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a mummy without a penis and a gold mask that would be a woman

On November 4, 2022 they will be fulfilled 100 years of one of the greatest finds in archeology: the tomb of pharaoh Tutankhamun, discovered by the team of British Howard Carter. But in a few weeks, starting on January 1, the celebrations will begin in Egypt.

To coincide with the centenary, the opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum, which has been under construction for almost 10 years in Giza, is expected on that date, almost the same time that it took Carter to catalog the thousands of objects he found in the tomb.

Located on the outskirts of Cairo, just two kilometers from the Great Pyramid, with a cost close to a billion dollarsWith an area of ​​500 thousand square meters and a capacity for 15 thousand daily visitors, the Great Egyptian Museum will be the largest archaeological museum in the world. And the main star, as appropriate, will be Tutankhamun.

The almost 5,400 objects recovered from his grave a century ago they will be exhibited in their entirety for the first time, including the famous mask of pure gold that has fascinated generations around the world and which has become a symbol of ancient Egypt.

Part of the treasure they found in Tutankhamun’s tomb.

Advances in technology have unraveled numerous mysteries surrounding the enigmatic pharaoh. In addition, with the incorporation of the study of X-rays, computed tomography, DNA tests, georadar and drones, science continues to investigate to answer some questions that even today continue without finding a precise answer: How did he die? Who were your parents? Why was the tomb found in complete disarray? Why are the effigies depicting him on jars and coffins so different?

Part of the difficulty in accurately determining these questions has to do with one of the paradoxes that History is often affected by: Tutankhamun – like his family – was relegated to oblivion because his father, Akhenaten, instituted a religious reform that abandoned polytheism in favor of the only god Aten, the solar disk, and moved the capital from Thebes to Akhetaton (today Amarna).

In the words of Egyptologist Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s former Minister of Antiquities: “Akhenaten became the first monotheist who remembers History”.

Upon Akhenaten’s death, Tutankathon (such was his name originally: “living image of Aten”) reversed the changes, altered his name in honor of the traditional god Amun, and re-established the capital at Thebes.

However, upon the death of the young king (he ascended to the throne with barely 9 years and only reigned for 10), and without successor children, the royal dynasty soon came to an end.

The successors erased Akhenaten from the records, the “heretic pharaoh”, as he is remembered today, as well as his wife Nefertiti (the one with the famous bust) and the rest of the related characters, including Tutankhamun.

The British Howard Carter, next to the sarcophagus of Tutankhamun.  He discovered the grave in 1922.

The British Howard Carter, next to the sarcophagus of Tutankhamun. He discovered the grave in 1922.

Tutankhamun’s death would have been unexpected, so the burial was done in a hurry and the interior of the tomb contained objects that would not have belonged to the pharaoh.

Was there looting?

His tomb was covered by stones when other royal tombs were built above his, which preserved it from the looting common in those days. So Tutankhamun’s tomb is the only one in all of Egypt to have been found intact.

When the group of British and Egyptian explorers, led by the archaeologist Carter, found the first steps leading to a sealed door in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, the chief explorer said his famous phrase: “I see wonderful things”.

Twenty-two days later, he told the details to the English aristocrat who had financed the expedition, George Herbert of Carnarvon, known as Lord Carnarvon, so that the two of them, together, would be the first to enter the chamber that kept the bodies of the pharaohs of the 18th Dynasty.

Thus, a pharaoh undoubtedly of little relevance in his time, he became the most renowned figure in Egypt a couple of millennia later. A popular character that captivates all types of public. The irony is that this could only happen in this way because, in its time, it was condemned to oblivion.

Actually, the tomb of the young pharaoh was not found completely intact. Howard Carter discovered evidence of two robbery attempts, which must have occurred just months after the burial.

That would explain, in part, why there was so much disorder inside. Another complementary explanation for the chaos in the arrangement of objects points to the fact that Tutankhamun’s death would have been unexpected and that the burial was done in a hurry. This would also reveal why some objects do not appear to represent the pharaoh, but would have been originally made for another king of the dynasty.

For decades, one of the greatest archaeological mysteries was discovering the causes of the king’s death. Carter’s team discovered bone fragments in the skull. It was believed, then, that he had been assassinated with a blow to the head as a result of some political intrigue.

