Saturday, November 22, 2008
While I was eating dinner this evening, I watched the documentary Tut's Treasures on the National Geographic Channel. I've always had a passion for ancient Egyptian culture, so this made for interesting dining entertainment. The documentaries on ancient cultures that you often see on this channel, Discovery, TLC, etc. are often hyped to make you feel as if the episode has information that shocks you and that you cannot live without, like "Tonight! The Truth Behind How King Tut, The Boy King, Died. Was It Murder? Was It An Accident? What Can Today's Forensic Experts Tell Us? Come Excavate The Truth As We Solve This Mystery Three Thousand Five Hundred Years In The Making!" It's unfortunate that they always have to exaggerate the effect of these documentaries, but I imagine they feel like average Joe Plumber would never watch it otherwise. (Then again, why do they care if Joe Plumber watches? When the heck is he ever going to run off to Egypt or see an Egyptian exhibition at a museum?) All the hype aside, the episode was actually quite interesting. Just about everyone has heard of King Tut. The discovery of his tomb rich in treasures by Howard Carter in 1922 was one of the most spectacular moments in Egyptology and archaeology. The image you see here is Tut's gold death mask in the collection of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. They have many examples of Tut's treasures online, so it's worth taking a look. The 1970s grand tour of artifacts from his tomb was a tremendous popular success, and for the past couple of years there has been a new (and controversial) version of the same tour traveling around the globe. Tutankhamen was the son of Akhenaten, the radical pharaoh who altered the traditional polytheistic culture into what some call a monotheistic culture, with the worship of a single chief deity, Aten the sun. Akhenaten was married to the world-famous Nefertiti, and their daughter Ankhsenamen was married to Tutankhamen. The boy came to the throne at the age of nine, but he was dead by eighteen. This documentary used CT scanning on his skeletal remains in combination with other new investigations to determine that, contrary to what people have believed for the past few decades, Tut was a healthy adolescent and he was not assassinated. It appears he probably died from an infection after breaking his leg from a chariot accident while hunting (or so they claim). The premise behind the entire episode was that the current Earl of Carnarvon, the great-grandson of the fourth earl who discovered the tomb with Carter, was returning to Egypt to seek out new answers on the life and death of Tut. Of course the ubiquitous Zahi Hawass, Egypt's Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, was in the documentary and he was able to express the final opinion as to how Tut died. In case you weren't aware of this, there isn't a single documentary or book about ancient Egypt these days that does not include Zahi Hawass. You have to check out his website to see what I mean. He is the celebrity face of Egyptology.