Photo Of The Day

November 1925. Tutankhamun's burial mask.The photo above was taken just as King Tut’s coffin lid was taken off. Tutankhamun is seen lying intact with a 24-pound burial mask made of solid gold. Photo colorizer Jordan Lloyd of Dynamichrome was recently commissioned to digitally color reconstructed photos of the discovery and exploration of Tutankhaten’s tomb starting in 1922. The project took several months, and a great deal of research was done into finding accurate color references for things seen in the photos. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

November 1925. Tutankhamun’s burial mask.The photo above was taken just as King Tut’s coffin lid was taken off. Tutankhamun is seen lying intact with a 24-pound burial mask made of solid gold. Photo colorizer Jordan Lloyd of Dynamichrome was recently commissioned to digitally colour reconstructed photos of the discovery and exploration of Tutankhaten’s tomb starting in 1922. The project took several months, and a great deal of research was done into finding accurate color references for things seen in the photos. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

“I see wonderful things”

Howard Carter, 1922

Entering King Tut’s Tomb

 

“My first care was to locate the wooden lintel above the door: then very carefully I chipped away the plaster and picked out the small stones which formed the uppermost layer of the filling. The temptation to stop and peer inside at every moment was irresistible, and when, after about ten minutes’ work, I had made a hole large enough to enable me to do so, I inserted an electric torch. An astonishing sight its light revealed, for there, within a yard of the doorway, stretching as far as one could see and blocking the entrance to the chamber, stood what to all appearances was a solid wall of gold.”

Howard Carter

While Howard Carter’s find of the mostly intact tomb of a pharaoh may have been lucky, it was the result of a dedicated career in Egyptology and the culmination of consistent exploration.

Howard Carter was born on May 9th, 1874 in the small town of Kensington, London, England. His father, an artist named Samuel John Carter who drew portraits (mostly of animals) for local landowners, trained Howard in the fundamentals of drawing and painting. He was Samuel Carter’s youngest son. But Howard Carter developed an early interest in Egypt, so when he was 17 years old, under the influence of Lady Amherst, a family acquaintance, he set sail for Alexandria, Egypt. It would be his first trip outside of England, and he hoped to work with the Egyptian Exploration Fund as a tracer. Tracers copied drawings and inscriptions on paper for further study.

His first assignment came at Bani Hassan, where he was tasked with recording and copying the scenes from the walls of the tombs of the princes of Middle Egypt. It is said that he worked diligently throughout the day, and slept with the bats in the tombs at night.

It was under the direction of William Flinders Petrie that Carter grew into his own as an archaeologist. Considered as one of the best field archaeologists of this time, Petrie really did not believe that Carter would ever become a good excavator. Yet Carter could have had no better teacher at this point in time. At el Amrna, Carter proved Petrie wrong by unearthing several important finds. During this training period, Carter also worked under Gaston Maspero, who would later become the Director of the Egyptian Antiquities Service.

After being appointed as the Principle Artist of the Egyptian Exploration Fund’s excavations at Deir el Bahari under the direction of Edouard Naville, the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, Carter was able to perfect his drawing skills and strengthen his excavation and restoration techniques. His admirable efforts on the project led to his appointment by the Director of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, at age 25, as the first Inspector General of Monuments for Upper Egypt. This was obviously an important area of Egypt that included the ancient Thebes area. He became responsible for supervising and controlling archaeology all along the Upper Nile Valley. It is interesting to note that during this time, he erected the first electric lights in the Valley of the Kings (in various tombs) and at the temples at Abu Simbel.

Regrettably, he was forced to resign from the Antiquities Service in 1905. An incident occurred between Egyptian archaeology site guards at Saqqara and a few drunken French tourists. When the tourists became violent, Carter allowed the guards to defend themselves. The tourists protested to various high officials including the Egyptian Consul General Lord Cromer. Cromer called for Carter to make formal apology, but Carter refused, and was relieved of his post and re-stationed to Tanta, a place with very little archaeological involvement. Carter had very little choice but to leave the service.

