Tutankhamun, named Tutankhaten early in his life, was the 12th Pharaoh of the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt. He ruled from 1334-1323 BC and lived ca. 1341 BC - 1323 BC, during the period known as the New Kingdom.
His original name, Tutankhaten, meant "Living Image of Aten", while Tutankhamun meant "Living Image of Amun". He is possibly also the Nibhurrereya of the Amarna letters.
In historical terms, Tutankhamun is of only moderate significance, primarily as a figure managing the beginning of the transition from the heretical Atenism of his predecessor Akhenaten back to the familiar Egyptian religion.
As Tutankhamun began his reign at age 9, a considerable responsibility for his reign must also be assigned to his vizier and eventual successor, Ay. Nonetheless, Tutankhamun is in modern times the most famous of the Pharaohs, and the only one to have a nickname in popular culture ("King Tut").
The 1922 discovery by Howard Carter of his (nearly) intact tomb received worldwide press coverage and sparked a renewed public interest in Ancient Egypt, of which Tutankhamun remains the popular face.
Tutankamun's parentage is uncertain. An inscription calls him a king's son, but it is debated which king was meant. Most scholars think that he was probably a son either of Amenhotep III (though probably not by his Great Royal Wife Tiye), or of Amenhotep III's son Amenhotep IV (better known as Akhenaten), perhaps with his enigmatic second queen, Kiya. It should be noted that when Tutankhaten succeeded Akhenaten to the throne, Amenhotep III had been dead for some time; the duration is thought by some Egyptologists to have been seventeen years, although on this, as on so many questions about the Amarna period, there is no scholarly consensus.
Tutankhamun ruled Egypt for eight to ten years; examinations of his mummy show that he was a young adult when he died. Recent CT scans place Tut at age 19. This conclusion was reached after images of Tut's teeth were examined, and were found to be consistent with the teeth of a 19 year old. That would place his birth around 1342 BC-1340 BC, and would make it less likely that Amenhotep III was his father.
Tutankhamun from the back of his gold throne.
Ankhesenpaaten, Tutankhamun's wife -
Image from the back of his gold throne.
Tutankhamun was married to Ankhesenpaaten, a daughter of Akhenaten. Ankhesenpaaten also changed her name from the 'aten' endings to the 'amun' ending, becoming Ankhesenamun. They had two known children, both stillborn their mummies were discovered in his tomb.
During Tutankhamun's reign, Akhenaten's Amarna revolution (Atenism) began to be reversed. Akhenaten had attempted to supplant the existing priesthood and gods with a god who was until then considered minor, Aten.
In year 3 of Tutankhamun's reign (1331 BC), when he was still a boy of about 11 and probably under the influence of two older advisors (notably Akhenaten's vizier Ay), the ban on the old pantheon of gods and their temples was lifted, the traditional privileges restored to their priesthoods, and the capital moved back to Thebes.
The young pharaoh also adopted the name Tutankhamun, changing it from his birth name Tutankhaten. Because of his age at the time these decisions were made, it is generally thought that most if not all the responsibility for them falls on his vizier Ay and perhaps other advisors.
Tutankhamun died at the age of 19 by a head injury. Many suspect that he was murdered. He was buried in the Valley of the Kings. Two mummified fetuses were found in coffins that had been sealed by his name. These are believed to have been his children that were born prematurely.
Events after his death
A now-famous letter to the Hittite king Suppiluliumas I from a widowed queen of Egypt, explaining her problems and asking for one of his sons as a husband, has been attributed to Ankhesenamun (among others). Suspicious of this good fortune, Suppiluliumas I first sent a messenger to make inquiries on the truth of the young queen's story. After reporting her plight back to Suppilulumas I, he sent his son, Zannanza, accepting her offer.
However, he got no further than the border before he died, perhaps murdered. If Ankhesenamun were the queen in question, and his death a murder, it was probably at the orders of Horemheb or Ay, who both had the opportunity and the motive.
In any event, after Tutankhamun's death Ankhesenamun married Ay (a signet ring, with both Ay and Ankehesenamun's name was found), possibly under coercion, and shortly afterwards disappeared from recorded history.
Tutankhamun was briefly succeeded by the elder of his two advisors, Ay, and then by the other, Horemheb, who obliterated most of the evidence of the reigns of Akhenaten, Tutankhamun, and Ay.
Although all the other tombs in the Valley of the Kings at Thebes were later plundered, the tomb in which Tutankhamen was ultimately buried was hidden by rock chips dumped from cutting the tomb of a later king. Tutankhamen's tomb was discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter It was filled with extraordinary treasure, including a solid gold coffin, a gold mask, jewelry, and many artifacts.
