New details of the Boy King

SAQQARA, Egypt

Before archeologist Howard Carter discovered and opened the tomb of King Tut in November of 1922, Pharaoh Tutankhamun was practically unknown.

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"This is the most intact tomb that has ever been discovered, the tomb of King Tut. When he looked inside the tomb and someone asked, 'what do you see,' and he said, 'I see wonderful things,'" Tutankhamun Exhibit Organizer Mark Lach said.

Tutankhamun sat on the throne of Egypt only nine years -- dying before his twentieth birthday.

"He undoubtedly believed that his calling was from the heavens, that he was appointed by the gods, that he was a god, and at the same time, he was a kid, he was a teenager," de Young Museum Conservator Elizabeth Cornu said.

"Can you imagine the glitter of the gold and the fine workmanship of the great works of art that were huddled together in the small tomb, and furthermore there was a mummy; there was a royal mummy that was found within shrines within sarcophagi, within coffins, behind the gold mask," de Young Museum Renee Dreyfus said.

The fascinating and priceless artifacts were placed in tombs along with the mummies, because of the ancient Egyptians' obsession with the afterlife.

"Out of all the things in the fine arts, the thing that people like to see the most is the mummies. There is a certain aura, a mystique about what Egypt did with their dead," former de Young Museum board chair Walter Newman said.

Tantalizing clues to a young ruler's life, yielding more questions than answers.

"There were two unborn female fetuses that were found in the tomb and there also was a small mask for one of them, um, also in the tomb, and there were nested coffins, small coffins, one inside the other, beautifully made but miniature. Now, no one really has known up to this point who, whose children these were," Dreyfus said.

This has given the Boy King a level of fame that far surpasses the historical significance of his reign as pharaoh.

"I think that part of the allure of King Tut's story is who was he? How did he die," John Buchanan asked.

Tomb of Maya, Tut's Wet Nurse

The View from the Bay crew went to Egypt to learn more about King Tut. They went into his tomb and saw his mummy. Along the way, their guide was one of the foremost authorities on the life of King Tut, world-famous archaeologist Dr. Zahi Hawass. He revealed secrets and mysteries recently discovered about the life and the family and the treasures of King Tut.

The journey begins not at the great pyramid of Giza, but at Saqqara. Located 20 kilometers south of Cairo, Saqqara is archeologically significant as the necropolis for Egypt's first pharaohs. The treasury of tombs buried deep under the sands of the Sahara Desert, is yielding insight to the rulers of the earliest Egyptian dynasties, and recent discoveries at Saqqara have revealed new details about the short life of Tutankhamun.

As secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, Dr. Zahi Hawass exudes a passion that helps bring modern relevance to the ancient world in which Tutankhamun lived.

"Saqqara here is becoming a very important place because we are restoring the step pyramid now, the oldest pyramid in Egypt. And you can imagine King Tut when he came here 3000 years ago, maybe used to stand in front of the step pyramid and look at it, and see the first pyramid built in Egypt. And the substructure of that pyramid, can you believe, is if you took the tunnels and the passages and you put it in the computer, it's 3 miles and a half long," Hawass said.

Recent discoveries in Saqqara may shed light on Tutankhamun's life as a boy.

Hawass: "You know that I think that King Tut had a special relation with uh, with the pyramids. Because, as I will show you, that we found evidence that he had a palace at uh, the area of Saqqara. Why he had a palace here, I believe he was interested in hunting wild animals and uh, going in the desert and things like that. But if you look at what's happening here we are going now to see one of the most beautiful tomb, connected with King Tut, and that tomb belong to his wet nurse, her name was Maya. And if you go inside and you see how King Tut was sitting on her lap, it can show maybe why Maya was buried here, why Maya choose this place, maybe because he lives a great part of his live, at the area of Saqqara."

Spencer Christian: "Yes, now what does this discovery tell us about King Tut's family? About, it adds volume to the history of his life, does it not?"

Hawass: "Yeah. We know that King Tut uh, maybe his mother Keya, died when she was delivering him, then maybe his wet nurse was like his mother. And if you really go inside and you see how King Tut is sitting on her lap, touching her and him with love and affection, this can tell us that uh, this lady Maya was like his mother."

Ancient Egyptians were motivated to build monuments like the pyramids because of their strong belief in an afterlife. Paintings and carvings inside tombs as well as the practice of mummification were done to insure a safe journey after death.