After his resignation from the Antiquities Service he spent the next four years as a watercolor painter and dealer in antiquities. However, seeking private funding for excavation work, Carter became the Supervisor of Excavations for the 5th Lord of Carnarvon (George Herbert). While World War I delayed Howard Carter’s work, by 1914, Lord Carnarvon owned one of the most valuable collections of Egyptian artifacts in private hands. He would eventually discover six tombs in the Valley of the Kings on the West Bank at Luxor. But Carter had become somewhat obsessed with finding the tomb of a fairly unknown pharaoh named Tutankhamun, and year after year, searched in vain for this the pharaoh’s lost tomb.

In fact, Lord Carnarvon was becoming frustrated with Carter’s efforts, and by 1922, issued an ultimatum to the Egyptologist that this would be his last season of funding.

Revisiting a previously abandoned dig site at a group of huts, Carter started digging again, desperate for a breakthrough.

On Nov. 4, 1922, his crew discovered a step carved into the rock. By the end of the next day, a whole staircase had been uncovered.  He wired Lord Carnarvon to come, and on 26 November 1922, with Carnarvon, Carnarvon’s daughter and others in attendance, Carter made the “tiny breach in the top left hand corner” of the doorway (with a chisel his grandmother had given him for his 17th birthday.) He 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 whether it was “a tomb or merely a cache,” but he did see a promising sealed doorway between two sentinel statues. When Carnarvon asked “Can you see anything?” Carter replied with the famous words:

“Yes, wonderful things!”

With Carnarvon at his side, Carter, holding a candle, he peered inside:

“At first I could see nothing, the hot air escaping from the chamber causing the candle flame to flicker, but presently, as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues, and gold — everywhere the glint of gold.”

Carter had finally struck lucky and presented his sensational discovery to an astonished world; this unleashed unprecedented press frenzy and a Tutankhamun fever so powerful that it influenced the Golden Twenties era.

During this time, Lord Carnarvon died in Cairo of pneumonia. This sent the already sensational press into a frenzy. Media hype about the mummy’s curse set the media on fire, and much to Carters displeasure, he began receiving letters from spiritualists from around the world. Legend has it that by 1929, eleven of the people connected with the discovery of the tomb had died, including two of Lord Carnarvon’s relatives, and Carter’s personal secretary, Richard Bethell. This would spawn mummy movies through the end of the the twentieth century and beyond.

After his discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, Howard Carter retired from active field work. He began collecting Egyptian antiquities himself, and became moderately successful. He could often be found at the Old Winter Palace Hotel in Luxor, mostly keeping to himself. He returned to Kensington, England in 1939, and died on March 2nd of that year at the age of 65.

Howard Carter & Lord Carnarvon. After several hard years, Carter was introduced to Lord Carnarvon, an eager amateur who was prepared to supply the funds necessary for Carter's work to continue.

Howard Carter & Lord Carnarvon. After several hard years, Carter was introduced to Lord Carnarvon, an eager amateur who was prepared to supply the funds necessary for Carter’s work to continue.

A young local delivers water by donkey to the tomb's laborers and armed guard. Then as now, the sturdy beasts served as essential transport in the Egyptian countryside.Photo: Maynard Owen Williams.

A young local delivers water by donkey to the tomb’s labourers and armed guard. Then as now, the sturdy beasts served as essential transport in the Egyptian countryside. Photo: Maynard Owen Williams.

Bending to the task, workmen haul away wooden boxes, painted white, that encased joints of mummified meat. Tut’s grave goods also included wine, bread, fruits, and vegetables for his eternal sustenance. Photo: Maynard Owen Williams.

Bending to the task, workmen haul away wooden boxes, painted white, that encased joints of mummified meat. Tut’s grave goods also included wine, bread, fruits, and vegetables for his eternal sustenance. Photo: Maynard Owen Williams.

Visiting the Valley of the Kings can be hot business, even in February. This camel delivered a load of ice to cool the drinks of the distinguished guests attending the formal opening of the tomb. Photo: Maynard Owen Williams.

Visiting the Valley of the Kings can be hot business, even in February. This camel delivered a load of ice to cool the drinks of the distinguished guests attending the formal opening of the tomb. Photo: Maynard Owen Williams.

The press conference announcing the discovery of King Tut’s final resting place unfolds just outside the tomb’s entrance. Distinguished guests include the sultana of Egypt and the queen of Belgium. Photo: Maynard Owen Williams.

