The face of King Tut was unshrouded in public for the first time on Sunday — 85 years after the 3,000-year-old boy pharaoh's golden enshrined tomb and mummy were discovered in Luxor's famed Valley of the Kings.
Archaeologists removed the mummy from his stone sarcophagus in his underground tomb, momentarily pulling aside a white linen covering to reveal a shriveled leathery black face and body. The mummy of the 19-year-old pharaoh, whose life and death has captivated people for nearly a century, was placed in a climate-controlled glass box in the tomb, with only the face and feet showing under the linen covering.
"The golden boy has magic and mystery, and therefore every person all over the world will see what Egypt is doing to preserve the golden boy, and all of them I am sure will come to see the golden boy," said Egypt's antiquities chief, Zahi Hawass.
Hawass said scientists began restoring King Tut's badly damaged mummy more than two years ago. Much of the mummy's body is broken into 18 pieces — damage sustained when British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the mummy, took it from his tomb and tried to pull off his famous golden mask, Hawass said.
But Hawass said he fears a more recent phenomenon — mass tourism — is further deteriorating Tut's mummy. Thousands of tourists visit the underground chamber every month.
"The humidity and heat caused by ... people entering the tomb and their breathing will change the mummy to a powder. The only good thing (left) in this mummy is the face. We need to preserve the face," said Hawass, who wore his signature Indiana Jones-style tan hat.
The mystery surrounding King Tutankhamun and his glittering gold tomb has entranced ancient Egypt fans since Carter first discovered the hidden tomb on Nov. 4, 1922, revealing a trove of fabulous gold and precious stone treasures.
Archaeologists in recent years have tried to resolve lingering questions over how he died and his precise royal lineage. Several books and documentaries dedicated to the young pharaoh, who is believed to have been the 12th ruler of ancient Egypt's 18th dynasty and ascended to the throne around the age of 8, are popular around the world.
In an effort to try to solve the mysteries, scientists removed Tut's mummy from his tomb and placed it into a portable CT scanner for 15 minutes in 2005 to obtain a three-dimensional image. The scans were the first done on an Egyptian mummy.
The results did rule out that Tut was violently murdered — but stopped short of definitively concluding how he died around 1323 B.C. Experts for the time though suggested that days before dying, Tut badly broke his left thigh, apparently in an accident, that may have caused a fatal infection.
The CT scan also provided the most revealing insight yet into the life of ancient Egypt's most famous king. He was well-fed, healthy, yet slightly built, standing at 5-foot-6 (168 centimeters) at the time of his death. The scan also showed he had the typical overbite characteristic of other kings from his family, large incisor teeth and slightly misaligned lower teeth.
Frenzy of publicity
The unveiling of Tut's mummy comes amid a frenzy of international publicity for the boy king. A highly publicized museum exhibit traveling the globe drew more than 4 million people during the initial four-city American-leg of the tour. The exhibit will open later this month in London and after it will make a three-city encore tour in the U.S. beginning with the Dallas Museum of Art.
The Egyptian tourism industry is hoping to capitalize on that interest and draw tourists to Luxor to see something they couldn't at the museum — Tut's mummy. More than 9 million tourists visited Egypt last year — up from 8.7 million the previous year, the Egyptian Tourist Authority said.
The tourists will begin viewing the mummy Monday, Hawass said. The mummy will remain in the tomb indefinitely — unlike other Egyptian royal mummies, who are displayed in museums.
Canadian tourist Bryan Wadson said he and his wife would try to make it back to the Valley of the Kings for the second time on Monday because they missed the mummy Sunday.
"We're running out of time, but will try," he said after taking a photo with Hawass.
But not every tourist was eager to find out that Tut will be removed from his sarcophagus and put on display.
"I really think he should be left alone in quiet, in peace," said British tourist Bob Philpotts. "This is his resting place, and he should be left (there)."
John Taylor, an assistant keeper at the British Museum's department of ancient Egypt and Sudan, said tourists won't be the only ones to benefit from putting Tut on display in a climate-controlled case.
"In some ways, it could be advantageous to monitor the condition to see if the mummy is stable," he said by telephone from London.
Hawass said along with putting Tut on display, experts will begin another project trying to determine the pharaoh's precise royal lineage. It is unclear if he is the son or a half brother of Akhenaten, the "heretic" pharaoh who introduced a revolutionary form of monotheism to ancient Egypt and was the son of Amenhotep III.
"Everyone is dreaming of what he looks like. The face of Tutankhamun is different from any king in the Cairo museum. With his beautiful buck teeth, the tourists will see a little bit of the smile from the face of the golden boy," Hawass said.