"The mummy is in very bad condition because of what Carter did in the 1920s," said Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, as he leaned over the body for a long first look. Carter—Howard Carter, that is—was the British archaeologist who in 1922 discovered Tut's tomb after years of futile searching. Its contents, though hastily ransacked in antiquity, were surprisingly complete. They remain the richest royal collection ever found and have become part of the pharaoh's legend. Stunning artifacts in gold, their eternal brilliance meant to guarantee resurrection, caused a sensation at the time of the discovery—and still get the most attention. But Tut was also buried with everyday things he'd want in the afterlife: board games, a bronze razor, linen undergarments, cases of food and wine.
After months of carefully recording the pharaoh's funerary treasures, Carter began investigating his three nested coffins. Opening the first, he found a shroud adorned with garlands of willow and olive leaves, wild celery, lotus petals, and cornflowers, the faded evidence of a burial in March or April. When he finally reached the mummy, though, he ran into trouble. The ritual resins had hardened, cementing Tut to the bottom of his solid gold coffin. "No amount of legitimate force could move them," Carter wrote later. "What was to be done?"
The sun can beat down like a hammer this far south in Egypt, and Carter tried to use it to loosen the resins. For several hours he set the mummy outside in blazing sunshine that heated it to 149 degrees Fahrenheit (65 degrees Celsius). Nothing budged. He reported with scientific detachment that "the consolidated material had to be chiseled away from beneath the limbs and trunk before it was possible to raise the king's remains."
In his defense, Carter really had little choice. If he hadn't cut the mummy free, thieves most certainly would have circumvented the guards and ripped it apart to remove the gold. In Tut's time the royals were fabulously wealthy, and they thought—or hoped—they could take their riches with them. For his journey to the great beyond, King Tut was lavished with glittering goods: precious collars, inlaid necklaces and bracelets, rings, amulets, a ceremonial apron, sandals, sheaths for his fingers and toes, and the now iconic inner coffin and mask—all of pure gold. To separate Tut from his adornments, Carter's men removed the mummy's head and severed nearly every major joint. Once they had finished, they reassembled the remains on a layer of sand in a wooden box with padding that concealed the damage, the bed where Tut now rests.
Archaeology has changed substantially in the intervening decades, focusing less on treasure and more on the fascinating details of life and intriguing mysteries of death. It also uses more sophisticated tools, including medical technology. In 1968, more than 40 years after Carter's discovery, an anatomy professor x-rayed the mummy and revealed a startling fact: Beneath the resin that cakes his chest, his breastbone and front ribs are missing.