King Tut’s Tomb Burial Was an Improvised Afterthought
For all his fabled wealth, Tutankhamen was actually a fairly insignificant pharaoh. Aside from being a child king for most of his reign, with real power wielded by his advisors, he was physically disabled and sickly. A product of generations of incest, Tutankhamen’s corpse exhibited many congenital defects caused by inbreeding. Among his ailments, he had a clubbed foot, and needed a cane to walk. He also had a cleft palate, and scoliosis – a deformation of the spine, causing it to deviate from its normal position. On top of that, he suffered frequent bouts of malaria, which ultimately claimed his life.
His death, after a ten year reign, offered Egypt’s traditional priesthood the perfect opportunity to obliterate all traces of Akhenaten, Nefertite, and the Amarna period. For example, Tutankhamen’s throne depicts him and his sister-wife Ankhesenamun together. However recent examination has revealed that the depictions had been retouched, with the images altered and repurposed: the throne had originally depicted Akhenaten and Nefertiti. Similarly, recent research has revealed that Ancient Egypt’s most famous artifact, Tutankhamen burial mask, had not been made for him. Giveaways include conspicuously pierced earlobes for earrings, even though Egyptian males, especially male pharaohs, did not wear earrings beyond childhood. Additionally, the gold of the face turns out to be different from the gold of the rest of the mask, and evidence of later soldering is clearly visible. In short, the face staring at us from the golden mask of Tutankhamen is actually not the face of the famous King Tut. Most likely, it is that of Nefertiti.
Indeed, it is now estimated that roughly four fifths of the items found in Tutankhamen’s tomb had originally belonged to Nefertiti. When King Tut died childless, the last member of a dynasty loathed by Egypt’s priests, they simply raided the tombs of Akhenaten’s and his hated wife, Nefertiti, ransacking them for items to dump into Tutankhamen’s tomb. Even the sarcophagus had been built for somebody else. Masons simply carved over and amended its original inscriptions, and repurpposed them for Tutankhamen. It was a demonstration that Egypt was fully restored to its official state religion, centered on the worship of Amun, that the Temple of Karnak was back in business, and that the traditional priesthood had regained its power.
The relative disdain in which contemporaries held Tutankhamen actually ended up inadvertently protecting his tomb. When royal architects of his and later eras excavated new burial tombs for other pharaohs higher up the hill where Tutankhamen was buried, they simply dumped the debris and detritus downhill, and it fortuitously piled up at the entrance to Tutankhamen’s tomb. The teenaged pharaoh was apparently so little regarded that nobody bothered clearing the rubble from in front of his tomb, and it simply sat there, until his burial site was eventually forgotten.
In due course and over the centuries, the tombs of the more important and respected pharaohs were looted by robbers, but that of Tutankhamen, forgotten and concealed by mounds of rubble, remained hidden until it was rediscovered intact, millennia later. It was a lucky break that made Tutankhamen world famous thousands of years later, notwithstanding the dearth of his accomplishments, while far more accomplished pharaohs were relegated to relative oblivion. As one Egyptologist put it: “The pharaoh who in life was one of the least esteemed of Egypt’s Pharoahs has become in death the most renowned“.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading