Howard Carter was an Egyptologist when Egypt was a protectorate of the British Empire. He had worked in Egypt for 31 years and, in 1922, was under the sponsorship of Lord Carnarvon. In 1917, when World War I came to an end, he began excavations in the Valley of the Kings. He was looking for a tomb that he wasn’t sure even existed, a boy king who ruled after the death of Akhenaten. On November 4, 1922, Carter and his team found a stone step that had been carved into a rock. They continued digging and discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamun.
The tomb had not been disturbed for 3000 years. When Carter first opened the door, a gust of hot air – 3000-year-old air – rushed out. What he found on the other side was an almost intact burial chamber. There were life-sized statues of the king, parts of dissembled chariots, golden animals, and other treasures from ancient Egypt. Carter, his team, and especially his sponsor, Lord Carnarvon, were dumbfounded by the find. Many tombs had been robbed during the millennia since the pharaohs buried inside them had died. However, the tomb of King Tut was almost pristine.
Possibly the primary reason King Tut’s tomb was intact and not subject to pillaging and grave-robbing is that, following his reign, his successors all but completely purged his memory. His grandfather, Ay, succeeded him as pharaoh and continued with the religious reforms that King Tut had initiated. He remained leading the country in polytheistic worship, particularly the praise of Amun, the king of the gods. His reign lasted only four years, as he was already aged. Horemheb, one of King Tut’s advisors and the commander-in-chief of the Egyptian military, succeeded Ay as pharaoh.
Horemheb, whose name means “festival of Horus,” took the reforms of King Tut and King Ay even further by abolishing the worship of Aten. Images of Akhenaten, which showed him in reverence of the sun god, were defaced or destroyed. Monuments to Aten and Akhenaten were demolished. To make his point clear, Horemheb moved his capital to Memphis from Thebes, which was a city built to Aten. After the reign of Horemheb ended, the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt came to an end. History all but completely forgot King Tut and his father, until Carter discovered Tut’s burial chamber in November of 1922.
Stories about murderous mummies coming back to life and going on murderous rampages are as intriguing and popular as stories about mummies’ tombs being cursed. Following the opening of King Tut’s tomb in 1922, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, helped popularize the idea that a curse lay over any who disturbed the tomb of the boy king. A few months after the tomb was opened, the financier of the expedition, Lord Carnarvon, died somewhat suddenly. Other members of the team also died mysterious deaths, thereby lending credence to the idea that the tomb had, indeed, been cursed.
What Sir Arthur Conan Doyle failed to report is that Lord Carnarvon died of a mosquito-borne illness and had suffered from poor health for the past two decades. Other members of the expedition collectively lived an average of one year longer than the average life expectancy for their social class. Doyle was a notorious trickster, having previously written a book explaining why faeries are real. Howard Carter played into the idea of the curse, probably to keep people away from the tomb so that he could continue excavating it without disturbance. The public ate the story up, and the idea that the monument is cursed persists today.
5. King Tut Inspired a Billboard Hot 100 Novelty Song
In 1978, Steve Martin released a song called “King Tut,” which played on the cultural hype and hysteria about King Tutankhamen. The following year, he performed the song on “Saturday Night Live,” dressed in a costume designed to imitate an Egyptian pharaoh. The single sold over a million copies and later became part of the album “Wild and Crazy Guy.” It hit #17 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, making it one of the most popular songs of the year. Indeed, the legend of King Tut lives on, 3000 years after his death. Some of the words to the song – which have very little to do with his actual life and reign in history – are as follows:
King Tut (King Tut), Now when he was a young man, He never thought he’d see, People stand in line to see the boy king.
(King Tut) How’d you get so funky? (Funky Tut) Did you do the monkey? Born in Arizona, Moved to Babylonia (King Tut).