Enter King Tutankhamun's Tomb
Cause of death
For a long time the cause of Tutankhamun's death was unknown, and was the root of much speculation. How old was the king when he died? Did he suffer from any physical abnormalities? Had he been murdered? Many of these questions were finally answered in early 2005 when the results of a set of CT scans on the mummy were released.The body was originally inspected by Howard Carter's team in the early 1920s, though they were primarily interested in recovering the jewelry and amulets from the body.
To remove the objects from the body, which in many cases were stuck fast by the hardened embalming resins used, Carter's team cut up the mummy into various pieces: the arms and legs were detached, the torso cut in half and the head was severed. Hot knives were used to remove it from the golden mask to which it was cemented by resin. Since the body was placed back in its sarcophagus in 1926, the mummy has subsequently been X-rayed three times: first in 1968 by a group from the University of Liverpool, then in 1978 by a group from the University of Michigan and finally in 2005 a team of Egyptian scientists led by Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, conducted a CT scan on the mummy.
Early (pre-2005) X-rays of his mummy had revealed a dense spot at the lower back of the skull. This had been interpreted as a chronic subdural hematoma, which would have been caused by a blow. Such an injury could have been the result of an accident, but it had also been suggested that the young pharaoh was murdered. If this is the case, there are a number of theories as to who was responsible: one popular candidate was his immediate successor Ay. Interestingly, there are seemingly signs of calcification within the supposed injury, which if true meant Tutankhamun lived for a fairly extensive period of time (on the order of several months) after the injury was inflicted.
Much confusion had been caused by a small loose sliver of bone within the upper cranial cavity, which was discovered from the same X-ray analysis. Some people have mistaken this visible bone fragment for the supposed head injury. In fact, since Tutankhamun's brain was removed post mortem in the mummification process, and considerable quantities of now-hardened resin introduced into the skull on at least two separate occasions after that, had the fragment resulted from a pre-mortem injury, it almost certainly would not still be loose in the cranial cavity. It therefore almost certainly represented post-mummification damage.
On March 8, 2005, Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass revealed the results of a CT scan performed on the pharaoh's mummy. The scan uncovered no evidence for a blow to the back of the head as well as no evidence suggesting foul play. There was a hole in the head, but it appeared to have been drilled, presumably by embalmers. A fracture to Tutankhamun's left thighbone was interpreted as evidence that suggests the pharaoh badly broke his leg before he died, and his leg became infected; however, members of the Egyptian-led research team recognized as a less likely possibility that the fracture was caused by the embalmers. 1,700 images were produced of Tutankhamun's mummy during the 15-minute CT scan.
Much was learned about the young king's life. His age at death was estimated at 19 years, based on physical developments that set upper and lower limits to his age. The king had been in general good health, and there were no signs of any major infectious disease or malnutrition during childhood. He was slight of build, and was roughly 170 cm (5‡ ft) tall. He had large front incisor teeth and the overbite characteristic of the rest of the Thutmosid line of kings to which he belonged.
He also had a pronounced dolichocephalic (elongated) skull, though it was within normal bounds and highly unlikely to have been pathologic in cause. Given the fact that many of the royal depictions of Akhenaten (possibly his father, certainly a relation), often featured an elongated head, it is likely an exaggeration of a family trait, rather than a distinct abnormality more typical of a condition like Marfan's syndrome, as had been suggested.
A slight bend to his spine was also found, but the scientists agreed that that there was no associated evidence to suggest that it was pathological in nature, and that it was much more likely to have been caused during the embalming process. This ended speculation based on the previous X-rays that Tutanhkamun had suffered from scoliosis.
The 2005 conclusion by a team of Egyptian scientists, based on the CT scan findings, confirmed that Tutankhamun died of a swift attack of gangrene after breaking his leg. After consultations with Italian and Swiss experts, the Egyptian scientists found that the fracture in Tutankhamun's left leg most likely occurred only days before his death, which had then become gangrenous and led directly to his death.
The fracture was not sustained during the mummification process or as a result of some damage to the mummy as claimed by Howard Carter. The Egyptian scientists have also found no evidence that he had been struck in the head and no other indication he was killed, as had been previously speculated.Despite the relatively poor condition of the mummy, the Egyptian team found evidence that great care had been given to the body of Tutankhamun during the embalming process. They found five distinct embalming materials, which were applied to the body at various stages of the mummification process. This counters previous assertions that the king s body had been prepared carelessly and in a hurry.
Tutankhamun in popular culture
Tutankhamun is the world's best known pharaoh, partly because his tomb is among the best preserved, and his image and associated artifacts the most-exhibited. He has also entered popular culture - he has, for example, been commemorated in the whimsical song "King Tut" by comedian Steve Martin, and in a series of historical novels by Lynda Robinson. As Jon Manchip White writes, in his forward to the 1977 edition of Carter's The Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamun, "The pharaoh who in life was one of the least esteemed of Egypt's kings has become in death the most renowned."
