EGYPT

Gay Travel in Egypt

How safe is it to be gay in Egypt? What should gay tourists expect? Hint: Stay off Grindr.

Wally and Duke felt comfortable enough putting their arms around each other for photos, but that should be the extent of your PDA

Wally and Duke felt comfortable enough putting their arms around each other for photos, but that should be the extent of your PDA

Let’s face it. Egypt doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to gay rights. Homosexuality isn’t technically illegal in Egypt, but it’s still a conservative Muslim country, and gays are discriminated against and routinely rounded up by the police. 

Arrests. Who’d have thought that a young man waving a rainbow flag at a concert in Cairo in 2017 would spark a major crackdown on gays? Within a single month, 76 people had been arrested, detained and possibly even tortured. (There’s a humiliating “test” some prisoners are said to undergo to see if they’ve been penetrated anally.)

Homosexuality isn’t an official crime in Egypt, but laws combatting prostitution and “debauchery” are used to imprison gays.
Cruising apps like Grindr are used to catch gay men, who cover their faces in shame when arrested

Cruising apps like Grindr are used to catch gay men, who cover their faces in shame when arrested

Because homosexuality isn’t an official crime, laws combatting prostitution and “habitual debauchery” are used to justify the imprisonment of gay men and lesbians for six months to six years. 

Cruising apps. A favorite tactic of the Egyptian police is to entrap gay men, luring them to hotels, where they are arrested, by using apps like Grindr. 

But it’s not just the police you have to worry about when using these apps, warns an anonymous source in an NBC News article: “You could be robbed or assaulted when meeting people from apps,” he says.

Buggering goes way back, as this drawing from Ancient Egypt shows

Buggering goes way back, as this drawing from Ancient Egypt shows

Don’t think that just because you’re a traveler you’ll be exempt. “Even foreigners are being targeted: Cases have been reported where tourists were arrested for ‘debauchery’ and deported from the country,” says Mathias Wasik, senior campaign manager at All Out, a human rights organization. “The hunt has never stopped, and the arrest and intimidations continue.” 

When people in more conservative countries ask if Wally and Duke are brothers, they now just say yes

When people in more conservative countries ask if Wally and Duke are brothers, they now just say yes

Gay Travel Tips in Egypt

Now that you’re good and scared, it’s time to say, don’t let that stop you from visiting a country that’s insanely rich in amazing temples and tombs of the ancient world. 

As long as you don’t do anything overly gay — I’m sure you can resist kissing in public during your travels in Egypt — you should pass through unmolested. 

When a policeman has you hold hands as part of a bizarre, elaborate ritual at the back of Luxor Temple, you go along with it. And you tip him afterward

When a policeman has you hold hands as part of a bizarre, elaborate ritual at the back of Luxor Temple, you go along with it. And you tip him afterward

Handholding. There’s no real concept of lesbianism, and, as such, females couples can even hold hands, Frommer’s claims, since that’s what women friends do there. But I have to wonder, is it worth the risk?

You’ll hear a lot about how hetero Muslim men walk arm in arm and kiss each other hello. And while we did see evidence of this in Morocco, it was only the young men along the Corniche in Cairo we saw do this in Egypt.

Gay bars and cafés. Don’t count on any gay scene in Egypt. Even if there were a gay bar, I wouldn’t take any chances going to it. You don’t have to be gay to be arrested — just being seen as a supporter of the LGBTQ community is enough. 

“There are spots that are, to some extent, gay friendly, but even these places declined after 2011” with the Egyptian Revolution, the source told NBC. “The Islamic Brotherhood coming to power meant that there was a lot of fear from the owners of these places. They didn’t want to look like they were that friendly towards gay people, so they closed their bars and cafés and left.”

Duke and Wally at the Sphinx. Egypt is an amazing country, and gays shouldn’t be scared off from visiting. They might want to butch it up a bit, though

Duke and Wally at the Sphinx. Egypt is an amazing country, and gays shouldn’t be scared off from visiting. They might want to butch it up a bit, though

Our Experience as a Gay Couple in Egypt

Duke and I didn’t feel uncomfortable being gay in Egypt at all. We don’t publicize our sexuality, and we have the added bonus of looking enough alike that people often assume we’re related. When they ask if we’re brothers (or sometimes even twins!), we now just nod and say yes. It’s actually pretty amusing and is easier that way.

During our visit to Egypt, we stayed at European-run hotels in Cairo (the Kempinski) and Aswan (Sofitel’s Old Cataract), which tend to have more open-minded staffs who don’t make a fuss when two dudes want to share a bed. 

That being said, when we checked into our hotel in Cairo, the man at the front desk said, “We have a Nile view room ready. The only thing is that it only has one bed.”

“That’s OK,” I told him. 

“We can bring in a cot,” he added, trying to be helpful.