The press conference announcing the discovery of King Tut’s final resting place unfolds just outside the tomb’s entrance. Distinguished guests include the sultana of Egypt and the Queen of Belgium. Photo: Maynard Owen Williams.

With the greatest care, the fragile side of a ritual couch is positioned for transport. This part of the cedar-wood frame takes the shape of the cow-headed goddess Hathor, with a gilded lunar disk nestled between her horns.Photo: Maynard Owen Williams.

With the greatest care, the fragile side of a ritual couch is positioned for transport. This part of the cedar-wood frame takes the shape of the cow-headed goddess Hathor, with a gilded lunar disk nestled between her horns.Photo: Maynard Owen Williams.

British archaeologist Howard Carter, in the bow tie at left, supervises the removal of two gilded chariot wheels from the tomb. A. C. Mace, in the hat at right, joined the project from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Photo: Maynard Owen Williams.

British archaeologist Howard Carter, in the bow tie at left, supervises the removal of two gilded chariot wheels from the tomb. A. C. Mace, in the hat at right, joined the project from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Photo: Maynard Owen Williams.

Egypt’s Valley of the Kings is a desolate place. Located near the Nile River across from the ancient city of Thebes (the modern Luxor), the arid valley supports no vegetation and provides no shelter from the relentless sun. The ground is a mixture of sand and small rocks that broil in the sun’s heat. Temperatures average 90 degrees Fahrenheit during winter, in summer they soar into the 120s. This is the place the Egyptian pharaohs of over 3000 years ago chose to be interred in tombs buried beneath the lifeless landscape. Surrounded in death by treasures of unimaginable value, the pharaohs hoped to elude discovery by grave robbers that had violated the burial vaults of their predecessors. Their efforts were unsuccessful; thieves pillaged all of the buried tombs in the valley – except one, that of Tutankhamen who died around 1346 B.C.

There is evidence that intruders did locate and enter the tomb shortly after King Tut’s death, however, they were discovered before much damage was done. The priests guarding the valley reburied Tut’s tomb and it remained undisturbed, its location unknown for more than 3000 years. Encased in a coffin of pure gold, the Egyptian King lay in the blackest darkness, surrounded by unfathomable silence. He was immersed in a small slice of the royal world of the pharaohs: golden chariots, statues of gold and ebony, a fleet of miniature ships to accommodate his trip to the netherworld, his throne of gold, toys from his youth, bottles of perfume, precious jewelry, and more. Every corner, every niche of this time capsule from ancient Egypt was filled with priceless objects.

Howard Carter, had a hunch that Tutankhamen lay beneath the Valley of the Kings even though conventional archeological wisdom declared that all the area’s tombs had been found. In 1914, supported by his British benefactor Lord Carnarvon, Carter began his search in earnest. For seven years his efforts bore no fruit. In November 1922, during the last season of exploration that Lord Carnarvon said he could support, Carter’s luck changed. His Egyptian labourers uncovered a series of steps leading down to a sealed door.

Breaking through the sealed door, Carter found a passageway filled with stone and rubble. Clearing this passageway revealed another sealed door marked with the royal impressions of Tutankhamun. Carter was sure he had found the King’s tomb, but he was afraid it may have been pillaged – its contents removed. On November 26th Carter, with Lord Carnarvon at his side, started to break through this second sealed door. It was, as Carter described, “the day of days, the most wonderful that I have ever lived through.”

“Slowly, desperately slowly it seemed to us as we watched, the remains of passage debris that encumbered the lower part of the doorway were removed, until at last we had the whole door clear before us. The decisive moment had arrived. With trembling hands I made a tiny breach in the upper left hand corner. Darkness and blank space, as far as an iron testing-rod could reach, showed that whatever lay beyond was empty, and not filled like the passage we had just cleared. Candle tests were applied as a precaution against possible foul gases, and then, widening the hole a little, I inserted the candle and peered in, Lord Carnarvon, Lady Evelyn [Lord Carnarvon’s daughter] and Callender [an assistant] standing anxiously beside me to hear the verdict.

