Tut Mummy on Public Display for First Time

Steven Stanek in Luxor, Egypt
for National Geographic News
November 4, 2007
The mummy of King Tutankhamun today went on public display for the first time—85 years to the day since his tomb was discovered in Egypt's famed Valley of the Kings.

Until now the boy pharaoh's remains had rested in his sarcophagus in the burial chamber of the tomb, which lies just north of the city of Luxor (see a map of Egypt).

But on Sunday morning the remains—settled inside a wooden box—were carefully transferred to a high-tech glass display case about 30 feet (9 meters) away in the tomb's antechamber. (See photos of the transfer.)

The valley was frenzied with TV camera crews, photographers, and journalists, who converged below the gravelly sun-drenched hills near the tomb.

The atmosphere seemed fit for a modern-day movie star, underscoring the enduring celebrity of a king who died more than 3,000 years ago. (See video of the transfer.)

The move will help preserve Tutankhamun's mummy, which experts say has been deteriorating rapidly because of exposure to heat and humidity.

(Read more about how the mummy was moved and the technology designed to preserve it.)

The new display is also expected to increase visits to the tomb from about 350 to 900 tourists a day, generating funds for the protection of Egyptian antiquities.

"I can say for the first time that the mummy is safe, the mummy is well preserved, and also at the same time, all the tourists who will enter this tomb tomorrow morning will be able to see the face of Tutankhamun for the first time," said Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities and a National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence.

(National Geographic News is part of the National Geographic Society.)

Buck Teeth

Tutankhamun's mummy has been examined four times before, but Hawass estimates that until today only 60 people had actually seen the remains firsthand.

The mummy's most recent move before today was in 2005, when King Tut underwent a series of CT scans that determined he likely died from a broken leg.

(Read "King Tut Died in Hunting Accident, Expert Says" [October 23, 2007].)

After today's transfer, journalists jockeyed for position to catch a glimpse of the king's face, the best-preserved part of the mummy. The rest of the body, except for his protruding feet, remains shrouded in a linen cover.

The mummy's fragile skin looks like cracked, hardened resin, and his most noticeable feature is his buck teeth, which Hawass said are similar to those of the king's 18th-Dynasty relatives.

"I would say that the face of Tutankhamun is different from the face of any king at the Cairo museum," Hawass said.

"He has these beautiful buck teeth … and therefore the tourists will see a little bit of a smile on the face of the golden boy, Tutankhamun."

Currently tickets to see Tut's mummy are 80 Egyptian pounds (about 15 U.S. dollars), although officials are expected to raise the price for the new display.

Enduring Fame

Tutankhamun became pharaoh in 1336 B.C. at the age of nine. He ruled for only ten years before meeting an untimely death.

In 1922 archaeologist Howard Carter found the boy king's tomb, which was the first royal burial site to be unearthed with its dazzling array of artifacts so well intact.

The treasures of King Tut—as well as rumors that the pharaoh had been murdered—have since made the otherwise obscure ruler an iconic symbol of ancient Egypt.

Artifacts from his tomb are currently on a popular world tour, which recently closed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and will open in London on November 15.

And the display of his mummy in Luxor is expected to attract thousands of visitors from around the world.

"I think the King Tut groupies will flock to see this … it will be a positive boost for [Egypt's] tourism," said Salima Ikram, a professor of Egyptology at the American University of Cairo.

"If everyone could be convinced to say a little prayer for King Tut, his spirit would be having a really, really good time in the afterworld."

According to Egyptologist Kent Weeks, the new display is likely to sustain the young pharaoh's unrivaled popularity.

"I don't know that Tutankhamun himself would have complained too much," he said. "At least we're all repeating his name."

Tut's Curse

Another major contributor to the king's fame is his fabled curse, which some believe will strike down those who interfere with his eternal rest.

Talk of the curse stems largely from the death of Lord Carnarvon, Carter's sponsor, who died from an infected mosquito bite shortly after entering the tomb.

Other theorists suggest that toxic pathogens in the sealed tomb killed the elderly Englishman.

Some believers say that as many as 11 people directly involved in the tomb's 1922 discovery died by 1929.

Most experts, however, easily shrug off such superstitions.

"When anyone will do anything with the mummy, they talk about the curse all the time," said Egyptian antiquities chief Hawass, who added that he does not subscribe to such mysticism.

Ikram, another nonbeliever, said there is no archaeological evidence suggesting a curse was placed on the tomb.

"There is no curse inscribed on the walls of his tomb, there was no fragment of papyrus or a tablet inscribed with a curse," she said.

"It was made up by journalists many years ago who were not allowed into the tomb."

But the archaeologist added that even without any solid evidence, the legend will likely live on.

"Why give up a good scary story when you have the choice of having one?"

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