7th APRIL 2015 - Vol.XXXVIII No.018
Local News

Mystery of King Tut

As the Treasures of Ancient Egypt exhibition continues at the Bahrain National Museum, Dean Williams finds out why we're all still enthralled by King Tut. In 1907, while on a dig in Egypt's Valley of the Kings, archaeologist Theodore M Davis happened upon artefacts bearing the name of the boy king Nebkheperure Tutankhamun (1333-1324 BC).

Rather than look upon the find as simply the tip of a historical pyramid, Davis packed up the dig, assuming that the artefacts were all that was left of Tutankhamun's tomb.

He was wrong.

On November 4, 1922, English archaeologist and Egyptologist Howard Carter was excavating the tomb of Ramses VI, when he found a secret passage just outside the tomb.

"Feverishly we cleared away the remaining last scraps of rubbish on the floor of the passage, until we had only the clean sealed doorway before us," Carter wrote in his diary.

"After making preliminary notes, we made a tiny breach in the top left-hand corner to see what was beyond. Darkness and the iron testing rod told us that there was empty space.

"Perhaps another descending staircase, in accordance to the ordinary royal Theban tomb plan? Or maybe a chamber?"

At first Carter and his team assumed they had stumbled upon a treasure room, but as the light from their candles and electric torches penetrated the gloom, they realised they were on the verge of making one of archaeology's most stunning discoveries.

"We questioned one another as to the meaning of it all," he wrote later.

"Was it a tomb or merely a cache? A sealed doorway between the two sentinel statues proved there was more beyond and with the numerous cartouches bearing the name of TutAnkhAmun on most of the objects before us, there was little doubt that there behind was the grave of that Pharaoh."

The discovery of the 19-year-old king's resplendent sarcophagus would eventually give rise to a wave of literature, legend and film unmatched since.

Now during the exhibition, Treasures of Ancient Egypt, the artefacts of Tutankhamun and other pharaohs are on display at the Bahrain National Museum. The exhibition, opened by Prime Minister Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, features 122 artefacts.

The oldest dates back to 2,600BC during the time of Pharaoh Snefru, who built the first real pyramid and whose son, Khufu, built the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Other pieces come from the time of King Ramses II (1304-1237BC). Only a handful are actually from the tomb of King Tutankhamun (1347-1338BC) are on display.

It cost $1.73 million (BD653,940) to insure the exhibition, Cairo-based Supreme Council of Antiquities head Adb El Aziz Khater said.

The exhibition may not be as large as some of the permanent exhibits in the more renowned museums across the globe, but in the pieces that it does exhibit it shows a discerning sense of history in its placement of the 18th and 19th dynasties within the larger tapestry that is Ancient Egypt.

With lighting that lends itself perfectly to its ancient stars, a walk through the exhibition carries with it an air of solemnity, yet one defined by awe rather than sorrow.

So why has Tutankhamun garnered such a hallowed place in the collective psyche of history buffs and general public?

The reasons are myriad.

Tutankhamun began his reign at the age of nine and died when he was only 19. The circumstances surrounding his death have been mysterious to say the least.Also his tomb was one of the few to be discovered completely intact, the discovery of which is commonly held to signal a watershed moment in Egyptology.

Tutankhamun himself was far from an important pharaoh in the historical sense, but his tomb gave us a glimpse into an age that has literally been shrouded by the sands of time and in that he has been immortalised.

Rumours abound as to the circumstances surrounding the death of the boy king.

In 1968 X-rays were conducted on the mummy by a group from the University of Liverpool, England and gave some scientists reason to believe that death was the result of a blow to the head.

But whether the blow was delivered by an assassin or simply the result of an accident was never agreed upon.

Last year, however, a team led by Ashraf Selim, a radiologist at Kasr Eleini Teaching Hospital at Cairo University, used CT technology to build a 3D image of the boy. The image revealed that the king's left thigh showed signs of a high-impact fracture above the left knee.

"In my view this is a deadly fracture," said Frank Ruhli, a paleoanthropologist on the project at the University of Zurich's Institute of Anatomy, in an interview with the UK's Guardian newspaper.