At first I could see nothing, the hot air escaping from the chamber causing the candle flame to flicker, but presently, as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues, and gold – everywhere the glint of gold. For the moment – an eternity it must have seemed to the others standing by – I was struck dumb with amazement, and when Lord Carnarvon, unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, ‘Can you see anything?’ it was all I could do to get out the words, ‘Yes, wonderful things.’ Then widening the hole a little further, so that we both could see, we inserted an electric torch.”

The “wonderful things” that Carter saw encompassed the greatest collection of Egyptian antiquities ever discovered. But this was only the tip of the iceberg. Beyond this antechamber lay another, smaller, room filled with equally magnificent treasures. It took the archaeological team 2 1/2 months to carefully clear and catalogue the items in these two rooms. Finally, Carter was ready to break through a fourth sealed door into what he believed would be King Tut’s tomb – the holy of holies where the pharaoh would be found in his golden casket. On February 16, 1923 Carter began to pick away at the sealed door:

“My first care was to locate the wooden lintel above the door: then very carefully I chipped away the plaster and picked out the small stones which formed the uppermost layer of the filling. The temptation to stop and peer inside at every moment was irresistible, and when, after about ten minutes’ work, I had made a hole large enough to enable me to do so, I inserted an electric torch. An astonishing sight its light revealed, for there, within a yard of the doorway, stretching as far as one could see and blocking the entrance to the chamber, stood what to all appearances was a solid wall of gold. For the moment there was no clue as to its meaning, so as quickly as I dared I set to work to widen the hole…

With the removal of a very few stones the mystery of the golden wall was solved. We were at the entrance of the actual burial-chamber of the King, and that which barred our way was the side of an immense gilt shrine built to cover and protect the sarcophagus. It was visible now from the Antechamber by the light of the standard lamps, and as stone after stone was removed, and its gilded surface came gradually into view, we could, as though by electric current, feel the tingle of excitement which thrilled the spectators behind the barrier…

It was, beyond any question, the sepulchral chamber in which we stood, for there, towering above us, was one of the great gilt shrines beneath which kings were laid. So enormous was this structure (17 feet by 11 feet, and 9 feet high, we found afterwards) that it filled within a little the entire area of the chamber, a space of some two feet only separating it from the walls on all four sides, while its roof, with cornice top and torus moulding, reached almost to the ceiling. From top to bottom it was overlaid with gold, and upon its sides there were inlaid panels of brilliant blue faience, in which were represented, repeated over and over, the magic symbols which would ensure its strength and safety. Around the shrine, resting upon the ground, there were a number of funerary emblems, and, at the north end, the seven magic oars the king would need to ferry himself across the waters of the underworld. The walls of the chamber, unlike those of the Antechamber, were decorated with brightly painted scenes and inscriptions, brilliant in their colours, but evidently somewhat hastily executed. ”

Dec. 2, 1923 Carter, Callende, and two workers remove the partition wall between the antechamber and the burial chamber. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

Dec. 2, 1923. Carter, Callende, and two workers remove the partition wall between the antechamber and the burial chamber. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

December 1923 Carter, Callender and two Egyptian workers carefully dismantle one of the golden shrines within the burial chamber. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

December 1923. Carter, Callender and two Egyptian workers carefully dismantle one of the golden shrines within the burial chamber. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

January 1924 In a "laboratory" set up in the tomb of Sethos II, conservators Arthur Mace and Alfred Lucas clean one of the sentinel statues from the antechamber. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

January 1924. In a “laboratory” set up in the tomb of Sethos II, conservators Arthur Mace and Alfred Lucas clean one of the sentinel statues from the antechamber. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

Howard Carter, Arthur Callender and an Egyptian worker open the doors of the innermost shrine and get their first look at Tutankhamun’s sarcophagus.Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

Howard Carter, Arthur Callender and an Egyptian worker open the doors of the innermost shrine and get their first look at Tutankhamun’s sarcophagus.Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

c. 1923 A statue of Anubis on a shrine with pallbearers' poles in the treasury of the tomb. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

c. 1923. A statue of Anubis on a shrine with pallbearers’ poles in the treasury of the tomb. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

December 1922. Ornately carved alabaster vases in the antechamber. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

December 1922. Ornately carved alabaster vases in the antechamber. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

c. 1923. An assortment of model boats in the treasury of the tomb. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

c. 1923. An assortment of model boats in the treasury of the tomb. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