However, a CT scan performed in 2005 confirmed that the head injury was made post-mortem. Later, DNA studies carried out between 2007 and 2009 found that he had had malaria (it is the oldest genetic evidence of the disease), that he had necrosis in his left foot (numerous canes in the grave are testimony to his difficulty in walking) and that he had suffered a fracture in his left leg that had not been able to heal when moment of death.

Although there is no clear consensus, it is believed that Tutankhamun had an accident while driving a car, wounding himself in the leg. This, added to his fragile health condition, would have led to his death.

This is the esplanade of the mega museum that will be inaugurated in 2022: the Tutankhamun year.

This is the esplanade of the mega museum that will be inaugurated in 2022: the Tutankhamun year.

Of the 58 people who were present at the opening of the sarcophagus, eight died during the next 12 years.

Curse?

These DNA analyzes – also carried out on other mummies – made it possible to identify the mummies corresponding to the parents of Tutankhamun, both brothers to each other. It was determined that the father was the infamous Akhenaten, although several archaeologists dispute this affiliation (including Corinne Duhig, of the University of Cambridge), since they assure that the body in question is too young to identify it with Akhenaten.

In March 2021, the Research Center for Bioarcheology, Paleopathology, Forensic Anthropology (FAPAB), of Italy, carried out a reconstruction of the mummy’s face, although without ruling on whether it corresponded to identify it with Akhenaten.

The mysterious aura of Egypt has fueled various controversies to this day.

The most persistent is the one that refers to the curse of Tutankhamen, which states that numerous members of the expedition died in dubious circumstances. However, although some Egyptian tombs include curses, none have been found in that of the young pharaoh.

In Cairo, Egypt, a tourist looks at Tutankhamun's mask.  (EFE / Khaled Elfiqi).

In Cairo, Egypt, a tourist looks at Tutankhamun’s mask. (EFE / Khaled Elfiqi).

On the other hand, the skeptical Australian researcher David Vernon highlighted, already in 1989, that of the 58 people who were present at the opening of the sarcophagus, only eight died during the next 12 years.

Despite everything, the controversies continue. In July this year, British Egyptologist Joanne Fletcher stated in a documentary that the famous gold mask of Tutankhamun does not represent the pharaoh, but a woman, due to the detail of the ears, which are pierced.

“Tutankhamun would not have worn earrings beyond childhood,” he claimed, suggesting that the mask possibly belonged to Nefertiti. The claim was summarily denied by most of the scientific community.

It should be remembered that, in 2003, Fletcher announced that he had identified Nefertiti’s mummy, which generated a resounding rejection from the highest authorities in Egyptology.

The abandonment of his tomb preserved both the funerary treasures and the pharaoh’s own mummy for millennia (Tutankhamun died in 1323 BC). However, in yet another paradox, the mummy was desecrated in modern times by anonymous looters who sought to keep macabre souvenirs.

In 1968 the mummy was X-rayed, and examiners were met with unpleasant surprises. The head was separated from the body, the hands were severed and the legs were separated from the pelvis.

All of this is attributed to a sloppy examination, conducted at the time by Howard Carter. The worst, however, was the finding that a beaded necklace was missing from the corpse’s chest, as well as a cap that covered its head.

In order to carry out the robbery, the thieves broke several ribs of the body, since the necklace was attached to the bones by the resin used in mummification.

The peak of the desecration was the discovery that the mummy had been removed an ear and penis. This looting is believed to have taken place during World War II, when the mummy’s security measures were minimal.

The deterioration that could not with the mummy for 23 centuries was carried out in just 23 years, since the tomb was discovered.

It must be said that the mummy, although intact, was not found in very good condition. Recent analyzes showed that embalming was inexperienced: the incision to extract the viscera, the position of the arms, the excess resin, everything escapes the mummification rules of the pharaohs. It has even been recorded that the young king was mummified with an erect penis, something completely unheard of among Egyptian mummies. Another mystery more impossible to solve today.

“Long live your ka (spirit), may you spend millions of years, you, who love Thebes, sitting with your face to the north wind, contemplating happiness with your eyes,” reads the inscription on the edge of the alabaster chalice / lotus.

Perhaps, in his new home in the Great Egyptian Museum, the troubled sovereign can once again find the rest and happiness that were taken from him a century ago, when his tomb was discovered for the eyes of the world.

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