Happy King Tut Day! The tale of The Boy Pharaoh is a great way to pique your little explorer’s interest in archaeology, Ancient Egypt…and maybe even introduce him or her to what’s currently going on in the Middle East. In case you’ve never heard of Tutankhamun, (though we doubt it—he’s one of the best known pharaohs of ancient Egypt) here’s a little background. King Tut gained immense posthumous popularity in November 1922 when British archaeologist Howard Carter ceremoniously exhumed him from his treasure-filled tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, and effectively rocket-launched the study of Egyptology.
Although Tut was a minor figure in the scope of ancient Egyptian history, his extremely well-preserved tomb (and mummy) made him a source of great wonder to Carter, his associates, and the rest of the world. The relatively modest four-room tomb (which historians speculate was originally intended for a noble, but had to be repurposed at short notice when the Boy King suddenly became ill) contained a plethora of priceless objects—gold figurines, ritual jewelry, his two unborn children and embalmed organs, all in great shape for 3,000,000 years old.
The excavation of King Tut’s tomb also fueled the rumor of an alleged curse of the pharaohs, which is supposedly cast upon any person who disturbs an Ancient Egyptian tomb. Why the commotion? Eight of the 58 people who were present when the tomb and sarcophagus were opened died within the next dozen years. The first and most notable death was that of George Herbert, also known as Lord Carnarvon, the financial backer behind the expedition. Four months after witnessing the tomb’s unveiling, Herbert died of blood poisoning after accidentally cutting open a mosquito bite whilst shaving, causing a fatal infection. While some tombs do carry inscriptions directing Egyptian ka priests to watch over the burial grounds carefully, Tut’s tomb had no such writings on the wall. In addition, a 2002 study of the physiologies of the surviving Westerners in Carter’s crew showed they were not at risk of dying early.
Coincidentally, while some speculated that Tutankhamen’s untimely death at the age of 19 was assassination by a murderous rival (i.e. his ostensibly Jafar-like Vizier, Ay) the royal teen, like the wealthy Lord, also died of an infection. It seems as though the boy fell (probably off a horse or chariot) and broke his leg—any damage to his skull was sustained post-mortem, probably while he was being prepared for burial. While a less saucy tale than the conspiracy theories of a plotted blow to the head, the gangrene which actually took the life of the famed pharaoh was no less grisly a fate.
However, Tut isn’t purely a figurehead for the study of Egyptology. While historians do describe his reign as mostly uneventful, he is thought to have reversed his father’s unpopular religious reforms. His father, Akhenaten, compelled the Egyptians to convert to monotheism during his reign (either because he admired the Egyptian deity Aten above all others or he wanted to reduce the political power of the priests and instead concentrate authority within the government and military—you decide). Tut supposedly reinstated Thebes as the capital of the Empire. No easy feat for a teenager burdened with a clubfoot and a cleft lip (his mother was also his aunt—the Ancient Egyptians’ focus on preserving royal lineage meant a lot of its pharaohs were inbred and/or suffered from genetic defects, if they weren’t stillborn).
So, this Mini Mani Monday, give your little archaeologists a cool gilded manicure, an introduction to the intriguing world of Ancient Egypt, and a lesson in thinking for themselves and not simply adopting your perspectives. (And don’t forget to mention Tut’s—mom? aunt?—Nefertiti. “Artwork from [her] day depicts the [Nefertiti and the Pharaoh] and their daughters in an unusually naturalistic and individualistic style”—sounds like another Royal family we know.)