The Life And Curse Of King Tut

Essay, Research Paper


Matt Brockway

James Evans

Term Paper

The Life and Curse of King Tut

What comes to your mind when you hear the name King Tut? That his tomb was one of the most well known archeological finds ever. Maybe that the so-called curse of King Tut comes to your mind. Whatever it is, we all know that he was once Pharaoh of Egypt. Without a doubt one of the most famous Pharaoh s of all time. But why do we know more about him than any other Pharaoh? Why do they think that there is a curse associated with the tomb of King Tut? If these are some of the questions that you have about him, don t worry. This paper will take you through the life and tell you about the links that could possibly be due to the curse of King Tut.

First we must start from the very beginning. We must get a firm base so we can fully understand all that is associated with King Tut. The most basic thing we can start out with his name. The name Tutankhamun comes from hieroglyphs which translate as Tut-ankh-amun, meaning the Living Image of Amun. When Tut was born, he was given the name Tutankhaten,


meaning the Living Image of Aten. The Aten was the single god worshipped during the rule Akhenaten, a king who is believed to have been the father of Tutankhamun. Soon after Tutankhaten had become pharaoh, there was a restoration of the previously-deposed state god Aumu and Tut s name was changed to Tutankhamun. These days, Tut s name is found with differing spellings, including Tutankhamun, Tutankhamen, and Tutankhamon. It is not known how the ancient Egyptians pronounced the name as they did not write vowels. (Some hieroglyphs are transliterated as vowels, since they are weak consonants). Some Egyptologists add vowels to assist in communicating information.

When Tutankhamun was king (reigned 1333-23 BCE), he ruled during the period know as the New Kingdom. It is said that Egypt had ruled as a world superpower for nearly two centuries, while its Royal family lived an affluent lifestyle. The powerful priesthood of the god Amun controlled vast temples and estates. All this changed though during the reign of Amemhotep IV when he renounced the multitude of gods worshipped by the Egyptians and abolished the priesthood of Amun. Amenhotep then established a new order to worship the sun God Aten and changed his own name to Akhenaten, meaning servant of the Aten. A new Capital then was established well to the north Thebes, which was home to the main temples of Amun. The new city was named Akhetaten, meaning Horizon of the Aten. It was here that Akhenaten ruled with his chief wife (back it was common for men to have more than one wife), Nefertiti, who bore him six daughters, but no son to carry on as Pharaoh.

So who were the parents of King Tut? It is now believed that Akhenaten and a lesser wife named Kiya were the parents of Tutankhaten, as Tutankhamun was known as first. King Tut would spend most of his early years in the palaces of Akhetaten, being tutored in many skills,


including reading and writing. Not much is known during this time period and, in time both Nefertiti s and Kiya s names ceased to appear in written records. However, a shadowy figure emerged by the name of Smenkhare. He is said to have been a brother of the Akhetaten, who briefly ruled beside him. In any case, soon after the deaths of Akhetaten and Smenkhare, Tutankhaten became a boy king at the age of nine. He married a wife named Ankhesenpaten, who was slightly older than him. She was one of the six daughters of Akhenaten and Nefertiti. Soon their names were changed to Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamun to reflect the return of the Amun hierarchy and the ousting of the Aten power base. By the fourth year of his reign, King Tut had issued a decree restoring the temples, images, personnel, and privileges of the old gods and also admitting the error s of Akhenaton s curse. Traditional religion and art style was restored. Since Tutankhamun was at young age when he first became king, he was not responsible for the real decision making. It was mainly handled by two high officials called Ay (possibly the father of Nefertiti) and Horemheb, who was the commander-in-chief of the army. Sometime under their tutelage moved his residence to Memphis, the administrative capital, near modern Cairo, and restored his father s Theban palace.

Sometime around the ninth year of Tutankhamun s reign, possibly 1323 BCE, he died. There was evidence of an injury to the skull. It is said that he may have suffered an accident, such as falling from his horse drawn chariot, or perhaps he was murdered. Today, no one knows the cause of his death.

After the death of King Tut, Ankhesenamun was left in a dilemma – there was no male in line to take the throne. (Two stillborn female fetuses found in the tomb) Ankhesenamun was very desperate. So she wrote to Suppiluliumas I, king of the Hittites, asking him to send on of


his sons to marry her and become Pharaoh. Being an enemy of Egypt, the Hittite king suspected a trick and sent an envoy to check. The widow s situation was confirmed and he then sent a son, who was murdered at the border. General Horemheb was suspected to have sent agents. In the end, Ay became Pharaoh and took Ankhesenamun as his queen. It is not known what happened to her after this. Ay ruled for four years and after his death Horemheb grabbed power. He soon got rid of all traces of

(Valley of the Kings)

evidence of the reigns of Akhenaten, Tutankhamun, and Ay. He also substituted his own name on many monuments.

