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Tutankhamun (alternate transcription Tutankhamen), named Tutankhaten early in his life, was Pharaoh of the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt (1334 BC/1333 BC - 1323 BC), during the period known as the New Kingdom. His original name Tutankhaten means "Living Image of Aten" while Tutankhamun means "Living Image of Amun". He is possibly also the Nibhurrereya of the Amarna letters.

Tutankhamun's burial mask
Tutankhamun's burial mask

Tutankhamun (or "King Tut") is perhaps best known to modern westerners as the only pharaoh to have his nearly intact tomb (KV62) discovered. (The wealth of objects discovered in this young king's tomb naturally leads to speculation on what might have been contained in the plundered tombs of far more significant Pharaohs.) However, he is historically important as well.


Tutankhamun's life

Tutankamun's parentage is uncertain. An inscription calls him a king's son, but it is debated which king was meant. Most scholars consider that he was probably a son either of Amenhotep III (though probably not by his Great Royal Wife Tiye), or of Amenhotep III's son Amenhotep IV (better known as Akhenaten), perhaps with his enigmatic second queen, Kiya. It should be noted that when Tutankhaten succeeded Akhenaten to the throne, Amenhotep III had been dead for some time; the duration is thought by some Egyptologists to have been seventeen years, although on this, as on so many questions about the Amarna period, there is no scholarly consensus. Tutankhamun ruled Egypt for eight to ten years; examinations of his mummy show that he was a young adult when he died. Again, there is no consensus among Egyptologists as to his age when he died; estimates range from sixteen to his mid-twenties. Were he seventeen to nineteen years old when he died (the most common estimates are in this range), that would place his birth around 1342 BC-1340 BC, and would make it less likely that Amenhotep III was his father.

During Tutankhamun's reign, Akhenaten's Amarna revolution (Atenism) began to be reversed. Akhenaten had attempted to supplant the existing priesthood and gods with a god who was until then considered minor, Aten. In year 3 of Tutankhamun's reign (1331 BC), when he was still a boy of about 11 and probably under the influence of two older advisors (notably Akhenaten's vizier Ay), the ban on the old pantheon of gods and their temples was lifted, the traditional privileges restored to their priesthoods, and the capital moved back to Thebes. The young pharaoh also adopted the name Tutankhamun, changing it from his birth name Tutankhaten. Because of his age at the time these decisions were made, it is generally thought that most if not all the responsibility for them falls on his vizier Ay and perhaps other advisors.

Tutankhamun was married to Ankhesenpaaten, a daughter of Akhenaten. Ankhesenpaaten also changed her name from the -aten endings to the -amun ending, becoming Ankhesenamun. They had two known children, both stillborn - their mummies were discovered in his tomb.

Tutankhamun's name

Under Atenism, Tutankhamun was named Tutankhaten, which in Egyptian hieroglyphs is: <hiero><-i-t:n:ra-t:w:t-anx-></hiero> Technically, this name is transliterated as twt-ˁnḫ-ỉtn.

At the reintroduction of the old pantheon, his name was changed. It is transliterated as twt-ˁnḫ-ỉmn ḥq3-ỉwnw-šmˁ, and often realised as Tutankhamun Hekaiunushema, meaning "Living image of Amun, ruler of Southern Heliopolis". On his acsession to the throne, Tutankamun took a praenomen. This is transliterated as nb-ḫprw-rˁ, and realised as Nebkheperure, meaning "Lord of the forms of Re".

Death of Tutankhamun

Tutankhamun died of unknown causes, although on his mummy there is evidence of an injury to his head. An X-ray revealed a dense spot at the lower back of the skull, potentially a chronic subdural hematoma, which would have been caused by a blow. The injury could be the result of an accident, but it has also been suggested that the young Pharaoh was murdered. If this is the case, there are a number of theories as to who was responsible; one popular candidate is his immediate successor Ay. Interestingly, there are seemingly signs of calcification within the supposed injury, which if true means that Tutankhamun lived for a fairly extensive period of time (on the order of several months) after the injury was inflicted.

