Dr Neal Spencer: Now all the world can witness this ancient marvel

Share

The unmasking of King Tutankhamun has captured the world's enduring fascination with ancient Egypt and, in particular, the life of this young pharaoh whose death remains a mystery.

When the tomb of Tutankhamun was opened in the Valley of the Kings in 1922 by the British archaeologist Howard Carter, it was at the beginning of the age of mass media. Pictures of the tomb and its extraordinary contents were seen around the world in newspapers and on newsreels.

Yesterday, the delicate task of transferring the mummy of Tutankhamun to a climate-controlled case in the burial chamber in Luxor to ensure it is preserved to be seen and studied by future generations was beamed live around the world to an audience of young and old. It is a testimony to the continuing appeal of the story of the tomb's discovery and the life that preceded it more than 3,300 years ago.

The mummified face of Tutankhamun had previously been seen by only about 50 people, said Dr Zahi Hawass, the secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, who supervised yesterday's transfer. Now many others will be able to look into the eyes of an ancient king.

The move was necessary for conservation reasons. The tomb of Tutankhamun is the smallest in the Valley of Kings and becomes hot and humid due to the number of visitors. When that humidity dries it forms salt crystals which could damage the remains.

The tomb of Tutankhamun is the only original resting place of a pharaoh to have been discovered more or less intact in the Valley. Indeed, it is among few intact tombs found in Egypt. Inside it were 5,398 artefacts, from the famous gold mask to musical instruments and linen, all of which were to accompany him to the afterlife. Those artefacts were transferred to the Cairo Museum but since the excavation by Carter, the sarcophagus, the coffin and the mummy have remained in the tomb.

Egyptology now is a very broad subject: specialists can spend decades researching verbal forms of a certain period, or beer-making techniques in an ancient city. There are many avenues of research, but Tutankhamun and his tomb remain the story with most enduring popular appeal.

And there are many unanswered questions, not least the way he died so young. The latest theory is that he suffered a bad leg wound and died from complications related to it. That research, based on recent CT scans of the mummy, has not yet been fully published and we must remember we are dealing with something that happened 3,300 years ago. We may never know for certain how Tutankhamun died.

But his remains and the contents of his tomb are an incredibly rich resource for Egyptologists and students of ancient cultures. The method used by Carter and his team to remove the jewellery on the mummy would not be used by modern archaeologists but they also left a detailed record of the tomb and the position of everything inside it, including stunning photographs by Harry Burton. Many items went around the world in the late 1960s and 1970s. Some came to the British Museum in 1972 for the famous "King Tut" exhibition that was seen by 1.7 million people, the biggest exhibition in modern history.

A new Tutankhamun exhibition is opening in London this month. Every new film and documentary about the pharaoh means millions of people learn something of his story every year. Several will go on to become Egyptologists, furthering our understanding of this fascinating ancient culture. For others it is a glimpse of an exotic world of tombs and temples and kings that continues to prove endlessly fascinating.

The writer is curator in the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the British Museum

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko prior to the start of the European Council Summit in Brussels last month  

David Cameron talks big but is waving a small stick at the Russian bear

Kim Sengupta
 

Isis in Iraq: Even if Iraqi troops take back Saddam’s city of Tikrit they will face bombs and booby traps

Patrick Cockburn
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003