Tutankhamun remained at rest in Egypt s Valley of the Kings for over 3,300 years. All that had changed in November 1922, when Tutankhamun s tomb was discovered by the British Egyptologist Howard Carter who was excavating on behalf of Lord Carnarvon. It would turn out to be one the greatest archeological finds ever. Carter had been searching for a tomb for a number of years and Carnarvon had decided that enough time and money was expended with little return. Carter persuaded Carnarvon to fund one more season and within a few days, the tomb was found. The tomb today still contains the pharaoh s remains, hidden from view inside the outermost of the three coffins. He is the only pharaoh residing in the Valley of the Kings. The tomb of King Tut itself is very small and appears to have been for didn t have as much impact on the Egyptian civilization as other Pharaohs did.

In the burial tomb, the only part that has walls paintings is the Burial Chamber. One of


the scenes shows the Opening of the mouth Ceremony where the senses are restored to the deceased Tutankhamun. In ones of the pictures, the person performing this duty is Ay, who became the next pharaoh. It also contained four gilded shrines nested one inside the other. The innermost of these covered a stone sarcophagus. Inside this was three coffins – the innermost being made of 110 kilograms of solid gold.

(Map of Tutankhamun s Tomb)

The pharaoh himself lay wearing the famous gold mask.

The Treasury was the home to much of the supporting equipment for Tutankhamen s afterlife. It s said to have had a dazzling array of boats, gilded figures, and the canopic chest within which were various internal organs belonging to the king. Gathered around the chest in their protective stance were four beautiful gilded

figures of goddesses.

The Antechamber contained dismantled chariots, containers of food, various funeral couches, thrones, and two black guardian figures at the entrance of the Burial Chamber. This was the first area in which Carter first seen when he made a hole in the blocked-off far end of the entry passage. A small Annex was a jumble of other equipment.

Carter had concluded that the tomb had been broken into on two different occasions soon after the pharaoh was buried. After the break-in the tomb was resealed by officials of the necropolis. It was fortunate that the tomb robbers did not get away with too much and much of


the material sealed in with King Tut my now be viewed in Cairo s Egyptian Museum with a few items in the Luxor Museum.

Lord Carnarvon died on April 5, 1923, seven weeks after the official opening of the King Tut s burial chamber. Rumors had been flying around that a curse had killed Carnarvon. News of Tutankhamun s tomb and it s discovers had sent the world s media into a frenzy. There are said to be many links that there was a curse. Such as that the lights in Cairo were said to have gone out at the moment of Carnarvon s death (not an uncommon occurence back then), while back at home his dog, Susie, was supposed to have howled and died at the same time.

Carnarvons death came just a couple weeks after a public

(Jackal sitting on a pedestal)

warning by novelist Mari Corelli that there would be dire consequences for anyone who entered the sealed tomb. The media and the public ate this up. Even Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, believed that Carnarvon s death cold have been the result of a Pharaoh s curse. A newspaper ven published a curse supposed to have been written in hieroglyphs at the entrance of the tomb, with the translation saying: They who enter this sacred tomb shall swift be visited by wings of death. However, this inscription was never found. Another inscription was found on the Anubis shrine (this is the god of the tombs and embalming and weigher of the hearts of the dead: also represented as having the head of a jackal) in the tomb s so called Treasury, did say: It is I who hinder the sand from choking the secret chamber. I am for the protection of the deceased. A reporter went on to add to the reported inscription: and I will kill all those who cross this threshold into the sacred precincts of the Royal King who lives forever.


Reporting of the curse was fuelled by more deaths, many with very stretched associations to Tutankhamun. Closer to the tomb, another casualty was the pet canary of the Howard Carter s. The bird was swallowed by a cobra on the day the tomb was opened. This was interpreted as retribution for violation of the tomb, particularly as a cobra was depicted on the brow of the pharaoh from where it would spit fire at the king s enemies. According to the list, of the 26 individuals present at the official opening of the tomb, six had died within a decade. In reality

(Outside the Tomb of King Tut Shortly After It was Opened)

though, many of the key people associated with the discovery on the tomb lived to an old age.

There was also some concern when some of the treasures of Tutankhamun went on tour overseas in the 1970 s, some people still believed that the curse might be at work. An example was when a policeman was guarding Tutankhmun s gold funerary mask tried to claim compensation for a mild stroke based on the effect of the curse. The judge quickly dismissed the claim.

