/ 5 November 2007

Rare glimpse of Tutankhamun’s mummy

Egypt put the mummy of the boy pharaoh Tutankhamun on display in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings on Sunday, giving visitors their first chance to see the face of a ruler who died more than 3 000 years ago.

In the dimly lit burial chamber, workmen removed the gilded lid of Tutankhamun’s mummy case and then hoisted the padded box containing the mummy out of the stone sarcophagus where it has lain for most of the time since Tutankhamun’s early death.

They then moved it to a climate-controlled acrylic glass showcase in the tomb’s antechamber and sealed the cover. His wizened face is visible at one end, a white linen cloth covers his body and his blackened feet protrude at the other end.

The mummy’s face has high cheekbones and cracked and blackened skin with an intact nose.

Zahi Hawass, the Egyptian government’s chief archaeologist and a passionate promoter of ancient Egypt, supervised the operation, broadcast live on some television channels.

”The face of Tutankhamun is different from the face of any king at the Cairo Museum,” Hawass told reporters.

”He has these beautiful buck teeth and … the tourists will see a little bit of a smile on the face of the golden boy,” he added. ”This will … make the golden boy live forever.”

The mummy was visible to the general public from Monday.

First reactions from tourists were mixed. Sergei Gostev, a Russian who said he based his opinion on his Christian beliefs, opposed the display. ”I think any corpse of a body, even a mummy, should stay in its original place. It should not be a subject of a show,” he said.

Sonja Baruth, a German bakery worker who frequently visits Egypt, managed to sneak in during the commotion and catch a glimpse of the mummy. ”I was so lucky to get in. It was a nice feeling,” she said.

Pina Taranko, an American visitor, said: ”It would be really neat to be one of the first to see his face, but we are on a tight schedule so there is no way to do it.”

Tutankhamun, who died on the verge of adulthood, ruled Egypt between about 1361 and 1352 BC and is the only pharaoh whose tomb was not stripped by looters in ancient times.

British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the tomb in the Valley of the Kings near the modern town of Luxor in 1922. Its treasures, including the famous funerary mask and stacks of furniture, stunned the archaeological community. Although the artefacts have toured the world, the mummified body has been examined in detail only a handful of times.

Until Sunday, Tutankhamun’s mummy had rested in a gilded coffin inside the stone sarcophagus inside the tomb.

But Hawass said humidity caused by the breathing of thousands of visitors a day threatened to further damage the mummy, which has deteriorated over the years.

Tutankhamun came to the throne shortly after the death of Akhenaten, the maverick pharaoh who abandoned most of Egypt’s old gods in favour of the Aten, or sun disc, and brought in a new and more expressive style of art.

During Tutankhamun’s reign, advocates of the old religion were regaining control of the country and turning their backs on Akhenaten’s innovations. When he died, he was buried in the valley along with many other pharaohs of the period.

Lord Carnarvon, Carter’s sponsor and one of the first people to enter the tomb, died shortly afterwards from an infected mosquito bite, giving rise to speculation that Carter’s discovery had unleashed a pharaonic curse.

Scientists have in the past suggested that a disease dormant in the tomb may have killed the British aristocrat. — Reuters