In the second of two articles, Zahi Hawass continues his explanation of the mystery of Tutankhamun
November 2014 marks 92 years since the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in Luxor. This is an occasion that could be used to promote tourism to the city where the golden king and his tomb are located. It is also be an ideal opportunity to announce that only one ticket is now needed to visit Tutankhamun’s family tombs, including those of Amenhotep II, Yuya and Tuya, and tomb KV55.
Even with the passage of time, we should never forget what the English team did to the pharaoh’s mummy in 1968. Jewellery disappeared, and pieces of the mummy were taken without permission. Only last year an English team announced, based on their examination of these stolen pieces, that the mummy of Tutankhamun had been burned.
My intention in this article, and in the article published in the Weekly last week, is to show that despite the problems that Tutankhamun had during his life, he was in good health and used to hunt wild animals. He was not disabled, contrary to what was alleged on a recent TV show.
Last week I wrote about the lies told in an English TV show about the golden king, and how a scientist had perjured himself in front of scholars all over the world. The truth about Tutankhamun is the real discovery made by the great British archaeologist Howard Carter, enabling us to discover new material about the boy king every year. The truth has been revealed by the great work of the Egyptian Mummy Project and the discovery of Tutankhamun’s family and how he died.
When Carter first started working in the Valley of the Kings on the west bank at Luxor he did so as a chief inspector. He directed the attention of a wealthy American, Theodore Davis, to the Valley of the Kings. Carter was searching for the tomb of Thubmose IV and needed funding to continue his excavations there.
Carter began his work in 1902. One of his first discoveries was the tomb of Maiherpri (KV36). In 1908, Carter met Lord Carnarvon and succeeded in convincing him to apply for a concession in the Valley of the Kings. Carter was sure that he would be able to locate an intact tomb. He worked, without success, for four years.
By the summer of 1922 Carnarvon had grown tired of his fruitless investments there. He called Carter to discuss whether it was worthwhile continuing the excavation. After a long discussion, Carnarvon finally gave Carter a last chance at one more excavation season.
THE WATER BOY AND THE TOMB:Many people do not know the true story of the discovery of the tomb. A young boy named Hussein Abdel-Rassul was hired by the overseer of Carter’s workmen to bring water to the site, which he did in one or two trips every day.
The water came in large pottery jars carried on the back of a donkey. Things have not changed much today. We used to do the same thing during my excavations in the Valley of the Golden Mummies in the Bahariya Oasis, for example.
On the morning of 4 November 1922, Abdel-Rassul arrived at the site as usual. Before he could set the jars on the ground he had to dig a small hole because the bottoms of the jars were pointed. Abdel-Rassul’s digging uncovered a flat patch of stone. This was the first step down to the tomb of Tutankhamun.
A photograph shows the boy wearing an ornate necklace with a scarab and sun disk flanked by cobras, which was found in 1924 in the chamber known as the treasury of the tomb. Only Carter could have allowed such a gesture to be made. He certainly put the necklace on Abdel-Rassul himself, as a reward for the discovery that led to the tomb’s excavation.
I am sure, though, that this gesture was only for the purpose of taking the photograph. This is also not the only photograph of Abdel-Rassul at the site. The wife of the seventh earl of Carnarvon, Jean Margaret Herbert, found a photograph in Lord Carnarvon’s collection showing Abdel-Rassul standing on the cleared steps of the tomb.
A German reporter went to Gourna on the west bank of the Nile at Luxor in search of the former water boy. He met Abdel-Rassul at the rest house of the Ramessium, the mortuary temple built for Ramses II. When Abdel-Rassul met the journalist he brought with him photographs that show him wearing the necklace.
There are two of these: one of Abdel-Rassul as an old man of 70 and one of his son. In each photograph the subject is holding an old photograph of Abdel-Rassul as a boy wearing the jewellery of the boy king. Sheikh Ali Abdel-Rassul, a descendent of a well-known family of tomb robbers, told me that the water boy was his cousin.
THE ENTOURAGE OF TUTANKHAMUN: We know the identity of many people who surrounded the boy king. These include Haremhab, who was the army commander, and Ay, who bore the title of his father and also served as a priest and military officer under the monotheistic king Akhenaten.
There was also the high priest of Amun, Parenefer, as well as two viziers who worked with the king, Pentu and Usermont, and Huy, who was the overseer of Nubia during the pharaoh’s reign. There were also Maya, head of the treasury of Tutankhamun, and Seb and Panalcht, the mayors of Thinis and governor of Lcaula respectively.
But the most interesting figure is Tutankhamun’s teacher Senejem, who also built a tomb in the desert, and his wet nurse Maya, whose tomb was found in the Saqqara necropolis. Inside her tomb, scenes depicting Maya with Tutankhamun as a young boy sitting on her lab were uncovered. We should also not forget queen Nefertiti and Tutankhamun’s wife, Ankhesenamun.
