Saturday, February 27, 2010

NEW INFO ON KING TUT -- BUT WILL IT MATTER?

I'm sure this is on all the Egyptology blogs but I especially liked the reporting in this one so am including it -- although I usually avoid Egypt news because there are so many blogs to cover it.

It turns out Egypt's beloved boy-king wasn't so golden after all — or much of a wild and crazy guy, for that matter. But will research showing King Tut was actually a hobbled, weak teen with a cleft palate and club foot kill enthusiasm for a mummy that has fascinated the world for nearly a century?

Not likely, historians say, even though the revelations hardly fit the popular culture depiction of a robust, exotically handsome young pharaoh, or a dancing "how'd-you-get-so-funky" phenom a la Steve Martin. The comedian parodied Tut on "Saturday Night Live" during a blockbuster King Tut traveling exhibit in the late 1970s, which packed U.S. museums and spawned a mini-industry in Tut tchotchkes.

"This is one sick kid," Egyptologist Emily Teeter, assistant curator at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute, said after learning of the research. It shows that, based on DNA tests and CT scans, Tut had a genetic bone disease and malaria, which combined with a severe broken leg could have been what killed him about 3,300 years ago at age 19. The results further dispel the more romantic and popular theories about what did him in, like being murdered by a sneaky palace foe.

But historians say the new evidence will likely only intensify public interest in King Tutankhamun because it brings the boy ruler down to Earth. "It makes him all the more human and all the more fascinating," said Dr. Howard Markel, a medical historian at the University of Michigan.

The more realistic picture, fleshed out by testing Tut's mummy and those of his family, has its own mystique. Moreover, their tradition of incestuous marriages only worsened their maladies.

The new research led by Egypt's top archaeologist, Zahi Hawass, bolstered previous theories that Tut's father was likely the Pharaoh Akhenaten. It also brought a new discovery: Tut's mother was Akhenaten's sister. That would explain some of Tut's ailments, including the bone disease that runs in families and is more likely to be passed down if two first-degree relatives marry and have children.

Now experts are trying to identify the mummy that DNA pinpointed as Tut's mother, as well as another confirmed as his wife, Hawass told reporters in Cairo on Wednesday. The DNA project is also seeking a more illustrious figure, Queen Nefertiti, the wife of Akhenaten who was fabled for her beauty but whose mummy has never been identified.

Though historically Tut was a minor king, the grander image "is embedded in our psyche" and the new revelations won't change that, said James Phillips, a curator at Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History. Even if the research dents the myth, it won't change the most tangible part of Tut's image — all the intact relics that were found in his tomb.

"He's far more famous for what he owned and what he wore than what he actually did," Markel said.

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