THE ALLEGED CRIME took place more than 3,000 years ago. The victim is now a dried-up, mangled mummy. The murder weapon is lost to history, and the suspects have long since turned to dust. It would seem to be a crime unsolvable for even the most brilliant detectives.
Don't tell that to Greg Cooper and Mike King. Cooper is the police chief of Provo, Utah, and a former FBI agent. King is the head of the Ogden, Utah, crime-analysis unit. The two have come out with a new theory that, they say, proves who killed Egypt's King Tutankhamen (toot-ahnk-AH-men). Their theory is based on a good understanding of history, a body of new evidence, and 21st-century crime-solving techniques.
The Boy Pharaoh
Thirty-three centuries ago, when Tutankhamen came to the throne, Egypt was a great power. Ruled by god-kings called pharaohs and watered by the mighty Nile River, Egypt had sprawling cities, imposing temples, and great monuments that were the envy of the world.
At the very top of that ancient civilization stood Tutankhamen, the boy-pharaoh. King Tut (as we have come to call him today) inherited the throne in 1347 B.C. at age 9. He was either the son or the son-in-law of the pharaoh Akhenaton. (Scholars disagree.)
Akhenaton (1367-1350 B.C.) had tried to push Egypt to become a monotheistic (one-god) society. He overturned the state religion, which featured several gods, most notably Amen, and replaced it with one devoted solely to the sun god, Aton. Akhenaton even built an entirely new capital city in the desert devoted to the worship of Aton. He ordered that the names of all the gods but Aton be erased from every public inscription in Egypt. In one blow, Akhenaton had taken power away from the priesthood and had forbidden the worship of gods beloved by the Egyptian people.
Akhenaton died at the age of 30. Three years after his death, Tut came to the throne. Tut's original name was Tutankhaton, but halfway through his reign, he bowed to pressure and restored the old religion and replaced the aton in his name with amen.
Because he was only a boy, Tut relied on the guidance of advisers and generals. But Tut's reign didn't last long. He died suddenly around the time of his 18th birthday.
Uncovering Tut's Tomb
In 1922, British archaeologist Howard Carter made, perhaps, the greatest archaeological discovery of the 20th century. Carter was excavating a tomb in the Valley of the Kings, a part of Egypt where many pharaohs were buried, when he came upon a tomb that apparently had been untouched for more than 3,000 years.
"Widening the hole a little, I inserted a candle and peered in," wrote Carter. "At first I could see nothing, the hot air escaping from the chamber causing the candle flame to flicker. But ... as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues, and gold--everywhere the glint of gold ... I was struck dumb with amazement."
Carter had every right to be amazed. He had just become the first man in nearly 3,300 years to view the tomb of Tutankhamen. King Tut's tomb, with its priceless treasures, remains the only royal Egyptian burial place found in its original state. Most others had been destroyed or robbed shortly after burial.
Still, to Carter, something seemed odd about the tomb. For one thing, it was smaller than other pharaohs' tombs. Carter speculated that it had been built for a nonroyal and pushed into service when Tut suddenly died. In addition, it seemed that the preparation of the tomb had been rushed. The wall paintings were marred by sloppy splashes of paint that should have been cleaned up. And though the artifacts were spectacular, they seemed to have been gathered in a hurry. Carter noticed that names had been scratched off some objects and Tut's name had been added. Carter also noted that an ointment used in embalming had been dumped on the mummified king--again, an unusually sloppy job.
Was someone anxious to have the tomb sealed in a hurry to cover up evidence of a killing? A suspicious Carter arranged an autopsy of the pharaoh's remains in 1925.
The ancient Egyptians believed the dead lived on in the next world, and so their bodies had to be preserved forever. The mummification technique they developed involved removing major organs, including the brain (which was taken out through the nose). A corpse was then wrapped in layers of linen bandages and placed in a coffin--or, as with Tut, a coffin within a coffin. In Tut's case, the ointments dumped on his body during mummification left it literally glued to the coffin. So Carter had to have the body chiseled out of the box and removed limb by limb. A 1925 autopsy found no signs of foul play. But a 1968 X-ray of Tut's corpse showed a sliver of bone floating in his brain cavity and a dense mass at the base of his skull that could have been a hematoma, or massive blood clot--evidence that Tut might have suffered a fatal blow to the back of the head.
Critical New Evidence
Cooper and King, the crime-solving team from Utah, say they have found critical new evidence of foul play. The pair took Tut's X-rays to a medical examiner, a radiologist, and a neurologist. Those scientists discovered abnormalities in the thin bones above Tut's eye sockets, abnormalities that appear when a victim's head strikes the ground in a backward fall, snapping the brain forward. They also found that the bones in Tut's neck were fused, a sign of Klippel-Feil syndrome. People who suffer from that ailment cannot turn their heads without moving the upper torso. "It's like having a bowling ball on top of a pool cue," King said.