In fact, many mysteries have surrounded Tutankhamun’s family. For example, we do not know who his father was. Some scholars believe that Akhenaten was Tutankhamun’s father, based on the discovery of a text mentioning Tutankhamun as the son of a king and Ankhesenamun as a daughter of a king. But the inscriptions state that Tutankhamun lived at Amarna, which would seem to rule this theory out.
Others believe that Amenhotep III could have been the father of Tutankhamun, since Tutankhamun made additions to Amenhotep III’s temples at Luxor, suggesting a close connection between the two kings. Tutankhamun also described himself as “renewing the monument of his father.”
Some scholars, however, believe that the word “father” in hieroglyphics could also mean “grandfather,” so the evidence is inconclusive. The archaeological evidence suggests that the mummy found in KV55 belongs to Akhenaten or Smenkhkare.
The mother of Tutankhamun is also not known. Some believe that Kiya was his mother and died while delivering the boy king, while others say that queen Tiye, the wife of Amenhotep III, or queen Nefertiti, the wife of Akhenaten, could have been the mother of Tutankhamun.
We know more about Tutankhamun’s children, as the mummies of Yuya and Tuya, the parents of queen Tiye, as well as the mummy of Amenhotep III and the two foetuses of Tutankhamun’s children, have all been recovered. Scholars have also suggested a relationship between other mummies and that of Tutankhamun, such as the mummy of the Elder Lady in the tomb of Amenhotep II and the mummy in KV55.
It was thought that a DNA test might unravel this mystery, so two laboratories were built, one in the basement of the Egyptian Museum and the second in the Faculty of Medicine at Cairo University. Each had its own team, each working so that one team would not know the results of the other.
Both labs were specifically devoted to analysis of ancient DNA from mummies, and the staff had to be Egyptian so that the tests could be properly monitored. Tests on the Y chromosomes of the male mummies would determine a precise genetic relationship between them, if there was any relationship at all.
I was sceptical that this arrangement would work, but I was delighted by the results. With just a 0.017 chance of error, the team established that the mummy of Amenhotep III was the father of the mummy in KV55, and that the KV55 mummy was the father of Tutankhamun. The tests were done to a standard that would satisfy an FBI paternity test.
The question now was who the KV55 mummy belonged to. Many believed that it could be Akhenaten, whose epithets could be found on a coffin found in the tomb, but others believed that the mummy was that of Semenkhkare. Earlier forensic analysis had determined that the body was that of a man who was at most 25 years old. This was too young for Akhenaten, who reigned for 17 years and had two daughters before he was crowned.
Perhaps if we could determine who gave was the mother of the KV55 mummy it would help. We knew that Akhenaten’s mother was queen Tiye, who was long suspected of being the Elder Lady, formerly known as the mummy of KV35. We also knew that this mummy’s hair matched the lock of hair found in Tutankhamun’s tomb and was labelled as belonging to queen Tiye.
If we compared the Elder Lady’s DNA to that of the mummies of Yuya and Tuya, queen Tiye’s parents, that would confirm her identity. Indeed, that is exactly what the DNA tests showed. KV35 shared half of the tested genetic markers with the mummy of Yuya and the other half with Tuya.
Radiological examination showed that the queen had died at about the age of 50 and that her parents had both died in their 50s. What would the tests reveal about the relationship between Tiye and the KV55 mummy? They showed that Tiye was the mother of the mummy.
There was still the problem of age. A man of 25 years old was much too young to be Akhenaten. New CT scans were performed, which revealed degeneration of the spine related to age and osteoarthritis in the knees and legs. This mummy was much older than previously thought. It belonged to a man in the range of 35 to 45 years old.
That meant almost certainly that the offspring of Amenhotep III and Tiye was Akhenaten. There remained a shadow of a doubt, however, because so little is known about Smenkhkare, even how old he was.
Scans of the mummy shed light on another aspect of the family. It has often been thought that an abnormality caused by a genetically inherited disease such as Marfan Syndrome was the reason for the strangely elongated and feminine appearance of the king in the art of the Amarna Period. But the scan revealed no abnormalities.
Instead, the reason for the artistic convention must be sought in Akhenaten’s ideas about the god Atun and his attempt to show himself as having both male and female qualities, just like Atun who was both the father and mother of all creation.
Attention now turned to the search for Tutankhamun’s mother. We were surprised to find the answer so easily. The results of the DNA tests showed that his mother was the younger woman in KV35 who was the daughter of Amenhotep II and Tiye. We have no evidence that either Nefertiti or Kiya was the daughter of Amenhotep III and Tiye.
THE SEARCH FOR NEFERTITI: Two foetuses were found in the treasury room known today by the numbers Carter assigned to them at the time of their discovery: 317a and 317b. One is seven months old and the other is nine months old.