Much confusion has been caused by a small loose sliver of bone within the upper cranial cavity, which was discovered from the same X-ray analysis. Some people have mistaken this visible bone fragment for the supposed head injury. In fact, since Tutankhamun's brain was removed post mortem in the mummification process, and considerable quantities of now-hardened resin introduced into the skull on at least two separate occasions after that, had the fragment resulted from a pre-mortem injury, it almost certainly would not still be loose in the cranial cavity. It therefore almost certainly represents post-mummification damage.

On March 8, 2005, Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass revealed the results of a CT scan performed on the pharoah's mummy. The scan uncovered no evidence for a blow to the back of the head as well as no evidence suggesting foul play . A fracture to Tutankhamun's left thighbone was interpreted as evidence that suggests the pharoah badly broke his leg before he died, and his leg became infected; however, members of the Egyptian-led research team recognized as a less likely possibility that the fracture was caused by the embalmers. 1,700 images were produced of Tutankhamun's mummy during the 15-minute CT scan which revealed that Tutankhamun may have been the twelfth ruler of ancient Egypt's eighteenth dynasty, that his ascension to the throne began at age 8, and that he died around 1323 BC.

Events after his death

A now-famous letter to the Hittite king Suppiluliumas I from a widowed queen of Egypt, explaining her problems and asking for one of his sons as a husband, has been attributed to Ankhesenamun (among others). Suspicious of this good fortune, Suppiluliumas I first sent a messenger to make inquiries on the truth of the young queen's story. After reporting her plight back to Suppilulumas I, he sent his son, Zannanza, accepting her offer. However, he got no further than the border before he died, perhaps murdered. If Ankhesenamun were the queen in question, and his death a murder, it was probably at the orders of Horemheb or Ay, who, both had both the opportunity and the motive.

In any event, after Tutankhamun's death, Ankhesenpaamun married Ay, possibly under coercion, and shortly afterwards disappeared from recorded history.

Tutankhamun was briefly succeeded by the elder of his two advisors, Ay, and then by the other, Horemheb, who obliterated most of the evidence of the reigns of Akhenaten, Tutankhamun, and Ay.

Discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb

Tutankhamun's existence is believed to have been mostly forgotten at some point not too long after his death, until the 20th century. It has been suggested that his tomb was never opened, by either grave robbers or priests, exactly because he and it had been forgotten.

The Egyptologist Howard Carter (employed by Lord Carnarvon) discovered Tutankhamun's tomb in The Valley Of The Kings on November 4, 1922 near the entrance to the tomb of Ramses VI, thereby setting off a renewed interest in all things Egyptian in the modern world. Carter contacted his patron, and on November 26 that year both men became the first people to enter Tutankhamun's tomb in over 3000 years. After many weeks of careful excavation, on February 16, 1923 Carter opened the burial chamber and first saw the sarcophagus of Tutankhamun.

Tutankhamun in popular culture

For many years, rumors of a "curse" (probably fueled by newspapers at the time of the discovery) persisted, emphasizing the early death of some of those who had first entered the tomb. However, a recent study of journals and death records indicates no statistical difference between the age of death of those who entered the tomb and those on the expedition who did not. Indeed, most lived past 70.

Tutankhamun has also been commemorated in the whimsical song "King Tut" by comedian Steve Martin.

Further reading

  • Howard Carter, Arthur C. Mace, The Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen is the semi-popular account of the discover and opening of the tomb, by the archaeologist responsible
  • C. Nicholas Reeves, The Complete Tutankhamun: The King, the Tomb, the Royal Treasure (London: Thames & Hudson, 1990) fully covers the complete contents of his tomb
  • T. G. H. James, Tutankhamun (New York: Friedman/Fairfax, 2000) is a large-format volume by the former Keeper of Egyptian Antiquities at the British Museum, filled with colour illustrations of the funerary furnishings of Tutankhamun, and related objects
  • Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt, Tutankhamen: Life and Death of a Pharaoh (New York: New York Graphic Society, 1963) is a useful early work covering the environment as well as his tomb
  • Thomas Hoving, Tutankhamun: The Untold Story (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1978) retails a number of interesting anecdotes about the discovery and excavation of the tomb
  • Bob Brier, The Murder of Tutankhamen: A True Story contains useful information about Tutankhamun's medical condition
  • Treasures of Tutankamun (New York:Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1976 ISBN 0-345-27349-4)

See also: Lynda Robinson

External links

Last updated: 06-02-2005 04:08:09
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