- Mummy -
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|The Ancient Egypt Site created by Jacques Kinnaer||
Last update: 25 July, 2009
|Discovery and examinations|
The mummy of Tutankhamun is the only New Kingdom royal mummy that had lain undisturbed in its tomb until the excavation-season of 1925/26, when Howard Carter finally removed the lid of the third and last mummy-coffin.
Before Carter and his men lay an impressive, neat and carefully made mummy, over which has been poured anointing oils and occupying the whole interior of the third coffin. A brilliant golden mummy mask was found hiding the mummy's head. Two golden hands, holding the royal insignia, lay upon the mummy's chest and just below, a Ba-bird was to protect the mummy.
The enormous amount of anointing oils that had been poured over the mummy had, in the years, consolidated and formed a thick, black layer that literally glued the mummy to the coffin and the golden mask. This, along with the countless amulets, jewels and other objects that lay on the mummy or between its wrappings, made unwrapping the mummy extremely difficult. More bad luck struck the team when the X-ray machine that was to be used to examine the mummy prior to its unwrapping, had broken down.
Despite these obstacles Carter, assisted by Dr. Derry, proceeded with the unwrapping and examination of the mummy. According to the official account, the mummy was very carefully pried loose from the coffin using hot knives to melt the resin. Carter also removed all the amulets and jewels, meticulously recording their position on the king's body. Probably to Carter's disappointment, the mummy was poorly preserved and carbonised, something that he blamed on the over-use of resin and oils during the embalming.
The mummy was measured to 1.63m in height, to which Derry added some 2.5cm (1 inch) to compensate for some shrinking during the mummification-process. This estimate corresponds to the height of the two statues found guarding the entrance to the burial chamber. Derry also noted a large lesion in the mummy's left jaw and estimated the age of death at between 17 and 19 years old.
After its careful examination, the mummy was photographed and, still according to the official account, re-wrapped and laid to rest in its outer coffin.
In 1968, a British team headed by R.G. Harrison, obtained permission to re-open Tutankhamun's coffin in order to X-ray the royal mummy. X-rays of the mummy's head revealed that the resins used to liquefy and remove the brain, were introduced into the head at two different occasions: once when the body was laying on its back and again when it was hanging upside down! Tutankhamun's is the only known royal mummy to have been treated in such a manner.
Even more startling was the discovery that the king's sternum and much of the rib-cage had been removed by the embalmers, most likely at the time when the internal organs were removed. This fact had not been noticed by Dr. Derry, who did not have an X-ray machine available to him, because the chest cavity had been filled with bundles of cloth.
Harrison's examination further confirmed Derry's conclusion that the king had died 'within the early part of the age-range of 18-22', even though one of Harrison's team-members would later rather reduce this age to 16-17 on the basis of the wisdom teeth.
Because the quality of Harrison's X-rays was not sufficient to examine the king's teeth, Tutankhamun was again subjected to an examination in 1978, this time by James E. Harris.
Was Tutankhamun murdered?
Tutankhamun's early demise and the lesion in his left jaw have resulted in a lot of speculation about the cause of his death. It has often been supposed that the young king fell victim to a vicious plot and accusing fingers are regularly pointed in the direction of two of Egypt's most powerful men at that time: Ay and Horemheb.
Harrison's discovery of a bone fragment inside the mummy's skull, has only heightened speculation, as it was deemed unlikely by some that the fragment is part of the nose-bone that is broken during the mummification. It is not clear if this bone fragment is related to the lesion in the king's left jaw.
On the other hand, it must be noted that the lesion had already started healing before the king passed away. Whatever the cause of this wound, it did not kill him immediately.
A possible piece of the puzzle that was discovered in 1968, is the fact that the king's sternum and part of his rib-cage are missing.
Denis Forbes pointed out correctly that it is very unlikely for Tutankhamun to have been born without them and lived to become a teenager. This means that the sternum and missing ribs were removed some time after his death, either during the mummification process or after the mummy's initial examination by dr. Derry. The latter could explain why Derry does not mention that they were missing.
Forbes hypothesises that these vital body parts were therefore removed before the king's burial, thus during the embalming process. As the removal of the sternum and part of the rib-cage was not part of the normal mummification, Forbes assumes this was done because they were badly damaged. Perhaps the damage to the chest was such, that it hindered the embalmers' work.
The only way the sternum and rib-cage could have been damaged to necessitate their removal, is if the king's chest had been crushed.
