Enigma of the Heartless Pharaoh: Who Stole the Heart of King Tut, and Why?
The tomb of Tutankhamun revealed a wealth of anomalies, beginning with its discovery in 1922, right through the subsequent years of its excavation. The plethora of mysteries that surround the boy king's mummification and royal burial have endured for nearly a century, from the time they were first noted by the assiduous archaeologist, Howard Carter.
We know the most famous puzzle of them all—the abnormal and excessive use of large amounts of a black, resinous liquid that was liberally poured on the coffin and over the body of the deceased pharaoh. As a result, the mummy was terribly degraded by a chemical reaction caused by these oils and unguents that were intended to regenerate the dead body. Additionally, there exists evidence that this liquid was twice poured into Tutankhamun's skull after the brain was removed. In all, it has been estimated that the mummy's skin and wrappings were coated with a staggering 20 liters (5 gallons) of embalming oils―an exceptional amount.
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In October 1925, Carter observed, "The most part of the detail is hidden by a black lustrous coating due to pouring over the coffin a libation of great quantity." Upon unwrapping the mummy, he was moved to describe the corpse as a “charred wreck”. At various places in the tomb, the British archeologist also found lightly wrapped packets of linen “like soot” and “charred powder.”
Howard Carter opens the innermost shrine of King Tutankhamen's tomb near Luxor, Egypt. ( Public Domain )
That the mummy seems to have been suspended upside down for a period is also extremely strange; the X-rays of the skull show unguents solidified in a level consistent with being allowed to settle for some time. The whole burial process seems to have been carried out in a very unusual and slipshod manner. Surely, the tumult of Tutankhamun’s lifetime seems to have followed him into his tomb.
Tutankhamun Mummy Replica, Upper Body and Head. (Flickr/ CC BY-SA 2.0 )
All this is quite odd, because the art of mummification had reached its zenith in the illustrious 18th Dynasty. Some of the finest examples of preservation that serve as a tribute to the ancient embalmers' skill occurred in that era. Scholars, beginning with Carter himself, have opined that the use of the black liquid was part of an intentional plan to depict Tutankhamun as Osiris, the god of the underworld, “… dark with the rich soil of the inundation, and the source of fertility and regeneration,” according to renowned mummy expert and professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo, Salima Ikram.
Heralding the Underworld
There exists a strong case for such theorization because the art on the north wall of the boy king's burial chamber depicts him as Osiris. This iconography is to be found in no other tomb in the Valley of the Kings; because the paintings always show the deceased ruler either being welcomed by Osiris in the afterlife; or in the act of making offerings to the deity—never as the god himself. Further proof for this can be had from the way in which Tutankhamun's arms are positioned; they are not crossed high on his chest as in traditional royal mummies, but very near his waist, such that his protruding elbows mimic the posture of Osiris.
Detail; Pharaoh Tutankhamun embracing god Osiris, scene from the tomb of Tutankhamun, KV62. ( Public Domain )
By all counts, this "fixation" to portray the young pharaoh as Osiris could well have been an overt and physical means of declaring to the gods that the ancient religious order had been restored; considering that Tutankhamun had himself presided over the dismantling of Akhenaten's doomed religious experiment.
Left, depiction of Egyptian god Osiris. Right, Opening of the Mouth ceremony, Tutankhamun depicted as Osiris. (Public Domain)
These possibilities, speculations, and discrepancies aside, the mother of all mysteries is the case of the teenager's missing heart. The ancient Egyptians considered the heart a vital and highly valued organ. Why? Because they believed it was the seat of learning, emotions―and more importantly, thought.
Explaining this, Dr. Bob Brier, the world's foremost expert on human mummies says, "That's why on Valentine's Day you send chocolate hearts and not chocolate brains," and adds, "The Egyptians were resurrectionists. They believed your body would literally get up and go in the next world. So you had to have a complete body, including your internal organs."