With the world focused on the uprising against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, archaeologists have raised the alarm about Egypt’s ancient treasures. Last Friday, looters destroyed some artifacts in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, home of over 120,000 priceless artifacts, including many from Tutankhamun’s tomb. Other museums have also been ransacked–but in one uplifting moment, citizens and army personnel banded together to save Egypt’s past.
Although some of the Egyptian Museum looters were reportedly apprehended, the damage was already done: the criminals beheaded two mummies thought to be pharaohs, reduced to rubble a statue of the young King Tut astride a panther, and damaged many other treasures.
The country’s top archaeologist, Zahi Hawass, described the damage in a series of statements, including an update that was posted to his blog on Sunday. He said looters ransacked the museum’s gift shop and went on to vandalize authentic treasures as well. More than a dozen display cases were broken into, including one that contained the Tut statuette. “The criminals found a statue of the king on a panther, broke it, and threw it on the floor,” Hawass wrote. “I am very thankful that all of the antiquities that were damaged in the museum can be restored, and the tourist police caught all of the criminals that broke into it.” [MSNBC]
What struck down ancient Egypt’s King Tutankhamen at the tender age of 19?
Just this winter, Egyptian researchers seemed to think they had a definitive answer. After years of genetic tests and CT scans, they concluded that royal incest had produced a sickly boy with a bone disorder, and argued that a malaria-bearing parasite finished him off. But now a team of German researchers is arguing that the observations actually point to death from the inherited blood disorder sickle cell disease (SCD).
People with SCD carry a mutation in the gene for haemoglobin which causes their red blood cells to become rigid and sickle-shaped. A single copy of the sickle-cell gene confers increased immunity to malaria, so it tends to be common in areas where the infection is endemic – such as ancient Egypt. People with two copies of the gene suffer severe anaemia and often die young. [New Scientist]
Once again, to the bane of myth-makers and fans of historical intrigue, the simplest explanation may be the best: Scientists analyzing the DNA of the world-famous mummy of Tutankhamen say that he wasn’t done in by murder nor any of the exotic diseases put forth as explanations for his death at the age of 19. Rather, they say in the Journal of the American Medical Association, it was likely complications of malaria that killed King Tut, who was already frail thanks to royal inbreeding.
The team led by Egypt’s top archaeologist, Zahi Hawass, spent years taking CT scans and conducting genetic tests on mummies from the royal tombs. They say they confirmed that Tut was the son of Akhenaten, which is what scholars have long believed, but it hints at something else: It also identifies some of his grandparents and great-grandparents for the first time and suggests that his mother was Akhenaten’s sister [The Times]. A brother-sister pair wasn’t unusual during this period in ancient Egypt, medical historian Howard Markel says. Pharaohs were thought of as deities, so it makes sense that the only prospective mates who’d pass muster would be other deities [AP].