Recent speculation about the life of the ancient Egyptian boy king Tutankhamun can be easily disproved by the archaeological evidence, writes Zahi Hawass
Tutankamun: the Truth Revealed” is the title of a TV show produced by a private company in England for the BBC and the Smithsonian Channel in the United States. But the show reveals lies, not the truth.
It quotes scientists whose real intention is to become famous in the media, and one of them, a former member of the Egyptian mummy project, uses the Egyptian team’s CT and DNA analysis without permission to spread lies about Tutankhamun, claiming that the ancient Egyptian boy king was handicapped, born with a club foot.
This golden boy has entered the hearts of people all over the world, and this person wanted to take him out of our hearts. This person and the film producer have made a huge mistake and in so doing they have lost the respect of all reasonable people. Scholars all over the world disagree with them, and, again, instead of revealing the truth all they have done is to propagate lies.
The UK’s Daily Mail newspaper has published an article on the new documentary on Tutankhamun, produced by STV and already aired. The documentary distorts what Tutankhamun looked like: the boy king, whose treasure and tomb still fascinate people across the world, was presented in a completely fantastic way, humiliating not only the Egyptian king but also rewriting the history of the ancient world.
The face of the king was reconstructed by a French team that rebuilds the features of the dead using special computer programmes. This reconstruction was not based on science or on the study of the anatomy of the face of the mummy, however. Another Egyptian-American team had already reconstructed the king’s face, but for some reason the programme used the image produced by the French.
It is obvious that there is a clear difference between the features of Tutankhamun’s mummy, preserved in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings, and the image shown in the programme. In my own lectures on the golden king, I always show three reconstructed images of Tutankhamun, and when I show the French reconstruction I am careful to say that it is not borne out by the facts.
Furthermore, the documentary makers stated that Tutankhamun had feminine hips, but this is not based on scientific evidence. First, the study of Tutankhamun’s mummy by X-ray and CT scan has not shown any indication of such female features. The hips of the mummy are tied up with linen, and it is not possible to show that he had the kind of female hips seen, for example, in statues of the pharaoh Akhenaten.
How did the television team, which did not perform any scientific studies or even touch the mummy, reach these results? The purpose was to tarnish the image of the Egyptian pharaoh.
Second, the idea behind focusing attention on Tutankhamun’s hips was to attract attention to the statues of Akhenaten, the father of Tutankhamun. These statues are expressions of the god Aten, whom Akhenaten worshiped as a sole god and creator of the universe. Thus, the statues and images of Akhenaten with female features are reflections of religion. In fact, the skeleton of Akhenaten, which was buried in tomb KV55, has no feminine features.
Scientific studies carried out by the Egyptian team on the mummy of Tutankhamun have shown that the king was generally in good health in spite of suffering from flat feet, meaning that blood did not reach his left toes. The archaeological evidence proves that the king grew up and lived in Memphis, the administrative capital of Egypt during the 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom.
He lived in a palace at Memphis and his wet-nurse Maya took care of him: the French archaeologist Alan Zivie has found her tomb, which contains an image of Tutankhamun sitting on her lap.
Tutankhamun also built a small rest house to the south of the temple of Khafre at Giza. The desert between Giza and Saqqara was called the Valley of Ghazal (the valley of deer) and Tutankhamun used this rest house to relax after hunting wild animals. This fact alone shows that he was not the invalid claimed in the television programme.
In addition, the king appears in many scenes depicted on golden shrines and wooden boxes, as well as on fan holders, sitting or standing in his chariot. This also shows that he was fond of shooting and hunting.
One of the new discoveries found beneath the houses of a village located between Abusir and Saqqara is a block that depicts Tutankhamun seated and shooting wild animals, while his wife, Ankhesenamun, is kneeling by his feet. If he had looked like the image broadcast in the TV documentary he would never have been able to hunt wild animals.
This documentary did not entertain at all, and, despite its efforts, it will not make me forget the beauty of Tutankhamun. But this is not the first time that a foreign team has damaged the golden boy.
