Robert A. Hanawalt

When King Tutankhamon died, did his body lie in state? Of course it did! But the substantive issue is, the for how long? I propose that the answer to that question can shed light on the events surrounding his untimely death.

The normally accepted period of time for the mummification and burial practices of the people in the land of KMT was seventy days (1). But now evidence has been presented that in Tutankhamon's case the period between death and entombment may have been as much as six to eight months!

In an article entitled The Death of Niphururiya and it's Aftermath, written by Trevor R. Bryce and published in Vol. 76 of JEA in 1990 (2), the author establishes a substantial case for a long period of time between Tut's premature demise and his interment. Mr. Bryce did most of his research through Hittite documents (3), although more commonly known Egyptian texts and reports were used as well.

Bryce spends a major portion of his article convincingly arguing that Niphururia referred to in the Amara letters is, in fact, Tutankhamon. While this has been long accepted by most scholars, there have been those - some recently - who claim that Niphururia is either Akhenaten or Smenkhare.(4) Nevertheless, the translation by the Hittites of Niphururia as the throne name of Tutankhamon, which was NebkheperuRe, seems now to be well established. What appeared to be self evident for reasons pointed out later in this article is now reinforced with an almost indisputable argument.

Bryce's article identifies the period of time, indirectly, when Niphururia - Tut - died. And, at best, it was at a very awkward time for Egypt. One needs to have some perspective regarding the political situation in the Middle East at the time of the regency of Tut. The entire eastern end of the Mediterranean basin was under the control of three "super powers" - Hatti (the Hittites), Mittani, and Egypt. Each was a powerful entity surrounded by vassal states that were tied to their "protectors" through political and trade alliances, a situation quite similar to that in Europe and Eastern Asia during the recent cold war. The Hittite's hegemony extended through that area known today as the Troad and is a part of Turkey. Indeed, the Troy of Trojan war fame, which is located in that area, quite possibly was a Hittite city, or at the least a vassal state.

Mittani had dominion over most of what is now Syria, and Egypt controlled the Nile Valley to the fifth cataract, as well as Palestine north to Megido, which is located in present day Syria.(5)

War was constantly breaking out between the vassal states, and the sponsors were either supporting or not supporting their dependencies, according to their own political and economic needs. The Princes of the vassal states were usually paying their tribute rather unhappily, or pleading for military assistance, or threatening to join the other side (through their capture, of course), or asking for gold. This is the bulk of the subject matter contained in the so called "Amarna Letters" discovered at the site of Akhetaten in 1887.(6)

Sometime in the summer c.a. 1323 B.C.E. (7) Egypt attacked Kadesh, at that time under Hittite control. The Hittites retaliated by attacking Amka, which was Egyptian subject territory. The Hittite army was led by the Hittite commanders Lupakki and Tarhunta-zalma and is recorded in two of the prayers of Mursili II as well as in "Deeds." (See endnote #3)

In the second Plague Prayer of Mursili we read."...he sent out Lupakki and Tarunta-zalma and they attacked those countries. But the king of Egypt died in those days . . . But since the wife of the king of Egypt was destitute, she wrote to my father...".

This establishes two important points:
1. the king of Egypt died during the period of the war, which is known to be late summer or early autumn, and
2. the widow queen had contacted the Hittite king. Further, in the same document, Mursili says "When the Egyptians became frightened, they asked outright for one of his (Mursili's father, Suppiluliuma) sons to (take over) the kingship. . .". This is certainly the story of Ankhesenamon and Zannanza!

What caused Tutankhamon's death is not certain, although more and more evidence point to the fact that he was probably killed. That is not to say that he was murdered.(8) This much we know: He was between eighteen and twenty years old at the time. On his left cheek just in front of his ear is a rounded depression, the skin filling it resembling a scab. Around the circumference of the depression, which had slightly raised edges, the skin was discolored.(9)

Further, there is a piece of bone, not ethmoid (10) in texture, still located in the skull cavity. This is shown by X-ray. Cyril Aldred, in his book Akhenaten, King of Egypt, makes the statement that the wound was probably caused by a knife, arrow, or spear (11), and states that Tut was probably murdered, but does not explain his reasoning for this conclusion.