Facial Reconstruction - 2005
In 2005, three teams of scientists (Egyptian, French and American), in partnership with the National Geographic Society, developed a new facial likeness of Tutankhamun. The Egyptian team worked from 1,700 three-dimensional CT scans of the pharaoh's skull. The French and American teams worked plastic molds created from these -- but the Americans were never told whom they were reconstructing. All three teams created silicon molds bearing what decades of archaeological and forensic research show to be the most accurate replications of Tutankhamun's features since his royal artisans prepared the splendors of his tomb.
Face of Tutankhamun reconstructed BBC May 10, 2005
Tut's life and death unmasked BBC - October 2002
A high-tech facial reconstruction has shed new light on the looks of King Tutankhamun, the teenage king of ancient Egypt immortalized for nearly a century by his golden death mask. Scientists and special effects artists used digital techniques applied in crime investigations to fashion a fiberglass model they say provides the closest possible likeliness of the pharaoh's looks. The model shows a wide-faced young man with high cheekbones, smaller eyes and a heavy brow.
Howard Carter, Arthur C. Mace, The Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen. 1977
C. Nicholas Reeves, The Complete Tutankhamun: The King, the Tomb, the Royal Treasure. 1990
Bob Brier, The Murder of Tutankhamen: A True Story 1998
In the News ...
Tut's gem hints at space impact BBC - July 20, 2006
Research: Meteorite Crash Helped Form King Tut Necklace - Discovery News - June 30, 2006
Yellow-green glass carved into a beetle-shaped ornament and found on a necklace worn by the ancient King Tutankhamen was created by a meteorite fireball, according to new research. The carving is known as a scarab, which are ancient Egyptian fertility symbols shaped like dung beetles. In 1999, Italian geologists performed a chemical composition test on Tut's scarab, which is the centerpiece of a colorful necklace that archaeologist Howard Carter found in King Tut's Valley of the Kings' tomb in Luxor.
The geologists determined the scarab was made out of natural desert glass for the king, who reigned from 1333 to 1323 B.C. Such glass is only found in the Great Sand Sea of the eastern Sahara desert. With a silica content of 98 percent, it is the purest known glass in the world. The desert region, located 500 miles southwest of Cairo, yields this glass in a remote 49.7 by 15.5 rectangular area. "I think an Egyptian craftsman obtained the glass and worked it into a point or scraper tool," said Mark Boslough, who led a recent study on how the glass formed.
Boslough, an impact physics expert at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, added, "Glass fractures in ways that create sharp, useful shapes, so pieces commonly were used for tools. The glass is also often quite beautiful with interesting colors, so a jewelry maker might have taken an old tool and reworked it into the scarab. "Since most scientists believe heat from a meteorite strike produced Great Sand Sea glass, otherwise known as Libyan Desert glass, Boslough created computer simulations of how that could have happened.
He determined a 390-foot-wide asteroid traveling at 12.4 miles per second likely broke up in Earth's atmosphere around 30 million years ago, when the glass formed. "The velocity of the impacting object would have produced more energy than a nuclear explosion," he told Discovery News. "It not only would have had nuclear explosive scale, but its energy would all have been concentrated downwards. After the meteorite broke up in Earth¹s atmosphere, the temperature of the resulting fireball would have been as hot as the sun's surface. Like a blowtorch melting wax, the heat would have melted sand and sandstone into thin layers, which, when cooled, resulted in glass that later was blown into piles across the desert."
Boslough said additional evidence supports the fireball theory. "Shock minerals," for example, have been found in the same desert. These are minerals, such as quartz, which reveal sheer plane structures under magnification. Scientists believe such structures resulted from the sudden deformation caused by asteroid and fireball impacts.
Farouk El-Baz, a research professor and director of the Center for Remote Sensing at Boston University, at first was critical of Boslough¹s theory. He said, "If this glass is of meteoric origin, there should be a crater of that age." In March, however, El-Baz himself found remnants of the largest crater in the Saharan desert. It is a double-ringed crater the size of Cairo's urban region. El-Baz now suggests an extraterrestrial impact that resulted in the crater may have been responsible for the desert glass. This theory differs from Boslough's in that it means the asteroid collided with Earth in a sudden hit and did not break into a fireball beforehand. Boslough countered, "The newly discovered crater is 100 kilometers (around 62 miles) away from where the desert glass is located. Also, why don't we see this glass elsewhere?" Boslough and his team studying desert glass to determine what trace gases it might contain. The information could help to further explain what happened millions of years ago when the glass formed.