The purloined penis and more obscure Tut trivia.
With “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs” returning to Chicago for the first time in 30 years, we offer ten things you didn’t know about everyone’s favorite teenaged Egyptian ruler.
1. Tut: Hot or not?
Just about every image of the king in the exhibition depicts a regal, handsome dude, but CT scans released last year reveal a much different picture. The 19-year-old was found to have an oddly elongated skull, buckteeth and a receding chin, according to Dr. Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Cairo.
2. Secondhand goods
The many statues and busts of Tut you see aren’t necessarily actual depictions of Tut. “In Egypt they did a lot of recycling,” says exhibition curator David Silverman. Apparently, ancient kings commandeered statues and artifacts from their predecessors all the time, so a lot of what you see was intended for other rulers. If you take a look at Tut’s gold coffinette, for instance, you can see that Tut’s name on the cartouche appears rougher than the rest of the hieroglyphs. When an ancient ruler exercised his divine right to swipe other people’s property, all he had to do was scratch off the previous owner’s name and have his own carved over it. Walk around to the back of the first Tut statue on display, and you’ll see where one of the Boy King’s successors, King Horemheb, returned the favor.
3. Missing member
In 1968, Tut’s penis was reported missing. But a 2005 CT scan revealed that it had been attached to his body all along—he was just suffering from a bad case of shrinkage.
4. C.S.I.: Cairo
How did Tut die? For a long time, he was believed to have been murdered. But recent CT scans show he had an infection above his left knee that never healed, so Tut likely died of blood poisoning.
More than 45 people—including Lord Carnarvon, the wealthy Englishman who funded the expedition—died weeks after entering the tomb. Officially, Carnarvon died of blood poisoning—reportedly after he shaved off a mosquito bite, which then became infected when he entered the tomb. But many blamed Tut’s now-infamous curse. A few months after the tomb’s discovery, a newspaper reported that these words were found inscribed inside: “Death comes on wings to he who enters the tomb of a pharaoh.” Other papers claimed that at the exact moment Carnarvon died, all the lights in Cairo went out, and his loyal hound back in England began howling maniacally, then dropped dead.
6. Lethal leftovers
So what killed the tomb’s visitors? Scientists theorize that snacks for the afterlife left in the tomb may have left behind some potentially deadly bacteria, possibly aspergillus.
7. A king’s ransom
Only four U.S. cities are hosting the exhibit, and surprisingly, New York isn’t one of them. The Met says the high cost of producing the show—thanks in part to the $5 million restoration-fund fee the Egyptian government charges each exhibiting museum—would’ve forced the Met to recoup expenses through ticket sales, which violates the museum’s policy of offering the public a single, all-access admission.
8. Big head, bigger headache
In an effort to make a display area for a colossal, six-ton stone head of Tut’s father, staff members at the Ft. Lauderdale Museum of Art were ready to cut a sizeable hole in the museum roof. Then Katrina struck, forcing a delay. Fortunately, the staff found an alternate way to display the noggin without opening the roof to the deluge, and the show opened as planned.
9. I want my mummy
Not even a VIP pass will get you a look at Tut’s mummy or his famous gold burial mask. Why? Because, sadly, they’re not in the exhibition. Silverman says the mummy has never traveled outside of Egypt because it was decided in the very beginning to leave it in the Valley of Kings as a national treasure, in the tomb where it was found. Ditto on the showstopping gold mask, which was a key part of the ’77 exhibition—it hasn’t left Egypt since then.
The tomb’s discoverer, archaeologist Howard Carter, and Carnarvon were left with nary a souvenir scarab. Carnarvon agreed to split the spoils with the Egyptians—unless what they found was deemed “national treasure,” which of course it was.
The king returns May 26 through January 1 at the Field Museum.