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Tut-tutting for King Tut

Original post made by dolores ciardelli, editor of Danville Express, on Feb 18, 2010

Poor King Tut. Ridden with malaria and a degenerative bone condition. And no royal physicians that could help. Maybe they should have focused on malaria instead of embalming.

If we learned anything from the recently divulged genetic studies of the Egyptian mummies, it's that royalty was not exempt from physical afflictions. But this makes me unhappy. I want the people who seem to have everything to truly have everything. I know they are human in that they digest their food and sometimes might be under the weather. But so frail at age 19? Much was hidden under that majestic Golden Mask.

I grew up watching "The Ten Commandments" so my knowledge of the era had the men as robust as the young Yul Brynner and the women as comely as Anne Baxter. Not to mention Liz Taylor as Cleopatra. But now we learn that Hollywood lied.

Queen Elizabeth of England never made it look fun to stand around wearing a hat and carrying an empty purse. And I don't particularly like horses, although I could get used to servants and big estates. Ah, but the ancient Egyptian royalty (at least in the movies) knew how to live. All the lounging around by fountains wearing flowing gowns and sandals, and having massages with precious oils. Plus it's warm in Egypt, which suits me.

In October I went to a speech at the Danville Community Center on the King Tut exhibit at the de Young Museum by docent Kate Sculti. She wove a magic web for the audience of the ancient dynasties of Egypt and their tombs full of gold and treasures. She mentioned that the mummies were having genetic testing done so we would have it confirmed at last whether Pharaoh Akhenaten and Kiya, brother and sister, were the parents of King Tut. And they were.

Tutankhamun married his half-sister, Ankhesenamun, who was Akhenaten's third daughter by his wife Nefertiti, Sculti told us. The couple had no surviving children, although mummified fetuses of two stillborn babies were found in Tut's tomb. Genetic testing is also being done on them to find out if they were his offspring.

I'd planned to go to the exhibit at the de Young, "King Tut and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs," which runs through March 28. It's even free this weekend. A few decades ago, I traveled to the Valley of the Tombs of the Kings and visited King Tut's actual tomb but all the treasures had been removed. The Valley was fascinating nonetheless, especially other tombs that had hieroglyphics. The opening to King Tut's tomb was inconspicuous, which is why it was undiscovered all those centuries. It's mind-boggling to imagine its discovery in the 1920s. And viewing the exhibit would bring one's imagination back even another 3,000 years. But somehow a visit to his treasures is not the same, knowing that King Tut had suffered as do the rest of us mere mortals, even more so.

All of this post-post-post-post-mortem business is making me nervous. Is not even an ancient king entitled to some privacy? When Tutankhamun was buried with such an eye toward secrecy I'm sure it was to ensure the safety of the treasures. I doubt if the ancient Egyptians ever dreamed that their pharaoh's physical secrets would be explored and broadcast around the world with clever headlines.

Now what will we do with our new knowledge? Will Steve Martin rewrite the lyrics of his famous song? One line still holds: "He gave his life for tourism." I just hope that Hollywood doesn't decide to make another, realistic movie about ancient Egypt. It's one thing when modern movies portray towns in the old West as dirty and dangerous. Or when war is shown with all its blood and guts. But ancient Egypt? Let's just stay in deNile.

Comments (2)

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Posted by Donna Hyora
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2010 at 7:29 pm

The tongue in cheek commentary is cute, but getting the names mixed up could confuse your readers. Perhaps you were privy only to an AP summary of the DNA findings. It is a bit confusing. National Geographic's site provides a few more details than some press releases. It said that Tutankhamun's mother, identified as the mummy customarily referred to as the Younger Lady in Amenhotep II's tomb, was a full sister to his father, Akhenaten. Their parents were Amenhotep III and Tiye. Kiya might not be totally ruled out as Tut's mother, but so far they have no evidence that she is a daughter of Amenhotep III and Tiye. Tut's mother's mummy's name is not yet known.

I personally appreciate learning the actual humanity of such a historic figure. New dramas can now play up to the tragedy of the flawed body of an otherwise charming young king.

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Posted by Dolores Ciardelli
editor of Danville Express
on Feb 19, 2010 at 11:07 am

Dolores Ciardelli is a registered user.

Apparently the DNA study of the children mummified in King Tut's tomb did confirm them to be the daughters of Tut and his wife Ankhesenamun. The studies also showed that Tutankhaman had a cleft palate and a clubfoot.

Dr. Zahi Hawass, Egyptologist and vice minister of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, is going to deliver a lecture March 8, “Mysteries of Tutankhamun Revealed,” at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House. He will present the findings of the recently announced CT scan and DNA study, “Ancestry and Pathology of King Tut’s Family,” published in the Feb. 17 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Tickets for the lecture are $15 (general admission) and available on

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