“That won’t be necessary,” I said. 

In Luxor, we stayed at a gorgeous resort on the West Bank (Al Moudira), run by a wonderful Lebanese woman who has surely seen all sorts of travelers stay there — most of our fellow guests were British or French — and was nothing but delightful to us. –Wally

How Did King Tut Die?

Was Tutankhamun murdered? Did he die from a chariot accident? Why is his tomb so unimpressive? We help solve one of the great mysteries of Ancient Egypt.

How did the most famous pharaoh of Ancient Egypt die? Recent evidence disproves some of the most popular theories

How did the most famous pharaoh of Ancient Egypt die? Recent evidence disproves some of the most popular theories

Tut’s mummy

Tut’s mummy

Think of it as an Ancient Egyptian cold case. For decades there have been many competing theories about how Tutankhamun, the Boy King, died and why his tomb is smaller than that of other pharaohs. His cause of death has remained one of Ancient Egypt’s most enduring mysteries. 

The mummy of Tutankhamun lies within his tomb in the Valley of the Kings, where it was discovered by Howard Carter. As far as we know, it’s the only mummy in the Valley of the Kings — most royal remains have been relocated to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. 

Was Tut a victim of foul play, hit in the head with a blunt instrument, murdered by his uncle and successor, Ay? 
The resin used to preserve King Tut’s mummy actually ended up damaging it when Carter and his team removed the funerary mask

The resin used to preserve King Tut’s mummy actually ended up damaging it when Carter and his team removed the funerary mask



Carter, who discovered Tut’s tomb, unveils the mummy in 1925

Carter, who discovered Tut’s tomb, unveils the mummy in 1925

A Look at the Evidence

Tutankhamun’s mummy shows that he died when he was around 18 or 19 years old, but his death remains a mystery. Was he a victim of foul play, hit in the head with a blunt instrument, perhaps murdered by his uncle and successor, Ay? 

A carving of Ay from Amarna

A carving of Ay from Amarna

This theory stemmed from X-rays taken in 1968 showing bone fragments in his skull. It’s now disproven — this damage actually occurred when Tut’s gold death mask was pried unceremoniously from his mummy by Carter and his team.

Was Tut in a chariot accident, trampled beneath the hooves of his horses? Or perhaps he perished from an infection caused by a fractured femur that became gangrenous? 

A replica of a chariot from Tut’s tomb — even though his bum foot should have prevented the young pharaoh from riding in one

A replica of a chariot from Tut’s tomb — even though his bum foot should have prevented the young pharaoh from riding in one

One of these theories may be true. But in Ancient Egypt, where the average lifespan was about 30 years old, it wasn’t uncommon for people to die at a young age, even royals, who had a better chance at longevity than the general populace. 

A reconstruction of what Tutankhamun probably looked like

A reconstruction of what Tutankhamun probably looked like

Who says incest is best? Generations of inbreeding led to various maladies that Tut suffered from, including a bone necrosis in his foot

Who says incest is best? Generations of inbreeding led to various maladies that Tut suffered from, including a bone necrosis in his foot

Tutankhamun suffered from a variety of maladies, including malaria and a crippling bone necrosis known as Kohler’s disease, that weakened his left foot. This makes it doubtful that he died from a chariot accident, as it would have been difficult for the young man to safely operate one. As a side note, 130 canes, many of them showing signs of use, were buried with King Tut.

The Egyptians believed that incest kept the bloodline pure, but it actually had the opposite effect, leading to his generally weakened state from genetic afflictions — problems likely exacerbated by malaria. 

You’ll have to pay extra to visit Tut’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings

You’ll have to pay extra to visit Tut’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings

A Tomb Not Really Fit for a King

This brings us to the question of why Tut’s tomb is so meagre in size compared to that of his fellow pharaohs. Was he placed in there because he died suddenly, at a young age?

In general, the subterranean walls and passages of New Kingdom royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings were laid out in a succession of descending corridors and chambers adorned with texts and reliefs pertaining to the underworld. Over the centuries, thieves managed to raid all of tombs in this valley except one: KV62, that of Tut.

Although more modest in scale and lacking in decoration, Tutankhamun’s four-chambered tomb more than made up for that in content (though one has to wonder if the larger tombs, since plundered, held even more goods — we’ll never know.) 

The narrow entrance corridor and minimal area of the tomb’s plan indicate that it had never been intended for the burial of a king. It’s been speculated that it was originally intended for Tutankhamun's vizier, Ay, or possibly the mysterious female pharaoh Neferneferuaten. Whatever the case may be, it was hurriedly adapted when he unexpectedly died in his late teens. 