Dec. 30th, 1923 Carter, Mace and an Egyptian worker carefully roll up the linen pall covering the second shrine. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

Dec. 30th, 1923. Carter, Mace and an Egyptian worker carefully roll up the linen pall covering the second shrine. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

December 1923 Arthur Mace and Alfred Lucas work on a golden chariot from Tutankhamun's tomb outside the "laboratory" in the tomb of Sethos II. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

December 1923. Arthur Mace and Alfred Lucas work on a golden chariot from Tutankhamun’s tomb outside the “laboratory” in the tomb of Sethos II. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

October 1925 Carter examines Tutankhamun's sarcophagus. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

October 1925. Carter examines Tutankhamun’s sarcophagus. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

c. 1923.Chests inside the treasury. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

c. 1923.Chests inside the treasury. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

c. 1923. Lord Carnarvon, financier of the excavation, reads on the veranda of Carter's house near the Valley of the Kings. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

c. 1923. Lord Carnarvon, financier of the excavation, reads on the veranda of Carter’s house near the Valley of the Kings. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

December 1922 A ceremonial bed in the shape of the Celestial Cow, surrounded by provisions and other objects in the antechamber of the tomb. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

December 1922. A ceremonial bed in the shape of the Celestial Cow, surrounded by provisions and other objects in the antechamber of the tomb. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

October 1925 Carter and a worker examine the solid gold innermost sarcophagus. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

October 1925. Carter and a worker examine the solid gold innermost sarcophagus. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

c. 1923. A gilded bust of the Celestial Cow Mehet-Weret and chests sit in the treasury of the tomb. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

c. 1923. A gilded bust of the Celestial Cow Mehet-Weret and chests sit in the treasury of the tomb. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

December 1923 Inside the outermost shrine in the burial chamber, a huge linen pall with gold rosettes, reminiscent of the night sky, covers the smaller shrines within. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

December 1923. Inside the outermost shrine in the burial chamber, a huge linen pall with gold rosettes, reminiscent of the night sky, covers the smaller shrines within. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

December 1922. A gilded lion bed and inlaid clothes chest among other objects in the antechamber. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

December 1922. A gilded lion bed and inlaid clothes chest among other objects in the antechamber. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

Nov. 29, 1923 Howard Carter, Arthur Callender and an Egyptian worker wrap one of the sentinel statues for transport. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

Nov. 29, 1923. Howard Carter, Arthur Callender and an Egyptian worker wrap one of the sentinel statues for transport. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

December 1922 Under the lion bed in the antechamber are several boxes and chests, and an ebony and ivory chair which Tutankhamun used as a child. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

December 1922. Under the lion bed in the antechamber are several boxes and chests, and an ebony and ivory chair which Tutankhamun used as a child. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

December 1922 A gilded lion bed, clothes chest and other objects in the antechamber. The wall of the burial chamber is guarded by statues. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

December 1922. A gilded lion bed, clothes chest and other objects in the antechamber. The wall of the burial chamber is guarded by statues. Image by Harry Burton. ©The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

A spell from the Book of the Dead is inscribed on the back of King Tut’s funerary mask to help him on his journey to the next world. Photo Kenneth Garrett, National Geographic.

A spell from the Book of the Dead is inscribed on the back of King Tut’s funerary mask to help him on his journey to the next world. Photo Kenneth Garrett, National Geographic.

King Tutankhamun became a household name, and his magnificent treasures became the measuring stick for all future archaeological discoveries. The mysteries surrounding his life and death are gradually being solved. And his story continues to unfold as new theories are proposed in an attempt to explain what really happened to the boy behind the golden mask.

In 1332 BC, at the age of nine, Tutankhamun ascended to the Egyptian throne as one of the last Kings of the 18th Dynasty. His father was the heretic King Akhenaten, though the identity of his mother is still unknown today. According to the latest studies, the young king suffered from serious illnesses, but this did not stop him from accomplishing the most significant achievement of his reign: The rejection of his father’s radical religious reforms, which had destabilized the country. Tutankhamun died after nine years on the throne, his death is a mystery to this day.

Tutankhamun was just a teenager when he died. For an ancient Egyptian pharaoh, presumably well fed and fiercely protected, this was a premature demise. It was also momentous, for his death meant the beginning of the end for ancient Egypt’s 18th dynasty.

