Published: June 2005

King Tut

Ct Scan

King Tut Revealed

Modern forensics and high-tech imaging offer new insights into his life—and death.

By A.R. Williams
National Geographic Senior Writer
Photograph by Kenneth Garrett

He was just a teenager when he died. The last heir of a powerful family that had ruled Egypt and its empire for centuries, he was laid to rest laden with gold and eventually forgotten. Since the discovery of his tomb in 1922, the modern world has speculated about what happened to him, with murder the most extreme possibility. Now, leaving his tomb for the first time in almost 80 years, Tut has undergone a CT scan that offers new clues about his life and death—and provides precise data for an accurate forensic reconstruction of the boyish pharaoh.

Inside King Tut's subterranean burial chamber, against a backdrop of sacred murals, Zahi Hawass, head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, removes padding to reveal the young pharaoh's remains. "When I saw his face, I was shocked," says Hawass. "My heart was pounding, and I could not speak." Moments later, workmen carried the mummy—still in the plain wooden box where British archaeologist Howard Carter placed it decades ago—to a trailer parked at the entrance of the tomb. There, a CT machine scanned the mummy head to toe, creating 1,700 digital x-ray images in cross section. Tut's head scanned in .62-millimeter slices to register its intricate structures, takes on eerie detail in the resulting image. With Tut's entire body similarly recorded, a team of specialists in radiology, forensics, and anatomy began to probe the secrets that the winged goddesses of a gilded burial shrine protected for so long.

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