"It is a major bone - the injury probably involved the rupture of a major blood vessel and it is open to outside air, meaning it was likely to become infected.

"It's a common injury among horse riders and, without antibiotics or surgery, he may have been dead from blood infection within a few days."

Whether the injury was sustained in a fight or a horse-riding accident remains unclear.

The truth may never emerge, giving conspiracy theorists an eternity to speculate and enshrining the death of Tutankhamun as one of the great mysteries of antiquity.

Whatever the future has to offer by way of unravelling the mysteries of the Pharaohs, of one thing we can be certain, and that is their role as the shepherds of modern civilisation.

Their contribution to the arts and sciences will forever be embedded in the annals of history.

Tutankhamun's celebrity may stem from his demise at an early age, rather than any achievements of his rule, but the exhibits at the museum personify the grandeur of his time and civilisation.

There is nothing ephemeral about the 18th dynasty to which Tutankhamun belonged, even though his life was.

Treasurers of Ancient Egypt is open daily from 8am to 8pm, until July 31.

People who have already visited the exhibition have been enthralled, says acting museum director Fuad Noor.

Som feel the BD5 entrance fee to the exhibit is too expensive and it may be reviewed.

He said the money collected from admission went in its entirety to the Egyptian authorities in return for them loaning the exhibits to the museum.

"We have asked the authorities to re-think the admission fee. Students, however, only pay BD1 to enter," said Mr Noor.

The exhibition is sponsored by Venture Capital Bank, Gulf Air and the Information Ministry's Culture and National Heritage directorate.

For more information contact the museum on 17298777.

Fast facts

A report in New Scientist magazine stated that a chemical analysis of residue in some of the jars in Tutankhamen's tomb revealed six of them contained tartaric acid, a chemical characteristic of grapes.

One of the jars also contained syringic acid, found in the skin of red grapes.

The discovery surprised archaeologists because their earliest evidence of white wine in Egypt dates to 3AD.

The find suggests that Egyptians were enjoying white wine almost 2,000 years before.


The so-called curse of Tutankhamun, that all who entered his tomb faced death, was a modern myth.

When Lord Carnarvon - a member of Carter's team that discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun - died seven weeks after the opening of the tomb, the world media had a field day. In fact it was the legendary author Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, who announced that Carnarvon's death could have been the result of a 'Pharaoh's curse'.

Carnarvon's death closely succeeded an announcement by novelist Marie Corelli - author of Ziska - that there would be dire consequences for anyone who entered the sealed tomb. It is also said that at the time of Carnarvon's death the lights of Cairo were said to have gone out, while back at his English estate his dog, Susie, was supposed to have howled and died at the same time.

Another incident that served to fuel the growing legend of the curse was when Carter's pet canary was killed and eaten by a cobra on the day the tomb was opened.

The truth of the matter, however, is that many of the key members of that historical expedition survived and went on to live 'full' lives. Here's how the key players ended up:

Lord Carnarvon: 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, came down with pneumonia and eventually died at the age of 57.

Howard Carter: Carter lived until March 1939, just short of his 65th birthday and nearly 17 years after entering the tomb - about a decade of which was spent working in the tomb itself.

Lady Evelyn Herbert: Lady Evelyn, 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 to document the work done in Tutankhamun's tomb. Burton,61, died in 1940.

Alan Gardiner: Gardiner studied the tomb's inscriptions and was still very active working on Egyptian grammar for many decades until his death in 1963, aged 83.

Dr D E Derry: Derry carried out the original autopsy on Tutankhamun's mummy. He died in 1969.


Ancient Egypt began about 3000 BC, when Upper and Lower Egypt were joined.

There were about 300 pharaohs during the 3,000 years that Egypt was at its most powerful.

The pharaoh was the most important person in Ancient Egypt and he owned everything in Egypt including the people.

Pharaoh means 'great house'.

A prince had to wait until his father died to become a pharaoh.

The people believed pharaohs were gods.

The pharaoh usually married a half-sister or sister so that the children would have the same blood of a god.

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