King Tut is the most renowned, most studied Ancient Egyptian pharaoh. The 1922 discovery of his overstocked tomb stands as one of the most significant archaeological finds in all of history.
To celebrate the dig’s 100-year anniversary, a sprawling collection of never-before-seen artefacts is touring 10 cities as part of the King Tut: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh exhibition. Travelling through the US and Europe, this hallmark show is the first and last of its kind, before all 5,000+ artefacts move into their permanent home, the Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
Leading up to the $700 billion museum’s opening, SBS is treating viewers with three-part documentary Secrets of Tutankhamun’s Treasures – a series that chronicles the process of readying long-stored items for their relocation. Many of these finds haven’t seen the light of day in 95 years, and thanks to the latest technology, Egyptologists are rethinking everything they thought they knew about Tutankhamun.
Even if you’re only vaguely familiar with Tutankhamun, chances are you’ve heard of his nickname: “the boy king”. King Tut famously passed away at the age of 19, and until now, has been largely regarded as a battle-shy figurehead who deferred to the bidding of his advisers. His death has been put down to compounding health factors including malaria and a worsening fracture in his left thighbone. This new scrutiny of the endless array of impressive artefacts paints an altogether different picture of the young king’s reign.
Dagger from the gods
Of all the evocative artefacts found in King Tut’s tomb, one item has, up until recently, been overlooked. At first glance, there’s nothing overly notable about this tiny dagger, but closer inspection has thrown Egyptologists for a loop.
Not only is the ornate weapon “dripping in gold and jewels”, but it is made from iron – a commodity that was non-existent in ancient Egypt. Nothing in history suggests that iron was smelted in Tut’s home nation, and new forensic testing of the metal’s composition reveals there’s no way it could have come from anywhere on Earth.
In other words, odds are that this particular dagger, which was probably Tut’s most-prized personal weapon due to the fact it was found strapped to his abdomen, was made from iron sourced from a FALLEN METEORITE!
Recently, Egyptologists have pieced together a series of small, standardised leather scales found in Tut’s tomb to form a full-body armoured tunic. The reconstruction suggests this garment was carefully designed, sophisticated and able to withstand an onslaught of arrows.
Not only is the armour more advanced than anything previously theorised, but it also suggests King Tut may not have shied away from battle. In fact, this single piece of armour raises the question that the experts have been wrong about the nature of his death this whole time. In other words, could the young king have died in combat?
The golden chariot
Adding weight to the theory that Tut was less a boy king and more a grown warrior are the gold illustrations beaten into flanks of harness leather from one of six golden chariots found in his tomb.
Comprised of imagery from all over the ancient world, these designs paint a picture of an all-conquering ruler whose reach stretched far further than has previously been thought. His various enemies are painstakingly depicted in positions of submission, and all but reveal the allegedly powerless boy king would go to any length to see his power spread across the globe.
The death mask
Tutunkhamun’s funerary mask is not only the most studied item from his tomb, but also one of the remnants most synonymous with Ancient Egyptian history. At the time of its discovery, it hadn’t been seen by the human eye in over 3000 years. This impressive luxury is made from 22 pounds of solid gold, and its inlays incorporate thousands of tiny fragments of coloured glass and semi-precious stones, including penetrating pupils made of Turkish obsidian.
New theories suggest there’s no way such an intricate item could have been finished over the brief amount of time between Tut’s death and the sealing-off of his tomb, and that a mould of his face was grafted onto an existing mask. The question remains: what does this theory tell us about the “boy king”?
Watch Secrets of Tutankhamun’s Treasures on 21 January at 7:30pm on SBS.