King Tut’s face unveiled

Kane Khanh | Archeaology
November 5, 2023

LUXOR, EGYPT — King Tut’s buck-toothed face was unveiled today for the first time in public — more than 3,000 years after the youngest and most famous pharaoh to rule ancient Egypt was shrouded in linen and buried in his golden underground tomb.

Archeologists carefully lifted the fragile mummy out of a quartz sarcophagus decorated with stone-carved protective goddesses, momentarily pulling aside a beige covering to reveal a leathery black body.

The linen was then replaced over Tut’s narrow body so only his face and tiny feet were exposed, and the 19-year-old king, whose life and death has captivated people for nearly a century, was moved to a simple glass climate-controlled case to keep it from turning to dust.

“I can say for the first time that the mummy is safe and the mummy is well preserved, and at the same time, all the tourists who will enter this tomb will be able to see the face of Tutankhamun for the first time,” Egypt’s antiquities chief Zahi Hawass said from inside the hot and sticky tomb.

“The face of the golden boy is amazing. It has magic and it has mystery,” he added.

Hawass said scientists began restoring the badly damaged mummy more than two years ago. Much of the body is broken into 18 pieces — damage sustained when British archaeologist Howard Carter first discovered it 85 years ago, took it from its tomb and tried to pull off the famous golden mask, Hawass said.

But experts fear a more recent phenomenon — mass tourism — is further deteriorating Tut’s mummy. Thousands of tourists visit the underground chamber every month, and Hawass said within 50 years the mummy could dissolve into dust.

“The humidity and heat caused by … people entering the tomb and their breathing will change the mummy to a powder. The only good thing (left) in this mummy is the face. We need to preserve the face,” said Hawass, who wore his signature Indiana Jones-style tan hat.

The mystery surrounding King Tutankhamun — who ruled during the 18th dynasty and ascended to the throne at age 8 — and his glittering gold tomb has entranced ancient Egypt fans since Carter first discovered the hidden tomb, revealing a trove of fabulous gold and precious stone treasures and propelling the once-forgotten pharaoh into global stardom.

He wasn’t Egypt’s most powerful or important king, but his staggering treasures, rumors of a mysterious curse that plagued Carter and his team — debunked by experts long ago — and several books and TV documentaries dedicated to Tut have added to his intrigue.

Archeologists in recent years have tried to resolve lingering questions over how he died and his precise royal lineage. In 2005, scientists removed Tut’s mummy from his tomb and placed it into a portable CT scanner for 15 minutes to obtain a three-dimensional image. The scans were the first done on an Egyptian mummy.

The results ruled out that Tut was violently murdered — but stopped short of definitively concluding how he died around 1323 B.C. Experts, including Hawass, suggested that days before dying, Tut badly broke his left thigh, an apparent accident that may have resulted in a fatal infection.

The CT scan also provided the most revealing insight yet into Tut’s life. He was well-fed and healthy, but slight, standing 5 feet, 6 inches tall at the time of his death. The scan also showed he had the overbite characteristic of other kings from his family, large incisor teeth and his lower teeth were slightly misaligned.

The unveiling of Tut’s mummy comes amid a resurgence in the frenzy over the boy king. A highly publicized museum exhibit traveling the globe drew more than 4 million people during its initial four-city American-leg of the tour. The exhibit will open Nov. 15 in London and later will make a three-city encore tour in the U.S. beginning with the Dallas Museum of Art.

The Egyptian tourism industry is hoping to capitalize on that interest and draw tourists to Luxor to see something they couldn’t in traveling exhibit — the mummy itself.

The number of tourists who visit Tut’s tomb is expected to double to 700 a day now that the mummy will be on display indefinitely, said Mostafa Wazery, who heads the Valley of the Kings for Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities. Most of Egypt’s other identified mummies are on display in museums in Luxor and Cairo.

But not every tourist was eager to find out that Tut’s mummy was being moved to a modern, see-through case.

“I really think he should be left alone in quiet, in peace,” said British tourist Bob Philpotts after viewing Tut’s tomb before the mummy was moved on Sunday. “This is his resting place, and he should be left (there).” Hawass said experts will begin another project to determine the pharaoh’s precise royal lineage. It is unclear if he is the son or a half brother of Akhenaten, the “heretic” pharaoh who introduced a revolutionary form of monotheism to ancient Egypt and was the son of Amenhotep III.

Sunday’s unveiling ensured the boy pharaoh would remain eternal, said Hawass.

“I can assure you that putting this mummy in this case, this showcase, can make the golden boy live forever,” he said.