How could this have happened?

Experts have speculated about possible causes ever since British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered Tut’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings in 1922.

According to reports from the U.K., the team worked with x-rays taken of Tut in 1968. One report includes an image resembling a CT scan, which is perhaps an x-ray massaged with computer-imaging technology. It reveals a missing breastbone and the stubs of ribs lined up along the backbone—probably all smashed and removed by the embalmers.

A true CT scan was performed in 2005 under the direction of Zahi Hawass, then head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities. The resulting images were never released to the public, but they also revealed the extreme damage to the rib cage as well as a broken leg. Clearly, King Tut had suffered some kind of massive trauma. It’s very likely that King Tut will continue to guard some of his mysteries—including the definitive reason for his death—as he has for so many centuries.

The young pharaoh ruled at the end of the 18th Dynasty, at a time when Egypt had become fabulously rich and powerful. The country had prospered for more than a thousand years, keeping traditions that had arisen even before the now famous pyramids at Giza were built. By Tut’s time, Egypt had gained access to the legendary gold mines of Nubia to the south, and had conquered territory along the Mediterranean coast to the northeast.

But Egypt was in turmoil when Tut took the throne. A pharaoh named Akhenaten, possibly Tut’s father or half brother, had turned traditions upside down by ordering everyone to worship the sun god Aten, closing the old temples, and smashing all the statues of Amun, a popular god with powerful priests.

The heretic pharaoh also moved the country’s capital to the western desert, far from the life-giving waters of the Nile. He called the place Akhetaten, now the archaeological site of Amarna, and forced more than 20,000 people to do the backbreaking work of building an entire city from scratch.

It’s unclear who became pharaoh right after Akhenaten died, but Tut soon rose to the throne. His full name was Tutankhamun Nebkheperure, quite a mouthful for a small boy. Tut was only eight years old or so, which must have set his subjects to worrying all over again. A boy king? How could he rule a whole country? And how could he ever hope to protect Egypt from its enemies?

His top officials, though, appear to have offered him good advice and worked diligently to set Egypt right. For starters, that meant moving the capital back to the banks of the Nile, where the city of Luxor is now located. During his decade-long reign, Tut became a symbol of this restoration, a return to ma’at, the proper order of things.

And then, stunningly, the teenage pharaoh died. The cause is uncertain. Maybe a lethal infection set in after he broke his leg in an accident. Or malaria did him in. Or he had a fatal genetic weakness that arose from the royals’ habit of marrying their siblings.

However it came about, Tut’s passing created an immediate practical problem: There was no finished tomb to put him in. And why would there be? No one could have imagined that a teenager would suddenly drop dead. Egypt’s officials must have thought they had plenty of time to prepare his place of eternal rest.

Many experts think Tut may have been buried in a tomb that had already been prepared for someone else. It’s now known as KV62—uncovered in the Valley of the Kings, which was the cemetery for rulers and their relatives during the 18th and 19th Dynasties.

But what if KV62 was already occupied and Tut was buried in a few small rooms near the entrance? That’s what the current scans of the walls of Tut’s burial chamber are meant to determine.

Maybe the first occupant is lying in larger rooms beyond Tut’s modest suite. And if it’s the beautiful queen Nefertiti, or a royal of the same stature, the rooms might be filled with great treasures, all untouched by looters.

Unfortunately, Tut died without a son and heir, plunging Egypt yet again into a period of anxiety that lasted about two decades, until a new dynasty was founded.

As the tombs of new pharaohs were carved into the limestone cliffs in the Valley of the Kings, chunks of rock must have piled up everywhere. In time, the debris spilled over the entrance to Tut’s tomb. With no physical reminder of his whereabouts, the teenager was all but forgotten.

More than 3,000 years later, wealthy Europeans began to explore the various royal burial grounds of the ancient Egyptian capital, searching for stunning artifacts to fill their homes and museums. One of these was Lord Carnarvon.

It would take Carter the next ten years to catalog all of Tut’s treasures. The boy King had been provided with 5,398 things he might need in the next life—everything from a solid gold coffin and face mask to beds and thrones, chariots and archery bows, food and wine, sandals and fresh linen underwear.