(King Tut) Now, if I’d known, They’d line up just to see him, I’d taken all my money, And bought me a museum. (King Tut)
Buried with a donkey (funky Tut), He’s my favorite honkey! Born in Arizona, Moved to Babylonia (King Tut)
Steve Martin was far from the only entertainer to capitalize on the popularity of the boy king in American culture. The creators of the 1960s Batman series turned him into a villain in one of the episodes. “King Tut” was the Yale Egyptologist, William Omaha McElroy. While at work one day, a student threw a rock during a protest and hit him in the head. When the professor regained consciousness, he was convinced that he was King Tut and that Gotham City was actually his ancient capital city of Thebes on the Nile River.
Professor McElroy, er, King Tut, had a mission to recapture his capital city. He did so by holding the mayor’s daughter for ransom, forcing people to drink a juice made from scarab beetles, and uncovering Batman’s secret identity as Bruce Wayne. Professor McElroy really got into character by lacing his speeches with lessons about Egyptian history and invoking the gods and goddesses in ways that may have been historically done by the ancient Egyptians. His sidekicks included a dim-witted “Nefertiti” who served as the voice of the Sphinx monument in Central Park, and “Cleo Patrick,” who spied on Commissioner Gordon.
Tourism is one of the most important sectors of Egypt’s economy. Every year, millions of people flock to the desert country in North Africa to see relics of its ancient pharaohs, such as the Great Sphinx, the pyramids at Giza, and, of course, the tomb of King Tut. As with many other locales that have seen a lot of tourism at their historic sites, Egypt has noticed that tourism has taken its toll on places like the tomb of King Tut. Moisture from the breath of visitors has caused the paint on the walls to flake off. Cracks in the walls have grown.
To preserve the tomb of King Tut for future generations, as well as for researchers so they can continue to carry out studies on the priceless artifacts there, a conservation team based in Madrid, Spain, spent nearly $700,000 creating a replica tomb. Many of the objects were formed with resin. The replica was so lifelike that some Egyptologists burst into tears upon seeing it. Visitors are now directed to the replica tomb, and the authentic tomb has been closed to all unofficial visits. Perhaps King Tut will once again be able to rest in peace.
Upon its discovery in 1922, Egyptologist Howard Carter knew that he had made the find of a lifetime. Today, the tomb of King Tut has still not yet revealed all of its secrets. A thermographic study of the burial chamber, done in 2015, showed slight temperature variations on one of the walls. The finding suggests that there may be another room on the other side of the room, an idea that is consistent with a theory posited by Nicholas Reeves in 2015 that suggests that Queen Nefertiti may be buried in the same area as King Tut.
If further studies prove that there is, in fact, a secret chamber which actually holds the remains of Queen Nefertiti, researchers may find that the tomb was built for the queen. Nobody has yet found the tomb of Queen Nefertiti, who was the primary wife of King Tut’s father and may have been the boy king’s father. She was one of only two women who is known to have ruled during the New Kingdom. Finding her tomb has long been the holy grail of Egyptology, and Nicholas Reeves that the monument might be hiding in plain sight. Just on the other side of a wall of one of the most visited rooms in the world.
King Tut is one of the most iconic figures in all of ancient Egypt, and possibly the most recognizable feature attributed to him is the beard on his gold burial mask. In the year 2014, a group of Egyptians who were handling the cover accidentally broke the beard off of his mask. In the attempt to hide their blunder, they used a plain epoxy adhesive to glue the beard back on. To try to remove some of the adhesive residue, they used sharp instruments, including scalpels. The result was that the priceless beard was scratched.
The team of Egyptian researchers claimed that the beard fell off while they were cleaning it. Others said that it just fell off because it was so old and had been handled so much. Still, they were charged with gross negligence of a national treasure. A German-Egyptian team repaired some of the damage and used beeswax – the adhesive that is customarily used on antiquities – to attach the beard to the mask. Other conservation efforts are in place to help make sure that the priceless treasures of King Tut, now viewed as part of our global heritage, are preserved for future generations to enjoy and appreciate.
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