Tut's Death

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Tutankhamun coffinette
King Tutankhamun died in 1324 B.C. , nine years into his reign, when he was 19. Some think he died of tuberculosis. Others have argued because he died so young maybe he died in an accident such as falling from a chariot or getting kicked by a horse and died from complications such as septicaemia (a fat embolism) linked with such an accident. Others claim he was poisoned, killed or died fighting or hunting. To support such claims the claimants have pointed to paintings in his tomb that show he received military training and participated in hunts as evidence that such claims were possible. Inside Tutankhamun mummy much of the Pharaoh’s chest is mangled, his breastbone is missing and much of the rib cage has been cut out.

Some scholars believe that Tutankhamun was murdered by Ayem, an advisor to Akhenaten, by a blow to the head. The claim is based on a 1968 X-ray that showed a bone sliver in Tut's skull from some wound and some historical data. This theory was disproved by CT scans in 2005 which showed no evidence of a blow to the head and determined the bone sliver was most likely caused by rough treatment of the mummy in the 1920s by Howard Carter, the the British archaeologist who discovered of King Tutankhamun’s tomb.

In 2005---for the first time since it was removed from its subterranean burial chamber--- Tutankhamun’s mummy was taken out of the plain wooden box Carter placed it in. The mummy was taken outside the tomb to a trailer where the entire mummy was canned with a CT machine, generating 1,700 x-ray images in .62-millimeter-wide cross sections. Three hours later the mummy was returned to its box. There was no evidence of lethal trauma to the skull. The bone slivers that appeared in the 1968 X-ray appear to have been embedded in the packing material stuffed in his skull cavity and may have go there during the embalming process or broken off when Carter handled the body. Tutankhamun skeleton revealed a fracture above the left knee. Some think this may have been the result of mishandling by Carter team.

Zahi Hawass wrote in National Geographic in 2010,” By carrying out CT scans of King Tutankhamun's mummy, we were able in 2005 to show that he did not die from a blow to the head, as many people believed. Our analysis revealed that a hole in the back of his skull had been made during the mummification process.” [Source: Zahi Hawass, National Geographic, September 2010]

In the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in February 2010, researchers from Egypt, Italy and Germany---using DNA testing, blood type analysis and CT scans---determined that King Tutankhamun mostly likely died of complications from a broken leg exacerbated by malaria. Genetic testing found that the Pharaoh had been infected with the malaria parasite and his immune system was not in good shape. The authors of the study wrote Tutankhamun sustained a “sudden fracture, possibly introduced by a fall” which snowballed into a life-threatening condition when he contacted malaria. Some scholars question the theory based on the reasoning that if he had survived to 19 he probably had some kind of resistance to malaria.

Zahi Hawass wrote in National Geographic,” Tutankhamun's bone disease was crippling, but on its own would not have been fatal. To look further into possible causes of his death, we tested his mummy for genetic traces of various infectious diseases. I was skeptical that the geneticists would be able to find such evidence---and I was delighted to be proved wrong. Based on the presence of DNA from several strains of a parasite called Plasmodium falciparum, it was evident that Tutankhamun was infected with malaria---indeed, he had contracted the most severe form of the disease multiple times. [Source: Zahi Hawass, National Geographic, September 2010]

Did malaria kill the king? Perhaps. The disease can trigger a fatal immune response in the body, cause circulatory shock, and lead to hemorrhaging, convulsions, coma, and death. As other scientists have pointed out, however, malaria was probably common in the region at the time, and Tutankhamun may have acquired partial immunity to the disease. On the other hand, it may well have weakened his immune system, leaving him more vulnerable to complications that might have followed the unhealed fracture of his leg we evaluated in 2005.

King Tut's Tomb

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Tutankhamun tomb
King Tutankhamen's Tomb (Valley of the Kings) is one of the most visited tombs in the Valley of the Kings and has a separate admission price. Its discovery in 1922 was one of the greatest archeological discoveries of all time. Tutankhamen was only a minor king---he didn't build a pyramid or any great temples or monuments and he died before he was 21---but it just so happens that his tomb was one of the few in the Valley of the Kings with a treasure missed by looters.

King Tutankhamun Tomb is located 26 feet underground. It was constructed from the relatively small unfinished tomb of courtier after the king died at an early age. Objects for the afterlife were crammed in the tomb and the paintings were so hastily prepared that splashes of paint that cover some of the images was not cleaned up. Some of the burial objects appear to have belonged to others (their names were erased and replaced with King Tutankhamun’s name).

