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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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Peter Pfälzner, University of Tübingen
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Archaeologists Finally Identify a 4000-Year-Old Lost City in Iraq
Peter Pfälzner, University of Tübingen
Peter Pfälzner, University of Tübingen

In 2016, archaeologists excavating in the Autonomous Region of Kurdistan in Iraq discovered the remnants of a Bronze Age city near the modern village of Bassetki. It was large, and it appeared to have been occupied for more than 1000 years, from around 2200 to 1200 BCE. Ancient Mesopotamia, home to the earliest civilizations on Earth, had many cities. So which one was it?

The mystery remained until recently, when a language expert at the University of Heidelberg translated clay cuneiform tablets unearthed at the site in 2017. The archaeologists had discovered Mardaman, a once-important city mentioned in ancient texts, which had been thought lost to time.

The inscriptions were likely written around 1250 BCE when Mardaman (also called Mardama) was a part of the Assyrian Empire. According to the University of Tübingen archaeologists who unearthed the tablets, they describe the "administrative and commercial affairs" between the citizens of Mardaman and their Assyrian governor Assur-nasir. The account led the researchers to believe that the area where the tablets were recovered was once the governor's palace.

Excavation site in Iraq.
Peter Pfälzner, University of Tübingen

Situated on trade routes connecting Mesopotamia, Anatolia (modern Turkey), and Syria, Mardaman was a bustling commercial hub in its day. It was conquered and rebuilt several times, but after it was toppled by the Turukkaeans from the neighboring Zagros Mountains sometime in the 18th century BCE, it was never mentioned again in ancient texts. Experts had assumed that marked the end of Marmadan. This latest discovery shows that the city recovered from that dark period, and still existed 500 years later.

"The cuneiform texts and our findings from the excavations in Bassetki now make it clear that that was not the end," lead archeologist Peter Pfälzner said in a press statement. "The city existed continuously and achieved a final significance as a Middle Assyrian governor's seat between 1250 and 1200 BCE."

This lost chapter of history may never have been uncovered if the clay tablets were stored any other way. Archeologists found the 92 slabs in a pottery vessel that had been sealed with a thick layer of clay, perhaps to preserve the contents for future generations. The state in which they were found suggests they were stashed away shortly after the surrounding building was destroyed.

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Ben Curtis, AFP/Getty Images
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
King Tut's Tomb Doesn't Contain Hidden Rooms After All
Ben Curtis, AFP/Getty Images
Ben Curtis, AFP/Getty Images

When Howard Carter first entered King Tut's tomb in 1922, there was a lot to uncover. Unlike most royal tombs of the ancient Egyptian kings, Tut's had remained sealed and untouched for centuries, providing a pristine treasure trove for those who would eventually stumble upon it. Now, nearly a century later, archaeologists are accepting the idea that King Tut's tomb may have no more secrets left to reveal: New radar scans show that there are no hidden rooms beyond the main burial chamber, NBC News reports.

The theory that Tut's tomb contains secret rooms first emerged in 2015. British archaeologist Nicholas Reeves claimed that high-definition laser scans conducted by Japanese and American scientists hinted at the existence of a second tomb on the other side of the chamber's walls, and that the hidden tomb possibly belonged to Queen Nefertiti, Tutankhamun's stepmother. The theory sparked excitement in Egyptology circles, but its popularity was short-lived. Radar experts cast doubts on the research saying that what appeared to be a wall or a room could easily be a geologic feature. Archaeologists and Egyptologists began calling for more evidence.

The newest study on the matter will likely debunk the hidden tomb theory for good. According to findings by Italian researchers presented at the fourth International Tutankhamun Conference in Cairo, ground-penetrating radar shows conclusively that there are no hidden rooms or corridors adjacent to Tut's tomb. The new scan represents the most comprehensive radar survey of the area ever conducted.

Even without hidden rooms, Tut's tomb and the artifacts it contained make up one of the world's most impressive archaeological sites. The public will be able to view 4500 of the young ruler's possessions when they go on display at a new museum in Cairo in 2022.

[h/t NBC News]

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