Although looters had broken into the tomb at least twice in antiquity, it remains the most spectacular burial ever discovered in Egypt. And this was for a teenager with a relatively short reign. The mind boggles at the thought of the wealth that must have been buried with one of the big names—like Nefertiti.

Tut’s reign may not have been filled with great military battles or political coups, but he was more than a minor blip on the list of kings. His death, without an heir, made him a pivotal figure in shaping the future of Egypt.

He and his wife, Ankhesenamun, tried to start a family but found only heartbreak. Their two daughters were delivered before term, both apparently stillborn. The tiny bodies were mummified, according to tradition, and laid to rest with their father in KV62.

Tut’s successor, Aye, was an old family retainer and only ruled for four years. He too left no heir.

Next up was Horemheb, a military general. And oddly enough, he and his wife had no children either.

Egypt was a country that needed a strong, healthy, fertile king to take the reins firmly in hand and perpetuate the royal line. What to do?

Horemheb ended up adopting an army buddy as his heir, a man named Ramses, who became the first ruler of the 19th Dynasty. And so began the chapter in history that’s often linked to the Bible, and to Ramses’ grandson, Ramses II. That great pharaoh would reign for 67 years, father more than a hundred children with multiple wives, and mount military campaigns that covered Egypt in further glory.

It was a happy outcome, all in all. And yet, the haunting question remains: What would have become of Egypt if Tut and his wife had brought a strapping baby boy into this world?

Hirokatsu Watanabe, a radar specialist from Japan, pushes his specially modified Koden-brand machine along the north wall of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber during radar scanning in 2015.

Hirokatsu Watanabe, a radar specialist from Japan, pushes his specially modified Koden-brand machine along the north wall of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber during radar scanning in 2015.

The walls of King Tutankhamun’s burial chamber are painted with scenes depicting the burial rituals of the young pharaoh. Radar scans suggest the presence of open spaces behind the walls. PHOTOGRAPH BY BRANDO QUILICCI, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

The walls of King Tutankhamun’s burial chamber are painted with scenes depicting the burial rituals of the young pharaoh. Radar scans suggest the presence of open spaces behind the walls. PHOTOGRAPH BY BRANDO QUILICCI, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

For at least 3,339 years, nobody has seen what lies behind the west and north walls of the burial chamber of Tutankhamun.  But this secret of three millennia might not last much longer.

In March 2016, Mamdouh Eldamaty, the Egyptian antiquities minister, held a press conference in Cairo to announce a tantalizing new piece of evidence:  Radar scans on those walls have revealed not only the presence of hidden chambers, but also unidentified objects that lie within these rooms. These objects, Eldamaty said, seem to be composed of both metal and organic materials.

“It could be the discovery of the century,” he said. Noting that he can’t speculate further about the things that lie within the chambers, he said that another radar test has been scheduled for the end of this month, in order to determine the best way to proceed with the investigation.

The results of the radar scan represent another step toward a radical new understanding of the most famous tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. First discovered by archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922, the tomb of King Tut yielded an astonishing array of grave goods—more than 5,000 artifacts, many of them in pristine condition. It was the most intact royal tomb ever found, providing Egyptologists with an unprecedented glimpse into the material life of a king who ruled during the 14th century B.C.

But for almost a century, nobody imagined that Carter’s painstaking excavation—he spent a decade documenting and clearing objects from the tomb—might be essentially unfinished. In July of last year, Nicholas Reeves, a British archaeologist who specializes in the Valley of the Kings, published a paper claiming that there may in fact be another tomb hidden behind the walls of Tut’s burial chamber.

Reeves’s theory was based in part on close examination of high-resolution laser scans of the tomb, which seemed to indicate traces of passageways and door openings that had been plastered and painted over during the preparation of Tut’s chamber.

Initially, Reeves’s paper was dismissed by many Egyptologists, but over the past half year, an ongoing examination of the tomb has supported a number of his key ideas. “I’ve not found anything that makes me doubt my initial conclusions,” Reeves has said.

The radar results represent the biggest endorsement thus far. Last November, Eldamaty invited Reeves and Hirokatsu Watanabe, a Japanese radar specialist, to Luxor, where they spent two evenings conducting radar scans of the west and north walls of Tut’s burial chamber. An initial read of the scan was compelling: After those tests in November, 2015, Eldamaty announced that he was “90 percent positive” that another chamber lay behind the north wall of the tomb.

