What was your best experience in the field covering this story?
Photographer Ken Garrett and I were studying a tomb similar to Tut's to get background for our story when Ken looked around at the paintings on the walls and said, "This is just too much fun." As our work progressed, I often remembered that moment because it so neatly summed up what I was thinking.
I had studied ancient Egypt as an undergrad and as a graduate student. And I had visited Tut's tomb once before as a tourist. Traveling to the Valley of the Kings with a group, I was surprised to find that our tickets didn't include the separate fee for Tut. But I hadn't come so far just to walk away. In the 20 minutes we got to walk around on our own, I raced back to the kiosk, bought a ticket seconds ahead of a crowd from a tour bus, and ran to pay my brief respects to the pharaoh.
Now, years later, I got to spend hours in his tomb lingering over every detail of the paintings, the sarcophagus, his gilded outer coffin. To be among the few people who saw his mummy and helped tell his tale made this assignment one of the biggest pinch-me-I-can't-believe-it experiences of my career.
What was your worst experience in the field covering this story?
More than six months of delays became a real test of patience—and perseverance. I first packed my bags to go to Egypt at the end of August 2004. But the CT machine, coming from Germany, took much longer to get through customs than anyone had anticipated. Then came Ramadan, a huge holiday in the Muslim world and no time to begin a complex project like this. And then the CT technicians and Zahi Hawass, head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, had scheduling conflicts. At last I took off for Cairo in early December, only to run into another complication: The scanner needed more testing. Ken Garrett and I did as much background work as we could in Cairo and Luxor, returned to the U.S. for Christmas, and then got back on a plane to Egypt on January 1. Tut was scanned the evening of January 5, but it wasn't until mid-March that we got the results of the analysis by Dr. Hawass and his international team of consultants. I was delighted to play a part in the scanning of Tut, but I was also relieved to see the project come to a successful conclusion and to know that Tut is resting in peace once again.
What was your quirkiest experience in the field covering this story?
A series of weird events spooked everyone the night of King Tut's CT scan. During one incident I had turned on my digital voice recorder in the tomb to capture the excitement of taking Tut out of his sarcophagus. Dr. Hawass and his assistants were working in the burial chamber while reporters shouted questions to them from the antechamber. Finally Tut emerged amid a blizzard of camera flashes. The reporters were then asked to leave. I pushed the "stop" button on my recorder and reluctantly trudged up the stairs to the tomb's entrance. Waiting impatiently, I peered over a retaining wall until Tut and his pallbearers came into view. They passed right by me on their way to the trailer that held the scanner. As I followed, I felt a fine rain spitting down on the bone-dry desert. Then I realized my recorder was still running. I pushed the "stop" button over and over but eventually had to take out the batteries to shut the machine off. I had never had trouble with it before, and it has worked fine ever since. I can't help but wonder if that one glitch, at that one particular moment, was a signal from the great beyond.