The first occasion was in 1925, when Tutankhamun’s British discoverers, Howard Carter and Douglas Derry, opened the sarcophagus and coffins and found that the face of the mummy was covered with a golden mask and 150 amulets. Carter looked at the mask and saw the face as an idealised portrait of the young king executed in precious materials with unsurpassed craftsmanship.
I myself go to see the mask every time I visit the Cairo Museum. It served as a place in which Tutankhamun’s soul could dwell if some ill fate befell his body and thus was an essential item of the royal burial objects.
When the tomb was opened, the king’s head was adhered to the inside of this marvellous object because of the resins used to preserve the mummy. To remedy this situation, Carter and Derry heated knives to melt and cut through the resins. As a result, the process of freeing the mask removed the mummy’s head as well.
I can well imagine being in Carter’s place, seeing this exquisite face for the first time and knowing that within it was the real face of the king. Should I remove the mask and do damage to the royal mummy?
Or should I leave the two joined together and exhibit the mummy with the mask in place? My choice would have been the same as Carter’s: take the mask off, even at the price of damaging the head beneath.
The ancient Egyptians thought that the flesh of the gods was made of gold, so, fittingly, their artisans used this metal to create this masterpiece. They hammered together two thick gold sheets and then gave them the features of the king. Recent X-ray examination of the mask has revealed that the artisans added thin layers of gold, silver, and copper alloy to the gold body of the mask to increase its brilliance.
After the mask was taken off the mummy was broken into 18 pieces, but the head was in good condition. Harry Burton, a member of Carter’s expedition, took a photograph at the time that shows that Carter and his team left the head of the mummy covered with linen, turquoise beads and a diadem.
This seems to show that although Carter damaged the body of the king when he removed the bandages and the objects wrapped with them, he did not damage the head. What happened to the head to make it appear as it does today? The only possible explanation is that later investigators were responsible when they used chemicals to treat this part of the body.
The story began in 1968 when R G Harrison, an anatomist at the University of Liverpool in the UK, intended to X-ray the body. A sweet smell greeted him when he removed the lid of the coffin. The dismemberment was discovered, along with Carter’s poor job of rewrapping the mummy.
Harrison’s team also realised that Tutankhamun was missing one of his thumbs, as well as his penis. Harrison confirmed some of Derry’s observations, including the king’s age at death, though he believed it was at the younger end of the range of 18 to 22 years. He confirmed the similarities between the skulls of Tutankhamun and the KV 55 tomb mummy. These mummies were about the same height and similarly proportioned. Clearly, there was a family resemblance.
X-rays of Tutankhamun’s skull revealed opaque material that was probably residue from the mummification process, a fragment of bone inside the skull, and a thickened or fuzzy area on the back of the skull. Some people have pointed to this as evidence that the king received a fatal blow to the head.
But the fact that the bone is loose in the skull would indicate that whatever event placed it there occurred after mummification. Otherwise, it would have become caught in the embalming material introduced into the skull. The X-rays also revealed scoliosis in the king’s spine; perhaps he was frail, as had been suggested in the past.
The king was returned to his tomb. But no one knew what had happened to the mummy, until the photograph taken by Harrison and his team became public. No band of linen or beads and diadem can be seen.
These might have been removed and put in storage. But I myself looked in the store on the west bank at Luxor and also in the Luxor Museum and the Cairo Museum and found nothing. The pieces on the head were stolen.
Last year a team from London announced that it had studied pieces from the king’s body and found that the mummy had been burned. I raised the question of how these pieces were removed from the body without permission, since no one would have given permission to take pieces from the mummy of the golden boy.
Of course the evidence could show that the mummy had been burned: the stolen pieces could have been burned by the hot knives that Carter and his team used when they were removing the golden mask.
We can now see the full extent of the crimes that have been committed against Tutankhamun: a scientist who has given fake information against the boy king and TV producers who have used CT-scan images without permission.
They will be sued and taken to court. Moreover, the European academic Albert Zink used DNA results without permission, saying that he took the DNA from the mummy of Tutankhamun. The fact is, however, that he never touched the mummy.
The story of the golden boy is far from finished.