Tut wouldn't have been able to hide his weakness. As evidence, a collection of 130 walking sticks was found in his tomb. The detectives say that the boy-king was an easy target. A killer could have easily knocked him over.
Who Did It?
If Tut was murdered, there is no shortage of suspects: It is likely that many Egyptians hated Tut because of his connection with the hated pharaoh Akhenaton. But investigators say the prime suspects are those who were closest to Tut, and each had motives:
* AY was Tut's prime minister and most important adviser. He became pharaoh after Tut's death and claimed Tut's queen as his second wife.
* ANKHESENAMEN was Tut's wife. The young couple had their share of problems. They had lost two children before birth. Unable to produce an heir, did the queen seek the throne for herself?
* HOREMHEB, commander of Egypt's armed forces, might have felt the frail king lacked the stomach for military action. When the general took the throne after Ay's death, he destroyed all records of Tut's reign.
Egypt fought no wars during Tut's reign, but the neighboring Hittites were a real threat, and some historians believe Horemheb wanted to take action against them. In addition, as the young king's military adviser, Horemheb probably taught Tut how to ride a chariot. Those lessons would have given the general a lot of time alone with the pharaoh. Perhaps Horemheb threw Tut from a chariot far from the palace. In that case, the boy's body would have started decomposing on the trip home, explaining why Tut's embalmers poured so much ointment on his body. But Cooper is convinced that Horemheb, who controlled the empire's powerful armies, could have taken the throne when Tut died. But he didn't. Ay did.
Ankhesenamen is an unlikely suspect because she did not become Egypt's ruler after Tut's death. A document from Tut's era reports that an unnamed Egyptian queen wrote to the Hittite king, pleading to be married to one of his sons to spare her from being forced to marry a "servant." Some believe the letter was from Ankhesenamen and referred to Ay, who, even as prime minister, would have been seen as a servant by the queen.
Which leaves Ay. Egypt's senior politician moved quickly to take power after Tut's death. Paintings depict Ay performing the "Opening of the Mouth" ceremony at Tut's funeral, a role traditionally taken by the new king. During Tut's youth, Ay effectively ruled Egypt. He might not have wanted to surrender power to the adult Tut.
Was Ay Tut's killer? That's what Cooper and King think. But that theory isn't shared by scholars who insist there's not enough evidence surviving to draw any conclusions about Tut's death. The detectives themselves concede they would have liked to gather more evidence. Though the detectives had access to Tut's X-rays, Egypt's government denied them access to the pharaoh's remains, which could have been tested by medical technology for clearer evidence of murder.
The case of Tut may never be closed. And a new generation will surely look for its own conclusions someday. In the meantime, the world remains curious about the mysterious young king--and amazed that modern technology can tell us things we never knew about a 3,300-year-old crime.
CONSIDER THIS ... What does the story of King Tut tell you about how government worked in ancient Egypt? What does it tell you about ancient Egyptian society?
SUSPECT NO. 1
Relationship to King: Adviser
Motive: He became pharaoh after Tut and had the most to gain by the young king's death.
Relationship to King: Wife
Motive: She had lost two children before birth and might have wanted the throne for herself.
SUSPECT NO. 3
Relationship to King: Commander of Egypt's armed forces.
Motive: He might have felt that Tut lacked the will to rule.
RELATED ARTICLE: The face of a pharaoh.
The photo above at the left does not show the real King Tut, but it may come as close as possible to depicting to the living face of the young pharaoh. As part of the recent investigation into Tut's death, scientists combined crime-investigation techniques with Hollywood special-effects skills to re-create Tut's face--and to their surprise, it didn't look much like the famous golden death mask found in his tomb in 1922.
British facial-reconstruction expert Robin Richards found re-creating Tut's face to be a unique challenge. The mummification process left the soft tissues of Tut's face dried out and sunken into the skull, hiding the structure of the face. Richards couldn't work with Tut's actual skull; he re-created its shape based on a set of X-rays taken in 1968.
Richards scanned the faces of a number of volunteers who shared King Tutankhamen's age, sex, size, and ethnic background to create an "average" group of facial features he could expect to be reasonably close to the king's own. On his computers, he "warped" that face until it fit over the skull designed from Tut's X-rays.
When Richards's work was done, special-effects artists added eye color, eyebrows, and skin tone, and then a sculptor created a fiberglass model of Tut's head. It doesn't resemble Tut's famous golden burial mask, but that doesn't surprise the investigators who believe the pharaoh was killed. They think the mask couldn't capture Tut's real appearance because it was made in a hurry after his sudden--and suspicious--death.
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