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King Tut's Mummy to Be Displayed for 1st Time

Steven Stanek in Cairo, Egypt
for National Geographic News
October 9, 2007
 
The mummy of King Tutankhamun will soon go on display for the first time, exposing the bare face of the boy king, Egyptian officials have announced.

The mummy will be removed from its sarcophagus and placed in a climate-controlled glass case in the antechamber of the pharaoh's tomb in Luxor in November (see Egypt map).

"I am taking [the mummy] out to show it to the public for the first time," said Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.

The move is part of an effort to preserve the mummy, which has been in poor condition since it was first discovered, Hawass explained.

Archaeologist Howard Carter unearthed Tutankhamun's treasure-filled tomb in 1922, the first discovered with its riches so intact.

But Carter and his team partly destroyed the mummy in search of more treasures buried with the pharaoh, separating it into 18 sections, Hawass said.

Humidity and heat, much of it generated by the breath of the tomb's 5,000 daily visitors, have also taken a toll.

"Right now the mummy has no special protection from the humidity in the tomb," Hawass said. "The new case will be specially sealed to protect it from this sort of damage."

The pharaoh's remains will be partially rewrapped in linen with the face of the pharaoh left uncovered, according to Mansour Boraik, general supervisor of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Luxor.

Officials hope the display will increase the number of visitors and generate profit for the conservation of other Egyptian antiquities.

"The 'golden boy' has magic and mystery that bring people from all over the world," Hawass said.

(Hawass is a National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence. National Geographic News is a division of the National Geographic Society.)

Pharaoh's Face Exposed

The mummy has been examined four times before, but it has never been seen by the public.

In 2005 Hawass opened the sarcophagus to perform a series of CT scans that allowed researchers to create a reproduction of the king's face.

(See photos of Tut's mummy and reconstructed face.)

"I was fascinated with his face," said Hawass, who noted the king's buck teeth are similar to those of the pharaoh's royal ancestors.

"Meeting King Tut face to face was very personal. … It was an important moment in my life."

Tutankhamun became pharaoh at the age of nine, ruling for only ten years in the 14th century B.C. before meeting an untimely death.

(Read: "King Tut Died From Broken Leg, Not Murder, Scientists Conclude" [December 1, 2006].)

Awakening the Curse

Exposing the mummy is likely to resurrect the myth of the pharaoh's curse, once believed to bring tragedy to those who disturb the tomb.

Most famously, Carter's sponsor, Lord Carnarvon, died shortly after entering the tomb from an infected mosquito bite.

Other tragedies were also blamed on the curse, and some experts have said ancient toxins lying in the tomb could have played a role.

"There is always mystery about King Tut, and it will never stop," Hawass said. (Watch how scientists are unraveling mysteries of the king's life.)

"Of course this will reawaken fears of the curse, as any new project involving the tomb or the mummy always does."

"I don't believe in the curse at all," he added. "But the gold, the intact tomb, the curse—all this history makes everybody fascinated by King Tut."

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