With a crushed chest and a healing wound in his left jaw, it can not be doubted that Tutankhamun died a violent death. Again, Forbes may have a valid point when he notes that "it is hard to imagine either Ay or Horemheb dropping a boulder on the royal chest". Crushing someone's chest would indeed constitute a poor and very indiscreet way of trying to kill him.
Another piece of the puzzle has been dicovered during the Egyptian CAT-scan examination of the king's remains in 2005. The scan revealed a broken leg which might have caused a quick spread of gangreen, resulting in the young king's death. Even if one assumes that Forbes' initial assumption that the sternum and ribs were removed during the mummification proces, is wrong, a broken leg too would point to an accidental death.
Forbes further hypothesises that young Tutankhamun may have been thrown off balance during a hunt, falling from his chariot and being crushed by the chariots of his hunting-companions.
Although this is not an unlikely scenario, there also remain other possibilities. Scenes from the tomb of Horemheb at Saqqara show foreigners being led in captivity before the great general, probably during the reign of Tutankhamun. Other sources from Tutankhamun's reign also point to military activity in Asia and perhaps also in Nubia. If Tutankhamun was present on the battlefield, he may have received a blow against his left jaw, causing him to loose his balance and fall. In the tumult of the battle, it would also be possible that the fallen king was crushed by horses or chariots. As in Forbes' scenario, he would have lived long enough for the wound to his jaw to start healing, but he would finally succumb to the gangreen resulting from his broken leg. If his sternum and ribs had been severely damaged during the fall, then that too would have speeded up the young king's death.
The royal mummy after its discovery
The first discovery Harrison and his team made in 1968 was that, contrary to Carter's official account, the mummy had not been re-wrapped at all before its re-burial in 1926. It simply lay, denuded and covered by a simple sheet, on a tray of sand in the outer coffin, almost exactly as in the official pictures taken in 1926.
For unknown reasons, Carter had neglected to re-wrap the mummy and had lied about it in his official account.
It also became clear that Carter had been a lot less careful while unwrapping the pharaoh than he claimed.
Both arms were severed from the chest at the shoulders. The forearms and hands had been amputated, to allow the removal of the many bracelets. The legs and feet of the royal mummy had received a similar treatment: the legs had been amputated at the hip, knees and ankles to help reveal the king's age of death.
The body trunk was separated from the pelvis
to facilitate its removal from the mummy coffin. In order to be able
to free the mummy from its golden mask, its head was severed from the
body at the 7th cervical vertebrae. The tissue in the back of the neck
was destroyed, probably while decapitating the king or removing the
Official photo of the mummy of Tutankhamun, taken at its discovery.
The archaeologists may probably have inflicted even more damage to the royal mummy in their attempt to free it from its coffin. Not only did they use hot knives to melt the resin, by itself a questionable technique, they also exposed the mummy for hours to the hot desert sun. This, and not, as Carter stated, the liberally poured embalming oils, may have caused the mummy to start carbonising.
Aware of what they had done, Carter and his team neatly camouflaged the damage they had inflicted on the royal mummy when the official pictures were taken. Tutankhamun's body was laid on a tray of sand (see image above) with enough sand not only to support the royal remains, but also to hide the fact that it had been cut apart. Detail pictures of the king's head too did not reveal that it had been severed from its body.
A comparison of the mummy in 1968 and 1978 with the pictures taken in 1926 revealed some other curious facts. Both the king's right ear and his penis, clearly present in the older pictures, were missing in 1968! Have they, for some obscure reasons, been removed in 1926?
Worse still, it was noted that the mummy's condition had drastically deteriorated! The eyelids, that were neatly preserved in 1926, had collapsed. And where Derry described the mummy's skin as "greyish in colour", it had appeared darker and more charred-looking to the later examiners. This might indicate that over the 42 to 52 years between the first, second and third examination, the mummy has started carbonising and disintegrating. After each examination, the mummy has been put back in its outer coffin and in its original tomb, instead of moving it to a place with a more controllable environment.
One can only wonder how long it will take before the remains of the only New Kingdom king to have been found undisturbed in his tomb, will be reduced to some bones and dust...
Based on the 3-D scans of the king's head that were made during the CAT scan examination of his mummy, two teams worked independently on a reconstruction of his face.
One team knew the origin of the scans, the other did not.
Not surprisingly, the first team came up with a facial reconstruction
that very closely resembles the statuette showing the king's head rising
from a lotus (on the left). The second team's findings were further
away from any known representation of Tutankhamun (on the right), leaving
out details such as skin colour, hair and eye colour.
A comparison of the head of the mummy when it was discovered (two leftmost images) and when it was last examined (rightmost image) reveals how much the mummy has deteriorated.