But his comments were based entirely on the analysis of one man—Watanabe—and at that time the Japanese specialist had yet to conduct a detailed study of his data.

The March announcement, though, was based on Watanabe’s full report, which was delivered to the minister earlier this year.  Eldamaty noted that the Japanese specialist believes there are objects made of metal and organic materials behind the north wall, and others composed of organic materials behind the west wall.  “But I cannot say exactly what it is,” Eldamaty said.

These radar findings have also been reviewed by outside experts. Remy Hiramoto, a specialist in semiconductors and microelectronics who has served as a consultant to the UCLA Egyptian Coffins Project, examined the raw data, along with some of his colleagues, including Adrian Tang, a strategic researcher who works at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the THz systems group.

When contacted by telephone earlier this week, Hiramoto described the data set as “tight” —he felt that Watanabe’s equipment had performed well in the tomb. “It validates the initial hypothesis that there is a non-natural occurring chamber or cavity on the other side of that wall,” Hiramoto said.  “Based on the signatures that are in the data, there’s a void, and there’s definitely something that’s within the void.  There’s something in there.”

Hiramoto said that he and his colleagues could not tell what those objects are made of, or what they might be—whether they are naturally occurring features, or grave goods, or something else. But he noted that reading a radar is “like a Rorshach test,” and such work tends to be highly specialized.

Jason Herrmann, who specializes in archaeological geophysics at Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen in Germany, said that a radar expert can determine some details about unseen materials.  “In my past experience I’ve been able to pick out metal versus stone pretty easily,” he said, noting that in the past he used radar to locate metal artifacts that were buried within sand dunes in the United Arab Emirates.  He said that detecting a metal object in a stone-carved room should be easier than detecting it in sand.

“I’m not surprised that he’s able to pick out something that’s a weaker reflector than stone would be, or metal would be,” Herrmann said, referring to the possible presence of organic matter.

Later this month, a team of specialists from National Geographic will travel to Egypt at Eldamaty’s invitation, in order to carry out another series of radar tests, with the hope of confirming Watanabe’s results.  At the press conference, Eldamaty mentioned that one of the main purposes of the new scan will be to determine the thickness of the walls, in order to decide the next step of the investigation.  But he refused to say what that step might be. “We have to wait,” he said.

Almost anything that comes to light behind the walls will force specialists to envision the age of Tut with new eyes.  “It makes us re-look at everything,” said Kara Cooney, an Egyptologist at UCLA who has done extensive research on the 18th Dynasty, Tut’s period. She noted that one of the most explosive aspects of Reeves’s theory is the idea that Nefertiti, who most people believe was Tut’s stepmother, may be buried behind the north wall of the tomb.

As of yet there is no hard evidence for this theory, but a number of prominent Egyptologists have agreed with Reeves’s suggestion that the famous funerary mask of Tutankhamun was originally fashioned for Nefertiti. And there are signs that many of Tut’s grave goods were originally made for somebody else.

Cooney says that nowadays when she looks at statues of Tutankhamun, she’s not sure if she’s seeing his face or Nefertiti’s—part of the disorientation that is happening as experts confront new possibilities regarding the 18th Dynasty. “You’re looking at the coffin, at the tomb, at the statues,” she said. “Everything about this period has to be reevaluated.”

Photo Album: King Tut, Queen Nefertiti, and One Tangled Family Tree

 Egypt’s 18th dynasty.

Excavating the Tomb of Tutankhamun

Politics of the King Tut Discovery

Scans of King Tut’s Tomb Reveal New Evidence of Hidden Room

Mysteries of Egypt – Tutankhamun

Tutankhamen – Ancient History – HISTORY.com

King Tut – King – Biography.com

 


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  • R&BAvenger

    Great stuff. Have always been fascinated by the discovery of King Tut’s tomb.

  • Whitey

    It’s amazing to be able to see these photos in colour. Whale Oilers who want to know more about King Tut (and ancient Egypt in general) might want to check out the podcast Eric’s Guide to Ancient Egypt: http://ericsguidetoancientegypt.com/?p=227

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