A New Look at King Tut

By Guy Gugliotta
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 11, 2005

King Tut had a pointy head, a prominent nose and a rounded forehead with large eyes. He was about 19 when he died, and apparently he was not murdered, as earlier research had suggested.

"He was supposed to be an iconic individual, and it was probably important that he look the part," said New York University physical anthropologist Susan Anton yesterday. "It's interesting that he looks so striking."

Anton led one of three forensic teams who used computerized tomography -- a "Cat scan" -- of Tut's mummified remains to reconstruct the head and face of the boy pharaoh. Two of the teams -- one Egyptian and one French -- knew Tut's identity, while Anton's American team did not.

The three sets of results, however, were surprisingly similar, agreeing on Tut's unusual and arresting mix of male and female facial features. The study will be reported in the June edition of National Geographic magazine.

Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities and leader of the team that performed the CT scan in January, said in a news release that the team found no signs of childhood disease, malnutrition or prolonged illness in Tut, and no evidence of "foul play."

A report by Hawass in March rejected a theory that Tut died from a blow to the head. Instead, he suffered a bad fracture just above the left knee a few days before he died, Hawass said, and "it is possible this injury became infected and killed the king."

Tutankhamen, pharaoh of Egypt's 18th dynasty, died around 1323 B.C. after a short and not particularly noteworthy career. His body was buried in a small tomb in Egypt's Valley of the Kings, near Luxor.

Tut's fame arose principally because his inner tomb was left largely unpillaged. When British Egyptologist Howard Carter entered it in 1922, he found an array of jeweled objects and gold, a treasure now famous throughout the world.

Hawass's CT scan gathered 1,700 images, from which three-dimensional plastic models of the skull were created. These were used by the three teams to reconstruct Tut's face and head.

Hawass led the Egyptian team, and Jean-Noel Vignal, a forensic anthropologist with the National Gendarmerie in Paris, led the French team. Anton and medical artist Michael Anderson of Yale's Peabody Museum analyzed the "mystery individual."

Anton, in a telephone interview, described the specimen as "somewhat equivocal." The decidedly masculine jaw was the giveaway, she said, although the rounded forehead, the sharp brow and the prominent eyes suggested a woman.

Age was easy, she said. The third molars were in the process of coming in, something that happens between the ages of 18 and 20. Race, by contrast, was "the hardest call." The shape of the cranial cavity indicated an African, while the nose opening suggested narrow nostrils -- a European characteristic. The skull was a North African.

With these guidelines, Anderson was able to build the shape of the face by attaching the muscles to ridges in the plastic skull and building the nose and ears from parameters developed by anatomists.

The resulting plaster cast is perhaps midway between the square-jawed, high-cheekboned Egyptian Tut, and the strikingly androgynous French Tut. "My judgment of the skull at first was that it was female," Anderson said in a telephone interview. "It's amazing how feminine he looks."

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