Tut was not a child, and was apparently trying to follow in the footsteps of his ancestors such as Tuthmose III and Amonhotep II by establishing a reputation as a mighty warrior and hunter. Buried with him in his tomb were 49 bows of various types, and numerous arrows, bow strings, arm-guards, etc.(12) It is possible that he could have been accidently killed while hunting, or even in the military conflict described above! (Although if the latter were the case, the Hittites would probably have noted it.) In any event, the political situation at the time was not such to suggest an assassination.

The Egyptians now were in the horrible position of having to replace a king, who had no living heir, in the middle of a war! It is no wonder that Mursili says "When the Egyptians became frightened . . . "

Thus begins the so called "Ankhesenamon Episode." Upon the death of Tut Ankhesenamon apparently wrote a letter to Suppilulumia informing him that she had no sons of her own and asked him to send to her one of his sons whom she would marry and make Pharaoh. Quite naturally Suppiluliuma was very suspicious and sent an envoy - one Hattusa-ziti, to Egypt to investigate.

Hattusa-ziti returned to Hatti the following spring, accompanied by the Egyptian envoy, Hani, and reported that everything was as stated. (Certainly if there had been any Princes who were the sons of a Pharaoh running around he would have heard about them.) Suppiluliuma then sent his son, Zannanza to Egypt to marry the Queen.

Unfortunately, Zannanza never made it. He died on the trip, and Suppiluliuma held the Egyptians responsible. (I personally feel that a much stronger case for murder can be made here than with Tut). He eventually launched a retaliatory attack on Egyptian territory in Syria.

Egypt had gone from late summer to early spring with no Pharaoh on the throne. When the Hittite arrangement fell through, and with the threat of war with the Hittites, something had to be done, and done quickly. Ankhesenamon married Ay, a courtier who may have been her grandfather. Ay then presided at the entombment services of Tutankhamon, now some seven or eight months after his death. Ay assumed the throne, and reigned for about four years. Upon his death, Ankhesnamon also disappears from the scene.

The time of Tut's burial is pretty well established by the funeral wreaths on his coffin. They were made of cornflower blossoms, mandrake, and other plants.(13) Both the cornflower and the mandrake bloom only in the late spring - late March and April in Egypt.

As stated earlier, normally interment took place at the end of seventy days. But there is a problem with burying Egyptian kings. At the time of burial the Kha of the Osiris King and that of the Horus King meld, extending the Royal Kha in a continuum that lasts throughout eternity.14 And seventy days after Tut's untimely death there was no successor! Until a new Pharaoh was designated, Tut could not "take the wings of a falcon and fly to heaven."

What do you do with a king's mummy for seven or eight months? There is no known precedent for this. Thus, anyone's speculation is as good as anyone else's. (And about 85% of "Egyptian history" is speculation.)

Tut's death could have been held as a state secret and the general public not informed of his demise until the issue of succession was resolved, or his mummy could "visit" all of the temples in Egypt and be worshiped and anointed by the priests (almost certainly not the general public, although they would have probably known about it).

There is also the possibility that the mummy was held in the tomb until the time of the burial services, although this is highly unlikely. Given the contents of the tomb, for security reasons it needed to be sealed as quickly as possible!

One additional possibility is that the mummy did actually lie is state (for worship by the family and the priesthood), either in a palace, such as that at Malkata, or some mmortuary temple.

Tut apparently had a mortuary temple built for himself on what is now the site of the mortuary temple of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu (This is where the Tut Statue now located in the Oriental Institute was found. . Or, his mummy could have been placed in the mortuary temple of his grandfather, Amonhotep III, which was located behind the colossi of Memnon and was probably the largest and finest of them all.

The above is pure speculation, but the fact remains that there was an extended period of time between Tut's death and his burial in a very small tomb in the Valley of the Kings- one of three tombs that were apparently started for him.(15)

Whatever occurred, the very nature of the King's early death and entombment is a tragic tale of the end of a great family of kings and queens of a dynasty that had who had effectively ruled Egypt for almost two hundred and fifty years. While it would be interesting to know exactly what happened, we should all reflect a little bit on the humanity, turmoil, and, yes, heartbreak of the entire situation.

(c) Robert A. Hanawalt, 1994 Denver
Revised 1998, Denver


1. The desiccation process mummifying a body took approximately 40 days, with another 15 -30 days allowed for washing, packing, wrapping, and anointing the corpse. See D'Auria, Lacovara, and Roehring: Mummies and Magic (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston - 1988) It is interesting to note that the current custom of some modern day Egyptians is to return to the interment site 40 days following burial and have a final funeral meal on the grave site.

