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10 Things We Learned from the Discovery of King Tut Exhibition

No Egyptian Pharaoh has fascinated modern people like Tutankhamun, the Boy King, whose tomb was discovered by Howard Carter in 1922. Fifty objects from Tut’s tomb toured the U.S. in the late 1970s and again in 2010, kicking off Tut-mania—but it’s unlikely they’ll leave Cairo again. Thankfully, Tut-heads can tour The Discovery of King Tut, an exhibition that just opened in New York City.

The Discovery of King Tut displays 1000 expertly hand-crafted replicas, many displayed just as Carter found them when he opened Tut’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Unlike the tombs of the other pharaohs who were laid to rest in the Valley (after the pyramids were deemed to be obvious targets for grave robbers), Tut's tomb wasn't plundered. “The reason we talk about King Tut today isn’t because he was a significant king—not because he made his mark—but because Howard Carter found his tomb intact, for the most part,” Mark Lach, creative director of Premier Exhibitions, said at a media preview. “And Egyptologists, even today, are learning things from King Tut’s tomb.” Here are a few things we learned from the exhibition.

1. HOWARD CARTER HAD NO EXPERIENCE WHEN HE WENT TO EGYPT AT AGE 17. 

Despite his lack of bonafides, Carter became an archaeological draftsman and excavator, and by 25, he was chief inspector of antiquities for Upper Egypt. In 1904, he became Chief Inspector for Lower Egypt—but he wouldn't hold the position for long. When some of his Egyptian site guards got into an argument with drunk French tourists about ticket prices, Carter sided with his staff—and rather than apologize to the tourists, Carter resigned his position. Though things were tough for a while, everything turned around when Carter met the wealthy Lord Carnarvon, who he convinced to bankroll his search for the tomb of Tutankhamun. (Fun fact: Carnarvon's country house, Highclere Castle, is the location of the series Downton Abbey.) After a five-year systematic search of the Valley of the Kings, Carter found what he was looking for. When he peered into the antechamber of Tut’s tomb for the first time, in November 1922, Carter said he saw “wonderful things.”

2. TUT'S FOUR-ROOM TOMB WAS ROBBED TWICE.

Carter believed that the first robbery took place soon after the burial, possibly by people who had worked on the tomb. After that break-in, the corridors to the burial chambers were filled in with rubble, but that didn’t prevent a second robbery—the thieves tunneled in. Afterward, the priests attempted to tidy up, but mostly left the antechamber as the thieves had. They closed off most of the walls, and the tomb remained undisturbed until Carter’s team opened it up more than 3000 years later.

3. KINGS BEGAN AMASSING OBJECTS FOR THE AFTERLIFE AS SOON AS THEY TOOK THE THRONE. 

If a ruler died unexpectedly, craftsmen had 70 days to complete the objects—the length of time it took to mummify a body and perform embalming rituals.

4. TUT WASN'T ALONE IN HIS TOMB. 

His two children—one who was stillborn, one who died at birth—were buried with him. There were no names on their coffins.

5. THE MUMMY WAS ENCASED IN THREE COFFINS.

The outermost two were made of gilded wood, and the last in solid gold. The coffins were then placed in a quartzite sarcophagus with a pink granite top. The sarcophagus was placed in the tomb first, and four shrines were built around it from the inside out using prefabricated parts. (Picture Russian nesting dolls.) One shrine was built in the style of an Upper Egyptian chapel; another was built in the style of a Lower Egyptian chapel.

6. ONE SHRINE IS MORE MYSTERIOUS THAN THE OTHERS.

The second shrine contains sections from a funerary text that has come to be known as The Enigmatic Book of the Netherworld. The inscriptions were written in an encoded text very few would have understood even then; researchers still don’t know what some of it says.

7. THE SHRINES HAD TO BE CARTED AWAY PIECE BY PIECE.

The burial chamber was so small that Carter couldn’t open the shrines there. Instead, he had to take them apart and move them piece by piece—a process that took 84 days. Carter built a rail system to take the pieces of the shrines to the Nile, where they were transported by ship to the museum in Cairo.

8. THE COFFINS WERE STUCK TOGETHER.

Carter began opening the three coffins in October 1925. He soon discovered that the innermost coffin was stuck to the bottom of the second coffin due to the embalming oils that had been poured over it as part of the burial ritual, which had hardened over time. To get the coffins—and the mummy—free, Carter suspended the coffins over a frame while he burned lamps underneath.

9. THE FAMOUS GOLD MASK, WHICH COVERED THE MUMMY'S HEAD AND CHEST, WAS PRETTY HEAVY.

Made of solid gold, and shaped in an idealized likeness of the king, the mask weighed 25 pounds. It wasn’t the only decoration on the mummy: There were also golden bands adorned with glass inscriptions from funerary texts.

10. THE BOY KING WAS PRETTY SICKLY.

He had a severe knee injury, carried the malaria parasite, and had bone diseases in his left foot. His ribs might have been separated from a fall from his royal chariot. Tut was 18 or 19 when he died, but the cause of his death is still a mystery. 

The Discovery of King Tut is open now through May 2016; you can purchase tickets here.

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Penn Vet Working Dog Center
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

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Dan Kitwood, Getty Images
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This Just In
Flights Grounded After World War II Bomb Discovered Near London City Airport
Dan Kitwood, Getty Images
Dan Kitwood, Getty Images

London City Airport grounded all flights on the night of February 11, after a World War II bomb was found in the neighboring River Thames, The Guardian reports.

The half-ton bomb was revealed Sunday morning by development work taking place at the King George V Dock. Following its discovery, police set up a 702-foot exclusion zone around the area, closing local roads and shutting down the London City Airport until further notice. According to the BBC, 261 trips were scheduled to fly in and out of London City Airport on Monday. Some flights are being rerouted to nearby airports, while others have been canceled altogether.

The airport will reopen as soon as the explosive device has been safely removed. For that to happen, the Met police must first wait for the river's tide to recede. Then, once the bomb is exposed, they can dislodge it from the riverbed and tow it to a controlled explosion site.

The docks of London’s East End were some of the most heavily bombed points in the city during World War II. Germany’s Blitz lasted 76 nights, and as the latest unexpected discovery shows, bombs that never detonated are still being cleaned up from parks and rivers more than 75 years later.

[h/t The Guardian]

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