Tutankhamen was well prepared for his trip to the afterlife. His four-room tomb yielded gold treasures; gilt coffins with images of the king emblazoned on the them; a glittering throne with palace scenes; effigies of gods and goddesses; a chest inscribed battles scenes; and jeweled daggers, earrings, necklaces and other riches. The most famous object found in it was Tutankhamun’s blue and gold funerary mask, which has been pictured in many books and magazines. All of these things are in the Egyptian museum, except when they are on tour.

Some painting in the tomb depict Tutankhamun funeral procession. After the funeral procession, his successor, Aye, symbolically revives the dead. Nut, the sky goddess welcomes Tutankhamun to the realm of the gods, and Osiris, god of the afterlife, embraces him along with his ka , or spiritual double. Baboons on the far wall represent the start of his passage through 12 hours of the night.

Two small female fetuses were found in the tomb. DNA testing in 2010 determined the they were Tutankhamun’s two still-born daughters.

See Howard Carter and Discovery of Tutankhamun’s Tomb in 1922 Under Ancient Egyptians Archaeology

King Tutankhamen Collection

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Tutankhamun Shrines
and sarcophagos
The King Tutankhamen Collection (on the top floor of the Egyptian Museum) contains nearly 5,000 objects. Among them are the famous blue-and-gold funerary mask. The mask is made of beaten gold. The beard on the masks identifies the king as being one with Osiris, god of the dead, and the cobra and vulture on his forehead symbolize the Upper and Lower kingdoms of Egypt. A life-size statue of the king, which was found at the entrance of the tomb, is dressed in gilded clothing and was anointed in black resin to denote rebirth.

The mummy was enclosed in a coffin, a sarcophagus and four decorated and gilded wooden shrines---one inside the other. The shrines had images of the king emblazoned on the them. The largest, outer golden shrine is 9 feet high, 10¾ feet wide and 16½ feet long. It is inlaid with panels of brilliant blue faience with depictions of special symbols that protected the dead. The innermost one was covered in gold. The sarcophagus is made of yellow quartzite and has a sculpted goddess spreading protecting arms and wings over the feet area. Each shrine and the sarcophagus is displayed separately.

King Tutankhamun’s polished gold coffin weighs 250 pounds and is inlaid with precious and semi-precious stones. On the lid is a low relief golden effigy of the king. The figure holds a crook and flail, both of which symbolize the king's power. Guarding the coffin during ancient times was the goddess Selket, who was so powerful, it was said, she could cure the string of the scorpion which she wears on a crown on her head. During the Six Day War the coffin was stored in a secret bomb proof shelter.

King Tutankhamun’s tomb is regarded as the the richest royal collection every found. When the king’s coffin was opened, 143 amulets and pieces of jewelry were found tucked in the linen layers of the mummy. Also in the collection is a 15.3 inch coffin for the pharaoh's liver. Only the heart remained in the body when it was mummified. Another coffin contained his viscera.

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Eye of Horus pendant
Many of big items were found in the anteroom outside the burial chamber. These include gold couches, four gold chariots, a golden throne, alabaster vases and scores of personal items of the king---all of which are on display. The king’s wooden throne is covered in sheets of gold, silver, gems and glass and is decorated with an intimate scene of the queen rubbing Tutankhamun with perfumed oil.

Tutankhamun’s clothes chest is decorated with a scene showing the king shooting his bow and arrow from a chariot while galloping at full speed, trampling Nubians under the wheels of his chariot. Tutankhamun was buried with six chariots, 50 bows, two swords, two daggers, eight shields and assorted boomerangs and slingshots. An inscription of the chest reads "hundreds of thousands of Nubians bowed to him during the battle."

There is also a beautiful painted effigy; a feminized alabaster bust; a walking stick adorned with carvings of Arabs and Nubians; a boat with an ibex bowhead and a nude maiden captain; and statue of Anubis, the jackal god of the necropolis, whose job it was to discourage intruders. So that he may gaze upon himself and procreate in the afterlife the king was buried with a mirror shaped like an ankh, the symbol of life, and pieces of jewelry adorned with scarabs, the symbols of fertility.

King Tutankhamun was also was buried with ordinary things likes boards games, a bronze razor, cases of food and wine, and linen undergarments. Among the small items are gold daggers for protection in the afterlife; a headrest for rebirth; and an alabaster cup which proclaims "Mayst thou spend millions of years...sitting with thy face to the north wind...beholding felicity." There are also effigies of gods and goddesses, jeweled daggers, earrings, necklaces, 2,000 amulets and pieces of jewelry, gold figures, a leopard skin mantel decorated with gold stars, a child's chair made of ebony and ivory, 15 gold and jeweled rings, seeds, boat paddles, ear and neck ornaments, 50 ornamental vases, robes, sandals, arrows, bows, boomerangs, a forked stick for caching snakes and a lock of hair from Queen Tiye, Tutankhamen's mother.

