King Tut Mysteries Endure 100 Years After Discovery

King Tut Mysteries Endure 100 Years After Discovery

It is one of the most famous archaeological discoveries–the treasure-filled tomb, or King Tutankhamun, of the young Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun. Today, one hundred years ago, Howard Carter, a British archaeologist, and an Egyptian excavation team discovered the final resting place of the boy king. Since then, scholars have been studying the royal burial ground and its owner. The broad outline of Tut’s life and times can be gleaned from this work. Many mysteries remain ,, including how the young Egyptian pharaoh was related Queen Nefertiti (herself an issue of debate), and how influential he was as ruler and how he passed away. New evidence is now available that may help fill in the gaps. As always, there are many debates about how to interpret them.

The key to Tut discovering was perseverance. By November 4, 1922, Carter and his team had spent five futile years searching for an undiscovered royal tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. According to the prevailing wisdom, all that the valley had to offer was already found. Carter decided to spend his final field season digging under a group huts that once housed the ancient tomb builders. “We had almost made up our minds that we were beaten…,” he and archaeologist Arthur Cruttenden Mace wrote in The Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen, their account of the expedition. “Hardly had our last despairing effort been put to the ground before we made a breakthrough .”

Under these huts, the excavation crew discovered a step in the rock. Within days the team had dug out a steep staircase and a 30-foot-long passageway that ended in a door sealed with plaster and stamped with the royal necropolis seal. Carter waited to open it until George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert (5th earl of Carnarvon), could travel to the location. The team dug out a steep staircase, sealed with plaster, and stamped with the royal Necropolis seal. Carter waited to open it until George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert (5th earl of Carnarvon), could travel to the location. On November 24, 1922, it was cleared to reveal a corridor, followed by a 30-foot-long passageway that ended in another door. On November 26, 1922, Carter broke open a small hole in the door and stuck a candle through, casting the first light into the chamber in nearly 3,300 years. As his eyes adjusted, he was stunned by the sight. “Details of the room emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues, and gold–everywhere the glint of gold,” Carter wrote in The Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen. He was looking into the antechamber of the tomb of Tutankhamun, a ruler who sat his throne for only around 10 years but did so at a pivotal time in Egyptian history.

Carter went on to carry out a meticulous, decade-long study of the four chambers that make up the tomb and more than 5,000 artifacts within them. Salima Ikram, an Egyptologist at the American University in Cairo, says that he is grateful for finding that tomb. “Had it not been for Carter, we would have had a lot less.” While Carter took artifacts from the grave to add to his personal collection, he was much more meticulous in documenting the tomb than many other Egyptian excavators at the time. Carter hired Harry Burton, an archaeologist who was part of an expedition sponsored by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, to photograph the excavation of this tomb. He documented each chamber in detail before any items were moved. Each artifact was assigned a number and was drawn on a map. Carter was trained by Sir Flinders Petrie, the greatest archaeologist of the time,” Zahi Hawass, ex-head of Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities, says. “Petrie transforms this man from being a draftsman, with drafts that were not great to one of the greatest excavators of that time.” Modern Egyptologists still use Carter’s methods to document tombs and other rooms full of artifacts using updated technology.

Through Carter’s work and the efforts of his successors, a picture began to emerge of Tut and his family. Tutankhamun was the child of the Pharaoh Akhenaten who renounced Amun, the deity with most economic and political power religious cult. For hundreds of years, Egyptians worshipped Amun as their chief God . Akhenaten succeeded him by elevating Aten , a sun god who was previously only a minor religion figure. Before his father’s death in 1336 B.C.E., Tutankhamun was named “Tutankhaten,” which means “the living image of Aten.” Akhenaten showed his devotion to Aten by moving Egypt’s capital from Thebes to a new city he had built on an uninhabited piece of land near the Nile. He built a huge temple to his new god and called it Akhetaten. It is now known as Amarna.

The temples of the Egyptian gods were places of trade and distribution of wealth and food to local communities. Akhenaten’s kingdom was destroyed without the help of the powerful cult Amun. The public did not seem to be well served by the Aten cult. The remains of Akhetaten’s residents show that a large portion of them were malnourished and had to endure heavy manual labor most likely building Akhenaten.

Tutankhamun is intertwined in the story of Akhenaten’s principal wife Nefertiti. She was often portrayed as equal in power to her husband. Scholars have been fascinated by her role as co-ruler in Egypt. Both her time as a ruler and the transition to Tutankhamun’s reign are part of the story about how Egypt was changing after the cult aten ended. She was not Tutankhamun’s mother, as one of Akhenaten’s secondary wives, Kiya is believed to have given birth. The Amarna art that depicts the royal family often depicts Nefertiti with her daughters, but not with a son.

