The precious clues revealed by the tomb of Tutankhamun

The precious clues revealed by the tomb of Tutankhamun

Tutankhamun is probably the most studied mummy in the world. And for good reason ! It is one of the only Pharaonic burials that has been discovered almost intact. Most of the other tombs have been repeatedly looted. The discovery thus received worldwide media coverage, sparking renewed public interest in ancient Egypt. The famous golden mask in particular, and the approximately 5500 objects found in the tomb fascinate the whole world.

The very first examination of the mummy was carried out in November 1925, three years after the discovery of the tomb. At that time, Howard Carter and his colleagues were in such a hurry to carry out analyzes that they damaged the mummy during its extraction from the sarcophagus. The head was separated from the trunk and the limbs were damaged. Fortunately, this did not eliminate the valuable clues. These have therefore allowed archaeologists to solve some of the mysteries surrounding the young king.

Assassination and accident now excluded from causes of death

Over time, thanks to increasingly sophisticated imaging and analysis techniques, the story of Tutankhamun has gradually been clarified. We carried out CT scans in 2005. They showed in particular that he suffered from bone necrosis in his left foot, requiring the use of a cane. We also found dozens of canes in his grave. He also had a cleft palate and mild scoliosis.

Tutankhamun, tomb, mystery, mummy

The pure gold funerary mask of Tutankhamun, which weighs more than 10 kg, is preserved today in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Credits: MykReeve/Wikimedia Commons – CC BY-SA 3.0

Genetic tests also showed that he had contracted several strains of Plasmodium falciparum, a parasite that causes malaria, suggesting that the latter infected him on several occasions. These repeated infections could be the cause of his death, the exact cause of which is still debated today.

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Mummy scans also revealed that the young king had suffered an open fracture to his left femur. Some experts associate the latter with a probable tank accident. On the other hand, no sign of healing is identifiable. They identified several other potential pathologies, including Köhler-Mouchet bone disease. However, none could have caused death on their own.

Thus, some experts speculate that the death of the king is probably due to a combination of these factors, namely a severe malarial infection and a broken leg. Others support the hypothesis of sickle cell anemia (sickle cell anemia) or Gaucher’s disease, the symptoms of which correspond more closely to the results of the analyzes. One thing is certain. He was not murdered with a blow to the skull, nor killed in an accident that crushed his chest, as some previously thought.

Tutankhamun’s appearance preserved for over 3000 years

Tutankhamun died suddenly in the year -1324, around the age of 19, after about nine years of reign. We had to bury him in haste, while his tomb was not ready. British Egyptologist Carl Nicholas Reeves recently speculated that the young pharaoh was actually buried in part of the tomb of his mother-in-law, Nefertiti. It would have emptied part of the latter’s tomb to accommodate the remains of the young king. Which suggests that Nefertiti’s tomb may be behind the walls of Tutankhamun’s tomb.

For mummification, the ancient Egyptians removed the brain and internal organs of the deceased. Then they covered his body with solid natron to dry it out. This done, the embalmers used several techniques to reshape the body, which had become completely emaciated. The objective was to ensure that the soul of the deceased, the Kacan recognize and join the body envelope to be able to exist in the beyond.

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The embalmers plumped the skin of Tutankhamun’s face with resin. But until recently, it was assumed that there had been a relative rush of this step, due to the unforeseen death of the king. However, the most recent CT scans showed that this was not the case. The embalmers have a priori took great care of the face of their former king.

It should also be noted that it is the only royal burial where all the flowers have been found as the mourners of ancient Egypt had left them. Analysis of the flowers used to make the necklace Tutankhamun wore has led to an estimate that he was buried between mid-March and the end of April. The preparation of his body having taken 70 days, that is to say the complete duration of the mummification process, he probably died in winter, in the month of January.

A king surrounded by his stillborn children

Genetic analyzes have revealed that Tutankhamun was the son of Pharaoh Akhenaten and one of his sisters. We don’t know her identity but we identified the mummy as “Younger Lady”. This consanguinity is undoubtedly at the origin of Tutankhamun’s physical deficiencies. When he acceded to the throne, he married his sister, Ankhesenamon, daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti. Together they had two daughters, who died before they were born. These accompanied their father to the tomb.

Tutankhamun, tomb, mystery, mummy

Photographs of mummies 317a and 317b, identified as Tutankhamun’s stillborn daughters. Credits: Wikimedia commons

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Two miniature coffins have been found among the thousands of treasures in Tutankhamun’s tomb. Again, the CT scan revealed that these coffins contained two female fetuses. One probably died at five or six months of pregnancy, the other at nine months of pregnancy. Scientists have found no birth defects or other causes of their deaths. It was very rare to mummify children in ancient Egypt. The presence of these two fetuses therefore suggests that the loss of his children was very important for Tutankhamun.

Advances in imaging and DNA analysis have given us a better understanding of the life and health of the young pharaoh, as well as his embalming ritual. Due to his youth and his short reign, Tutankhamun was not very popular in his time. But his story and mysteries continue to fascinate crowds more than 3,300 years after his death.

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