Hawass: "Showing this lady, Maya, sitting on a chair, and look about this beautiful young boy, looks like in the age of nine, look at his face, similar to the statues that you see in the Academy museum. The cobra is in the forehead protecting him, and she is putting her hand just like in love and affection, like a mother and a child. And look he's holding the sign of Ahnk, and it's an amazing, a very important scene, because you know, the quest of immortality was very important to the ancient Egyptians because they believed in the afterlife. When the deceased die they mummify him, then the 70 days they go for the funeral procession then after that they do something called the opening of the mouth. Then the high priest, in front of the mummy of Maya, holding by Anubis, the god of the cemetery and this guy is telling the mummy, I open your eyes that you can see. I open your nose that you can smell, I open your mouth then you can eat."

The paintings on the walls of Maya's tomb at Saqqara tell us something about Tutankhamun's affinity for his nurse and reveal a sensitive side to the future pharaoh. Small details were painstakingly restored and studied by modern archeologists, in the attempt to reconstruct the life of the Boy King and his world.

"Those people are trained on the restoration techniques. They collect everything and they began to work in it to restore it. And this to show you what means archaeology. Archaeology is not Raiders of the Lost Arc. Archaeology is science, working, excavating, recording, mapping, teaching -- that's what means archaeology," Hawass said.

The life of an ancient Egyptian revealed in the tomb

"We know this person, it's a 26th Dynasty 500 BC coffin, which this area of the excavation that we found, it's uh, reused from the New Kingdom up to the Roman period. Coffin, was cut to 8 pieces, and these people, the restorator, Hagaik and Hassan worked in the restoration you know, to restore something you have to be patient and you have to have the skill and you have to clean carefully, and look those people could be amazing to have eight pieces of a coffin and restore them and bring them back," Hawass said. "You know, I always say that we discovered until now, 30 percent of Egyptian monuments, and still there is 70 percent." buried underneath the ground.

While real life archeology is not exactly like it is portrayed in Hollywood movies, it can have its dramatic moments -- like the new discovery by Hawass of a burial chamber 40 feet below the surface of the desert.

"We'll go down, on this, to the shaft that has the mummies, the 30 mummies, about 40 feet," Hawass said.

Mummification was not only for those with royal connections.

Spencer Christian: How common would it be to find mummified animals?

Hawass: "You know it happened, but not mummified. In one of my excavations at Giza I found a skeleton of a dog near the tomb owner, but never seen a mummified dog like this."

Spencer Christian: "So you found more than 30 mummies here?"

Hawass: "Yes, but the most interesting thing in this discovery was actually two sealed. One coffin completely sealed since 2,600 years ago, and this sarcophagus was completely sealed also but let's start with the first one."

Hawass: "Look this is an anthropoid beautiful coffin, dated back to 2,600 years ago. It's beautifully inscribed in hieroglyphics like this, and when I did it was sealed completely, and when we opened it we found inside, a mummy. And the mummy was completely intact, and we found inside the mummy that the ancient Egyptians inserted amulets to put it inside to make the deceased go safely in the afterlife. But the most exciting thing according to your question, when you come to a place like this, and sitting like this, and when workmen was here and when workermen was here and when I was here I took the coffin out. This is the most important moment in the life of anyone. It make you, I think I'm the happiest person on earth, because no one can have this opportunity at all. People fight, they want to make money, they want to make this, I only want to make this. I don't care about anything else and this why this moment I believe is a beautiful moment, in the life as me as an archaeologist."

Spencer Christian: "And you know that you're about to uncover something so precious."

Hawass: "I went to bed early like 10 in the evening and I had dreams of me dancing, actually. I wrote an article to children yesterday about this shaft, and I said, the title of the article is 'Dancing with the Mummies.' Because if you look at, no one really can believe that you enter this place like this and you began to see thirty mummies, one coffin completely sealed, a limestone sarcophagus never opened before, and the moment of the opening it's almost amazing moment."

Resources and exhibit information:

>> The Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharoahs Exhibit
The de Young Museum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park
Opens June 27, 2009 and runs through March, 2010
Tickets & info: http://www.famsf.org/deyoung

>> King Tutankhamun and the work of Dr. Zahi Hawass: http://www.drhawass.com

>> The King Tut exhibit and its return to San Francisco: http://tutsanfrancisco.org

>> Timeline of events in Ancient Egypt

>> Suggested reading: The Discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen by Howard Carter and A.C. Mace
>> Buy the book on Amazon

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