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Ultimate Tut - Secrets of the Dead

Mysteries of Tutankhamun

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Ultimate Tut: Chris Naunton and Salima Ikram

Chris Naunton, director of Egypt Exploration Society and Salima Ikram, professor of Egyptology, American University, Cairo.

Courtesy PBS and Blink Films

Secrets of the Dead: Ultimate Tut. 2013. Written and directed by Sean Smith. Narrated by Jay O. Sanders, executive produced by Steve Burns, Justine Kershaw and Alan Handel. Produced by Blink Films and Handel Productions in association with Thirteen and WNET. Featuring Chris Naunton, Yasmin el-Shazly, Amit Roy Chowdhury, Melinda Hartwig, Ashraf Selim, Robert Connolly, Jack Coi, Anna Williams, Mike Brown, Peter Zioupos, Ian Horsfall, Salima Ikram, Matthew Ponting, David Crowder, Neville Agnew, Ralph Mitchell, Ashley Cooke, Stephen Cross, Tom Coulthard, and Amed Hassan. 110 minutes, DVD and BluRay.

Secrets of the Dead: Ultimate Tut is a two-hour update on what scholars have learned about Tutankhamun, the 19th dynasty Egyptian pharaoh whose golden treasure-crammed tomb enflamed the world's interest in archaeology in 1922. Archaeologist Howard Carter's discovery of a nearly intact 3,000 year old royal tomb in the Valley of the Kings 90 years ago, was both a blessing and a curse for Egyptology. On the one hand, the gold and silver artifacts engendered global interest in Egyptian archaeology; but on the other, the gold glitter blinded us to just about everything else.

Mysteries of Tutankhamun

Anchored by Chris Naunton of the Egypt Exploration Society, Ultimate Tut delves into the several mysteries of the New Kingdom's most famous pharaoh. Most of these things are mysteries, oddly enough, because they were overshadowed by the "wonderful things" found in Tut's tomb. But, says Chris Naunton, they were also unanswered, or rather, unasked, because Carter died before the tomb excavations could be written up.

Fortunately, Carter left notes and photos of his excavations. Studies of Tutankhamun's mummy since then have included x-rays and samples in 1968; and in 2005, a computed tomography (CT) scan. Numerous researchers in fields as disparate as geology, virtual reconstructions, and traffic accidents have all been separately and together working on various pieces of the puzzle. All of these pieces of evidence form the underpinnings of Ultimate Tut's story line. Naunton, while clearly the inpetus for the video, is a largely understated presence, allowing the researchers to describe their own investigations.

Questions, Questions

Viscera Coffin of Tutankhamun

Viscera Coffin of Tutankhamun. Tutankhamun possessed four miniature coffins fashioned of gold and inlaid with colored glass and semi-precious stones, and each stood in a separate compartment in an alabaster chest

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Questions addressed by the video include:

  • How did Tutankhamun die? The evidence for a violent death is apparent: but was it really murder?
  • Why is his tomb so small? KV62, as the tomb is called by Egyptologists, is so tiny that a large hole had to be cut into the wall to fit in the nested coffins.
  • Why is one of the coffins clearly designed for a woman? The mask on the face of an interior coffin is clearly not of Tutankhamun.
  • Why are there so many inconsistencies with the famous golden mask? The headdress is made with colored glass; the eyes of the mask are made with lapis lazuli.
  • Where is his intended tomb and who lies in it? If KV62 was intended for a minor noble, where is the tomb Tut was supposed to be buried in?
  • Who was that "minor noble" and where is he buried?
  • Why is Tut's mummy burnt, even though the coffin is not? Howard Carter reported that the mummy was charred, even though there was no evidence of a fire in the tomb itself.
  • Why did he change his name? On one of the thrones in Tut's burial chamber is the name Tutankhaten: when did he become Tutankhamun?
  • Why did Seti I leave off Tut's name from the king list?
  • Why is there no heart preserved with his body? There are other missing parts with the body, including part of his pelvis, but unlike every other mummy in the Valley of the Kings, there is no heart.
  • Why are there brown spots on the tomb paintings? Carter's photos show brown spots on the tomb paintings that look like mold: if they are, why haven't they gotten any bigger since then?
  • Why are there so few tomb paintings?
  • Why was the tomb left undisturbed? About 200 years after Tut's death, chaos in the Egyptian political landscape made the pharaoh's tombs fair game for looters: how did they miss Tutankhamun?

Bottom Line

Ultimate Tut has an enormous depth of field, the result of the input from scholars in so many different areas, and the studies of the different universities and research laboratories in which the video was filmed. In addition to answering the questions, the video puts Tut back into context. Tutankhamun was not simply the boy king, or the murder victim or the focus of a treasure hunt, but rather part of the religious and political turmoil of the New Kingdom. That context includes the social upheaval surrounding Akhnaten, Tutankhamun's heretic father who attempted to remake Egyptian religion into a monotheistic society; and the fallout from that that came close to ending the glories of the New Kingdom.

Secrets of the Dead: Ultimate Tut is a terrific excursion into the intrigues of the New Kingdom, and the science of archaeology and the things we can still learn from an excavation 90 years old.

Secrets of the Dead

Secrets of the Dead

WNET and PBS
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