After King Tut's Death

After Tutankhamun’s death there was a vacuum of power and major crisis to fill it. Tutankhamuns’s wife Anhesanamun launched a coup and pleaded for help from the Hittites. “My husband is dead,” she wrote them. “Send me your son and I will make him king.” The Hittite prince Zannanza was sent to marry her but he was killed---presumably by an assassin---as he entered Egyptian territory.

Zahi Hawass wrote in National Geographic, “We know that after Tutankhamun's death, an Egyptian queen, most likely Ankhesenamun, appeals to the king of the Hittites, Egypt's principal enemies, to send a prince to marry her, because "my husband is dead, and I have no son." The Hittite king sends one of his sons, but he dies before reaching Egypt. I believe he was murdered by Horemheb, the commander in chief of Tutankhamun's armies, who eventually takes the throne for himself. But Horemheb too dies childless, leaving the throne to a fellow army commander. The new pharaoh's name was Ramses I. With him begins another dynasty, one which, under the rule of his grandson Ramses the Great, would see Egypt rise to new heights of imperial power.

Michiko Kakutani wrote in the New York Times, “An emotionally fraught transition from one regime to the next, with no clear-cut successor to the previous ruler. Worries about stability and the maintenance of law and order. Fears about foreign meddling and influence. The army at least temporarily filling the political vacuum and overseeing a transition. This sequence of events---which may sound familiar to those who followed this year’s overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s ruler of nearly three decades---actually occurred, the scholar Toby Wilkinson said in a recent essay in The Wall Street Journal, more than 3,000 years ago, after the death of the boy-king King Tutankhamen, when the army stepped in to maintain order and act as power broker. [Source: Michiko Kakutani, New York Times March 28, 2011]

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Ay (ruled 1322-1319) took over as pharaoh after Tutankhamun died by marrying his widow, who vanished after the wedding. Ay may have murdered her, perhaps so he could marry another woman. Ay by then was an elderly courtier and possibly Tutankhamun’s uncle. It is not clear whether he chanced into the job or maneuvered his way in. In any case he lasted three or four years and was replaced by army commander Horemheb, who is thought to have trained King Tutankhamun in hunting and fighting and may have killed Ay. Ay was buried in a large tomb, perhaps the one originally built for Tutankhamun.

Horemheb (ruled 1319-1292) ruled for 27 years and was an able enough leader. It is not clear if he used underhanded methods to achieve power. Whatever the case he took great pains to remove Tutankhamun’s name from the historical record and died childless, paving the way for his army buddy Ramses to take power. Ramses founded a new dynasty.

Anhesanamun, Aye and Horemheb had been named as possible murderers of Tutankhamun when such theories were in vogue. Many ruled out Anhesanamun because she seemed to be genuinely close to Tutankhamun and had little to gain from his death since she had not fathered an heir to take his place. Many also rule out Horemheb because he did not seize power after the king’s death. That left Ay he served as a kind of regent when King Tutankhamun was growing up and perhaps got the taste for power and grabbed power by killing the Pharaoh. These theories are highly speculative and been largely thrown out with the latest research on Tutankhamun’s death.

Half of European Men Share King Tut's DNA

In 2011, Reuters reported: “Up to 70 percent of British men and half of all Western European men are related to the Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun, geneticists in Switzerland said. Scientists at Zurich-based DNA genealogy centre, iGENEA, reconstructed the DNA profile of the boy Pharaoh, who ascended the throne at the age of nine, his father Akhenaten and grandfather Amenhotep III, based on a film that was made for the Discovery Channel. [Source: Reuters, Alice Baghdjian, August 1 2011]

The results showed that King Tut belonged to a genetic profile group, known as haplogroup R1b1a2, to which more than 50 percent of all men in Western Europe belong, indicating that they share a common ancestor. Among modern-day Egyptians this haplogroup contingent is below 1 percent, according to iGENEA.

"It was very interesting to discover that he belonged to a genetic group in Europe -- there were many possible groups in Egypt that the DNA could have belonged to," said Roman Scholz, director of the iGENEA Centre. Around 70 percent of Spanish and 60 percent of French men also belong to the genetic group of the Pharaoh who ruled Egypt more than 3,000 years ago.

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King Tut's throne

"We think the common ancestor lived in the Caucasus about 9,500 years ago," Scholz told Reuters. It is estimated that the earliest migration of haplogroup R1b1a2 into Europe began with the spread of agriculture in 7,000 BC, according to iGENEA. However, the geneticists were not sure how Tutankhamun's paternal lineage came to Egypt from its region of origin.The centre is now using DNA testing to search for the closest living relatives of "King Tut."

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum, The Egyptian Museum in Cairo

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Yomiuri Shimbun, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2012

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