Last updated: May 15, 2019
Topic: SocietyWar
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King Tutankhamun remains the most famous of all the Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, but in fact, he was a short lived and insignificant ruler during a transitional period in history. Little was known of him prior to Howard Carters methodical detective work, but the discovery of his tomb and the amazing contents it held ultimately ensured this boy king of the Immortality he sought.

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Tutankhamun was an Egyptian Pharaoh who ruled between 1324 BC – 1333 BC during the period of Egyptian history known as the New Kingdom. The name Tutankhamun means “Living Image of Amun”. He was likely the eighteenth dynasty king ‘Rathotis’, who according to Manetho, an ancient historian, had reigned for nine years. The boy king died in his late teens and remained at rest in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings for over 3,300 years. All that changed in November 1922, when the British Egyptologist Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb. The 1922 discovery by Howard Carter of Tutankhamun’s intact tomb received worldwide press coverage and sparked a renewed public interest in ancient Egypt, for which Tutankhamun’s burial mask remains the popular face. Carter had been searching for the tomb for a number of years. Today, the tomb still contains the pharaoh’s remains, hidden from view inside the outermost of three coffins. He is the only pharaoh still residing in the Valley of the Kings until present. The tomb itself is very small and appears to have been destined for someone of lesser importance. Tutankhamun’s unexpected early demise saw the tomb’s rushed modification to accommodate the pharaoh.

Tutankhamun was only eight or nine years old when he became pharaoh, and reigned for approximately ten years. In historical terms, Tutankhamun’s significance stems from his rejection of the radical religious innovations introduced by his predecessor Akenhaten and that his tomb in the Valley of the Kings was discovered by Carter almost completely intact — the most complete ancient Egyptian tomb ever found.

Parentage and lineage

Tutankhamun’s parentage is uncertain. An inscription calls him a king’s son, but it is not clear which king was meant. He was originally thought to be a son of Amenhotep III and his Great Royal Wife Queen Tiye. Later research claimed that he might have been a son of Amenhotep III, although not by Queen Tiye, since Tiye would have been more than fifty years old at the time of Tutankhamun’s birth. At present, the most common hypothesis holds that Tutankhamun was the son of Akhenaten, also known as Amenhotep IV, and his minor wife Queen Kiya. Queen Kiya’s title was “Greatly Beloved Wife of Akhenaten” so it is possible that she could have borne him an heir. Professor James Allen argues that Tutankhamun was more likely to be a son of the short-lived king Smenkhkare rather than Akhenaten. Allen argues that Akhenaten consciously chose a female co-regent named Neferneferuaten as his successor, rather than Tutankhamun, which would have been unlikely if the latter had been his son.


During Tutankhamun’s reign, Akhenaten’s Amarna revolution was being reversed. Akhenaten had attempted to supplant the traditional priesthood and deities with a god who was until then considered minor, Aten. In Year 3 of Tutankhamun’s reign (1327), while he was still a boy, probably about 11, and under the influence of two older advisors the ban on the old pantheon of deities and their temples was lifted, the traditional privileges were restored to their priesthoods, and the capital was moved back to Thebes. The young pharaoh adopted the name Tutankhamun, changing it from his birth name Tutankhaten. Because of his age at the time, responsibility for these decisions can be attributed to his advisors. King Tutankhamun restored all of the traditional deities, and restored order to the chaos created by his uncle Akhenaten. In addition, temples devoted to Amun-Ra were built during this period. Although, Tutankhamun’s wooden box depicts him going to war against Hittites and Nubians, and he is shown wearing the blue war crown, it is doubtful that he ever went to war since scrutiny of the period’s extensive written evidence does not yield records of him participating in any wars or battles.

Cause of death

The cause of Tutankhamun’s death is unclear, and is still the root of much speculation. In early 2005, the results of a set of CT scans on the mummy were released. Howard Carter’s team originally inspected the body in the early 1920s, although they were primarily interested in recovering the jewelry and amulets from the body. Since 1926, the mummy has been X-rayed three times: first in 1968, then in 1978 and finally in 2005. X-rays of Tutankhamun’s mummy, taken in 1968, revealed a dense spot at the lower back of the skull. Such an injury could have been the result of an accident, but it also had been suggested that the young pharaoh was murdered. Theories as to who was responsible for the death include Tutankhamun’s immediate successor Ay, his wife, and his chariot-driver Calcification within the supposed injury indicates Tutankhamun lived for a fairly extensive period of time (on the order of several months) after the injury was inflicted.

A small, loose, sliver of bone was discovered within the upper cranial cavity, which was discovered from the same X-ray analysis. In fact, since Tutankhamun’s brain was removed post mortem in the mummification process, and considerable quantities of now-hardened resin introduced into the skull on at least two separate occasions after that, had the fragment resulted from a pre-mortem injury, some scholars, including the 2005 CT scan team, say it almost certainly would not still be loose in the cranial cavity.

2005 findings: The 2005 conclusion by a team of Egyptian scientists, based on the CT scan findings, is that Tutankhamun died of gangrene after breaking his leg. The Egyptian scientists also have found no evidence that he had been struck on the head and no other indication that he was murdered, as had been speculated previously. Further investigation of the fracture led to the conclusion that it was severe, most likely caused by a fall from some height — possibly a chariot riding accident due to the absence of pelvis injuries — and may have been fatal within hours

2007 discoveries in Tutankhamun’s tomb

On September 24, 2007, it was announced that a team of Egyptian archaeologists led by Zahi Hawass, discovered eight baskets of 3,000-year-old doum fruit in the treasury of Tutankhamun’s tomb. Doum comes from a type of palm tree native to the Nile Valley. The doum fruit are traditionally offered at funerals. Fifty clay pots bearing Tutankhamun’s official seal were also discovered.


Howard Carter, By T. G. H. James

Inside the Tomb of Tutankhamun, By Jacqueline Morley