2. See Bryce, Trevor, Journal of Egyptian Archeology vol 76 (1990) The Death of Niphururiya and it's Aftermath pp97-105, E.E.S., London. JEA is the official publication of the Egyptian Exploration Society , a London based Organization that anyone who is seriously interested in Ancient Egypt should join.

3. Primarily Guterbock The Deeds of Suppiluliuma as told by his son Mursili II (Journal of Cuneiform Studies, Cambridge, 10) Hereafter, "Deeds" and the Plague Prayers of Mursili, various sources but primarily Laroche, Catalogue des Textes Hittites (Paris 1971)

4. Krauss, Ende der Das Amarnazeit (Hildesheim, 1978) c.f.Wilhelm and Boese, in High, Middle or Low (Gothenburg, 1987)

5. Contrary to rather widely held opinion, Akhenaten did not lose control in foreign affairs. It appears that there was a well defined foreign policy. For further information on the political situation in the Near East at this time, see Murnane The Road to Kadesh (Oriental Institute, Chicago - 1990)

6. An English translation of the Amarna Letters has recently been published. It is: Moran: The Amarna Letters (John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore-1992). I would like to note here that some of the" begging for gold" that seems to appear in these letters may have been trade initiatives, rather than asking for outright gifts. After all, what does "send me much gold and I will send you anything in my country that you ask for" really mean?

7. The date varies according to author. This date is from Reeves: The Complete Tutankhamon (Thames and Hudson, London-1990) which is one of the latest popular books on the whole Tutankhamon episode. Note also that there are four different spellings of the king's name in this article and endnotes. These are the spellings of the titles as given by the various authors. This writer prefers "Tutankhamon".

8. While all sorts of conspiracy theories abound and are popular reading, a careful study of the succession of political events following his death make murder as the cause of his demise rather unlikely. Recently there have been several publications that state unequivocally that Tut was murdered. While this might possibly be true, there is absolutely no evidence, archeologically or historically, that such a thing happened. I personally think that Tuts death was an accident, rather than an a planned murder. Here's why: when a coup d'etat (which is what would have occured if Tut had been murdered) is planned, one of the first considerations must be the immediate usurpation of power of the government or body it is intended to overthrow. It is imperative to the success of the coup that strong leadership be immediately established to deal with any backlash from the event. As we see in this article, such did not happen in this occasion. To the contrary, a queen was writing letters to a foreign country asking for a husband to make Pharaoh, and a period of several months passed without anyone claiming the control of the country. This is preposterous. Perhaps, and probably, Eye did carry on the affairs of state, but the fact remains that, to my knowledge, no claim was made to the kingship until Tut was buried and Eye conducted the opening of the mouth ceremony at which time the eternal Kha of the Pharaoh passed to him. (However, for a different view of the possibilities of the time of the Kings accession to the throne see further Redford: A Chronology of the 18th Dynasty, 1986)

9. Leek: The Human Remains from the Tomb of Tut'ankhamun, Tut'ankhamun's Tomb Series (Griffith Institute, Oxford, 1972. cf. pp 118, Reeves: The Complete Tutankhamon (Thames and Hudson, 1990) and Aldred: Akhenaton, King of Egypt (Thames and Hudson, London, 1988). This so called " scab" is quite visible in pictures of Tutankhamon's mummy.

10.The Ethmoid bone is the "nasal separator". During the mummification process it was broken through in order to remove the brain.

11. Op.Cit. Aldred, pp297

12. Murray and Nuttall: A Hand list to Howard Carter's Catalogue of Objects in Tut'ankhamun's Tomb Tut'ankhamun's Tomb Series (Griffith Institute, Oxford -1963)

13. Carter: The Tomb of Tutankhamen (Dutton & Co., Inc., New York-1972) cf. Reeves, pp106-107

14. See Frankfort, pp 101 -139 Kingship and the Gods (University of Chicago Press, Chicago - 1978) for a description of this ceremony.

15. Tut was buried in KV 62. However, there is some evidence that KV 23, in which Ay was buried, was originally intended for Tut. See Reeves, Op.Cit. pp78. There was possibly one other tomb that was started for Tut in the Royal wadi at Akhetaten. See Murnane and Van Siclen : The Boundary Stelae of Akhetaten (Kegan Paul International, London and New York, 1990) pp218, f.106

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