To get a better understanding of all this, here is a list of the major people involved with the tomb and their fates.

Howard Carter: As discover of the tomb, it would seem logical that Carter should have number 1 on the curse s hit list , but he lived until March 1939, just short of his 65th birthday and nearly 17 years after entering the tomb. About a decade of this spent working in the tomb itself.

Lady Evelyn Herbert: Lady Evelyn, who was Lord Carnarvon s daughter and one of the first

into the tomb, died in 1980 at the age of about 79.

Harry Burton: Burton was the photographer loaned to Carter by New York s Metropolitan Museum of Art. He was to document the work done in Tutankhamun s tomb. Many of the black and white photographs of that time were taken by Burton who died in 1940.

Alan Gardiner: Alan Gardiner studied the tomb s inscriptions and was still very active working on Egyptian grammar for many years until his death in 1963.

Dr D. E. Derry: Derry was the man who performed the original autopsy on Tutankhamun s mummy. Like Carter, if anyone should have been cursed, it should have been this man. Derry didn t die until 1969.

Lord Carnarvon: It was known that Carnarvon had been in poor health for over 20 years, following a motoring accident in Germany. But less than two weeks after the official opening of the burial chamber, Carnarvon received a mosquito bite which became infected after he cut it while shaving. Carnarvon fell ill and, with his resistance lowered, he came down with pneumonia and eventually passed away at the age of 57.

Was it a mosquito bite that killed Carnarvon? Could the curse be real? When the mummy of Tutenkhamun was unwrapped in 1925, it was found to have a wound on the left cheek in the exact same position as the insect bite on Carnarvon that lead his death. I guess this would be something to consider in on making a decision on whether or not the curse is real.

Another thing to consider is the French scientist, Sylvain Gandon, who has published a study supporting the theory of a curse on the tomb – in the form of a killer bug that has somehow


survived thousands of years. Dr Gandon s work, just published in the proceeding of the Royal Society, suggests that Lord Carnarvon may have been killed by microbes so malignant that they survived about 3000 years. The study however, does not find whether the killer bug found its way into the burial chamber by accident or was placed there intentionally. Gandon, has shown how extraordinarily potent a cocktail of microscopic spores – capable of surviving long periods outside a living host body – could become. The death of Lord Carnarvon could potentially be explained by infection with a highly virulent and very long-lived pathogen, said Dr Sylvania Gandon, who is a scientist at the Laboratoire d Ecologie in Paris. Meanwhile, Nicholas Reeves, an archeologist and author of The Complete Tutankhamen, said there were reports of a black fungus inside the tomb; Carnarvon was in poor physical condition when he reached Egypt and could have suffered a fatal infection as a result. There are fungi that can survive in a peculiar enviroment like a tomb and could well have affected someone like him, Reeves said. Reeves dismissed the idea of a curse.

Gandon s research explains the theoretical link between the virulence of a pathogen – a harmful bacterium, virus, or fungus – and the length of time it is able to survive as a spore. When you enter a tomb after 3,000 years, if there are pathogens that have survived within it, the theory predicts that they will have a very high virulence, Gandon said. In his study, he showed that if a person has more than one strain of an illness competing for space inside his or her body, each successive generation of it should evolve to become more potent; the disease would then be able to survive much longer. Gandon believes that his research could help develop public health policies for hospitals, where measures could be taken to reduce pathogen virulence. The work has been welcomed by an international team of experts who have also studied the link. Dr Dieter


Ebert, a scientist at the University of Basel, Switzerland, felt a disease-carrying mosquito was more likely to have killed Carnarvon, but agreed that Gandon s study suggested a possible connection between a pathogen s virulence and the longevity of its spores outside the host. It is not known how the spores got into the tomb in the first place. One guess is as good as the other. If the Egyptians were smart and really wanted to make a curse, said Gandon, they could have taken a pathogen well known to them and put in the tomb.

As seen, there are a lot of facts and fiction about King Tut. What if Howard Carter never found the tomb? How much of the ancient Egyptians would we know about? King Tut s tomb has provided many answers to unlocking the past. So what if King Tut was a lesser Pharaoh. We are not the ones to judge if he was a good ruler or not. We just know all things that he has brought to us. Even if there is a curse, we still have gained valuable from the findings. I think it has been more good than bad. I hope this paper has answered some your questions about this topic. I truly have learned a lot by doing this report. Maybe even someday I ll be able to take a visit to the Egyptian Museum to see all of his treasures and belongings. Believe me, it would be a learning experience for all.


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