After Akhenaten’s passing, an enigmatic pharaoh called Smenkhkara assumed the throne. The identity of this ruler is still a matter for intense debate. Some Egyptologists believe that Smenkhkara could have been Nefertiti, but she was a different person. This would make her one among the few women who could rule Egypt alone. Ikram believes that Nefertiti could have been ruling as a king. “Even in Akhenaten’s time, so much her iconography was that a male king, smiting opponents and doing such things as that .”

A pottery shard bearing Smenkhkara’s name was found by Hawass’s group in a city called the “Dazzling Aten” near the Valley of the Kings. This supports this view. Hawass states that this is a significant discovery as we don’t know the identity of Smenkhkara. “I believe now that Smenkhkara could have been Nefertiti.” Hawass believes this because a figurine depicting a female ruler was found in Tut’s tomb. He says it was not uncommon for a ruler’s name to be changed after a major political change. Another female ruler, Hatshepsut, also changed her name to take on a male persona as pharaoh more than 100 years before Nefertiti, Hawass said.

The idea that Smenkhkara might have been Nefertiti under a different name has been dismissed by some. Joyce Tyldesley, an English professor of Egyptology at Manchester University, believes that Smenkhkara is a brother or halfbrother to Tutankhamun. Barry Kemp, a professor emeritus of Egyptology at the University of Cambridge and director of excavations at Amarna, notes that a drawing in the tomb of Meryra II, a senior scribe and administrator, depicts the royal line of succession. “The king is labeled Ankh-kheperura Smenkhkara and the queen as Meretaten, Akhenaten’s eldest daughter [by Nefertiti],” Kemp explains, “I find it perverse to argue that the former is Nefertiti.

Smenkhkara ruled for only four years. Then, in 1332 B.C.E., Tutankhamun ascended the throne at the age of eight or nine to preside over a nation in upheaval. Egyptologists believe he was a puppet-king, whose strings were being pulled at him by older men who served as his father’s advisors: Ay, who would be Tutankhamun’s successor as pharaoh and Horemheb who would be the general of Egypt’s military and the man who would succeed Ay just a few years later. Tut, during his reign, renounced Aten’s worship and reintroduced Amun’s worship. He also moved Amarna’s capital to Thebes. Tyldesley points out that Tut was very young at the time these events took place, making it unlikely that he was responsible for them.

New evidence regarding Akhenaten’s religious revolution and Tutankhamun’s counterrevolution are also emerging from Hawass’s excavations at Dazzling Aten. Hawass’s excavations at the Dazzling Aten have revealed much of the main street that divided the city in to its eastern and western sections. This was only after two years of hard work. The street is bordered with curved mud-brick walls, which are remnants of buildings that were used to make jewelry, leather sandals and clothing during Tutankhamun’s reign. The team also discovered an artificial lake that was used as the city’s water source. Surprisingly, drawings of the Aten on the walls from the time of Akhenaten’s father, Pharaoh Amenhotep III depict him exactly as he was at Amarna. Amenhotep III also refers himself and to his palace at Malqata under the name “Dazzling Aten.” Hawass believes the worship of Aten was already fully formed before the reign of Akhenaten. He says, “For the first-time, we can confirm the idea of Aten wasn’t from Akhenaten like everyone believes.” “Aten was created in the .”

by Amenhotep III

DNA analyses may provide new insights into the life and times of Tutankhamun. Previous studies of ancient DNA obtained from Tut and several other members of the royal family revealed clues to his incestuous lineage. Hawass is currently involved in a DNA study of two unidentified Mummies found in the Valley of the Kings. They could be Nefertiti or Queen Ankhesenamun. This is the wife of Tutankhamun. Hawass anticipates the results from the DNA analysis in December. The work could help resolve questions about Nefertiti’s relationship to Tutankhamun and other members his dynasty members if the mummies are indeed Tutankhamun’s.

The DNA evidence may not resolve the matter. Ikram states that genetic studies cannot draw any conclusions due to the inbreeding that occurred within Egyptian royalty. When a family shares so many DNA, it can be difficult to distinguish a sister from a cousin.

Despite 100 years of study and technological progress, many questions about Tutankhamun remain–including the cause of his early death between the ages of 17 and 20. Researchers have a variety of hypotheses about Tutankhamun’s death, including murder, chariot accidents, and hippopotamus attacks. Ikram claims that CT scans of Tut’s mummy have not provided a definitive answer. The most significant legacy of Tutankhamun’s short reign, however, may not be the restoration of Egypt’s cults to the old gods. He is also a great draw for tourists to the country. “Tutankhamun, I swear to God, is the best Egyptian pharaoh because he’s the one who has been making Egypt’s economy boom, or at least break even, ever since 1922,” Ikram says. “Show me another king who’s done that!”


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