We began to look for the mummy of Ankhesenamun, the mother of the two foetuses. The ancient Egyptians sometimes buried mother and daughter together, such as in KV35, where queen Tiye was found beside her daughter. This made me think about the two female mummies found in KV21: these could possibly be Nefertiti and one of her daughters.
They were found in 1817 by the Italian archaeologist Giovanni Belzoni. Later, the American archaeologist Donald Rayan collected the mummies and put them in two boxes within the tomb to protect them.
The first mummy is called KV21a and has no head. The second is KV21b, which is better preserved. DNA tests showed that KV21a was very likely the mother of the two foetuses. More research is needed on the mummy KV21b and the mummy of Mutnodkmet, the sister of Nefertiti, to solve the mystery of Nefertiti.
HOW TUTANKHAMUN DIED: The first examination of the boy king’s mummy happened in 1968, when it was found that the mummy had lost the band on its head as well as turquoise jewellery.
Last year an English team announced that it had pieces from the mummy of Tutankhamun that were taken in 1968. This needs investigation to find out how this happened. The last X-ray of the mummy was done by Harris in 1978, but the CT scan done by the Egyptian Mummy Project team revealed new information that the X-rays and inspection by human eyes had missed.
It was hoped that this would lead to answers to the questions that other studies had raised, and perhaps end speculation about the boy king’s alleged murder. It might even raise new questions, but that is the nature of science.
Like X-rays, CT scans are not invasive, but unlike X-rays they produce a three-dimensional image in which different types of soft issue and bone can be differentiated. The machine was taken to Luxor and operated by Hany Abdel-Rahman. All the members of the team were Egyptian.
When we entered the tomb and removed the glass casing that covered the stone sarcophagus of the king, we found that the outermost coffin was cracked. This was not a great surprise, considering that the coffin had been sitting in the burial chamber without benefit of conservation or climate control for the past 80 years.
It took us half an hour to remove the lid. Inside, covered with a cotton blanket and linen, was the king, still lying on his bed. The body was in pieces. The face, hands, legs and feet were still preserved. It reminded me of an ancient monument lying in ruins in the sand.
The team included leading Egyptian scientists, among them Ashraf Selim. Some of the analyses of the CT scans confirmed the results of the older examinations using modern developmental markers.
The team used the partial eruption of the mummy’s wisdom teeth and the state of the epiphyses to determine that the king was 19 years old when he died. His bones indicated that he was in good health, of moderate height, at 1.7 metres tall, and had a slight build. There was no sign of chronic disease or childhood malnutrition, indicating that he had been well cared for in his youth. He had good teeth.
The CT scan also made it very evident that he had a very elongated skull, which earlier researchers had also noted. Because his cranial structure had not prematurely fused, the team ruled out that any pathology lay behind this curious shape, which is common in the art of the Amarna Period.
One diagnosis that the CT scan could not find was scoliosis. There was also no evidence of a blow to the head. The loose pieces of bone earlier noted could not have resulted from an injury received while the king was alive.
Earlier X-rays had revealed an unexpected oddity about the mummy: some of the king’s frontal ribs and his sternum were missing. Some people wondered if this was a birth defect, while others believed that the king had been in a chariot accident, maybe kicked by a horse which resulted in the bones of his chest being fatally crushed, or perhaps embalmers had removed the ribs for some reason.
There had been no earlier mention of this portion of the anatomy being missing. It was suggested that the ribs were removed sometime between 1926 and 1967 in order to steal his jewellery. Examination revealed no evidence that the king might have received any massive injury to his chest. I believe that the ribs were cut by Carter when he was removing the golden mask.
The radiologists stated that indications of an injury on the left leg resulted from an accident just a few hours before Tutankhamun died. The apparent condition of the king’s mummy has led some to say that it was not properly preserved. But the scanner revealed that the embalmers had employed at least five different kinds of embalming fluid, which had been introduced into the body multiple times. They had done their best to prepare their king for the afterlife, and the king had been well fed while he was alive.
More examination of the mummy found that Tutankhamun’s spine was slightly curved, giving him a mild case of a condition known as kyphoscoliosis. It was discovered that he had troubles with his feet. His right foot had a low arch, but his left foot was deformed as a result of club foot. There is evidence that the king had malaria. Could it have been malaria that killed him?
There is no evidence to suggest that Tutankhamun was murdered. The mummy showed no sign of trauma to the head or the chest from any blow that the king received during his lifetime.
I propose the following theory regarding the death of the boy king: as shown in the CT scan, he suffered an accident a few hours before he died. This might have happened, for example, while he was out hunting wild animals from his chariot in the desert near Memphis. Another young man might have recovered from the type of injuries he received, but Tutankhamun succumbed to his wounds, resulting in his untimely death.
The story of the golden boy king has not ended and will continue. In the meantime it is important to correct the misinformation put out by the recent TV show and by the German scholar who used CT scan images without permission. The courts will put an end to these lies.