One of the few paintings in King Tut’s tomb shows his righthand man and successor Ay performing priestly duties to help the pharaoh journey through the afterlife

One of the few paintings in King Tut’s tomb shows his righthand man and successor Ay performing priestly duties to help the pharaoh journey through the afterlife

In Tut’s tomb, only one of the four small rooms, the burial chamber, is plastered and decorated with brightly painted scenes. The scene on the north wall depicts Tutankhamun in the form of Osiris, with his vizier and successor Ay, dressed as a high priest performing the opening of the mouth ceremony, meant to revive the dead pharaoh in the afterlife. A network of long-dead black mold spores like leopard spots perforate its surface, providing even more evidence of a rush job: The burial chamber was sealed before the paint even had time to dry. 

Carter examines King Tut’s innermost sarcophagus

Carter examines King Tut’s innermost sarcophagus

The Verdict

As far as Tut’s death goes, the jury’s still out — but it’s not as dramatic as some would like to imagine. He probably wasn’t assassinated, and he most likely couldn’t ride safely in a chariot. Tut comes from a long line of incestuous liaisons that severely weakened his immune system and left him with a diseased leg. Chances are this became infected and led to his untimely death. Tut, tut. –Duke

Tutmania!

Fascination with King Tut swept the nation, from a Batman villain to Steve Martin’s hit Saturday Night Live song.

A pop art take on King' Tut’s legendary funerary mask

A pop art take on King' Tut’s legendary funerary mask

Tutmania, which swept the West upon discovery of the Boy King’s tomb in 1922, experienced a resurgence when King Tut’s riches toured the United States in ’76. Due to fear of hijacking, the precious artifacts traveled in secrecy aboard the U.S.S. Sylvania, where they were stored amidst boxes of refrigerated hamburger patties.

An illustrated French newspaper depicts the discovery of Tutankhamun’s treasure-laden tomb, which sat undisturbed by 3,500 years

An illustrated French newspaper depicts the discovery of Tutankhamun’s treasure-laden tomb, which sat undisturbed by 3,500 years

Even a brand of lemons was named after the Boy King

Even a brand of lemons was named after the Boy King

Candy, Cross Stitch and Kitsch

The commoditization of the U.S.’s fascination with this pharaoh has included everything from Tut-branded California lemons (circa the 1940s) to unlicensed kitsch — including T-shirts with a pair of strategically placed golden burial masks proclaiming, “Keep Your Hands Off My Tuts!” (from the 70s). 

Tutmania invaded many aspects of American life, showing up on kitschy T-shirts like this one

Tutmania invaded many aspects of American life, showing up on kitschy T-shirts like this one

There was even a softbound book of needlepoint patterns, which the creator, Robert Horace Ross, based upon the touring Treasures of Tutankhamun exhibition. 

Who wouldn’t want a needlepoint of King Tut’s golden mask?

Who wouldn’t want a needlepoint of King Tut’s golden mask?

Novelty candies for kids included Yummy Mummies — artificially flavored hard candy sticks, similar in size to a tongue depressor and manufactured by the makers of Fun Dip. In the U.K., Terry’s Pyramint, the forgotten ’80s sibling of the Chocolate Orange, was packaged in a pyramid-shaped box. Inside was a dark chocolate pyramid with a hollow center filled with mint fondant similar in consistency to a Cadbury Creme Egg. 

The tubby  Batman  villain King Tut was obviously delusional

The tubby Batman villain King Tut was obviously delusional

Holy Cheesy Appropriation, Batman!

King Tut even made an appearance on the lighthearted 1960s TV series, Batman. Portrayed by the portly actor Victor Buono, the over-the-top villainous character of King Tut was invented for the small screen, making its first appearance in ’66 on a two-episode story arc, “The Curse of Tut/The Pharaoh’s in a Rut.”

A King Tut  Batman  Lego figurine

A King Tut Batman Lego figurine

More high camp than the gritty realism of writer-director Christopher Nolan’s feature film take on the Dark Knight, Tut’s alter ego was a well-mannered professor of Egyptology named William Omaha McElroy. Knocked unconscious during a student riot at Yale, McElroy awakens, believing himself to be a diabolical King Tut. His appearance was announced by a ram-headed statue, mistakenly referred to as a sphinx. The villainous Tut takes up residence in an Egyptian exhibit in the Gotham City Museum, complete with a harem of comely women.

Fisticuffs ensue, various comic book KAPOWs, BOOMs and BOFFs appear on screen, and the episode ends with a literal cliffhanger: a kidnapped Bruce Wayne exiting the rear door of an ambulance (strapped to a gurney no less) before the vehicle drives off a 300-foot cliff. 

The character obviously has some lasting appeal: It made an appearance in The Lego Batman Movie.

Steve Martin performed a silly song about King Tut on  Saturday Night Live  — which went on to become a Top 20 hit!

Steve Martin performed a silly song about King Tut on Saturday Night Live — which went on to become a Top 20 hit!

A Wild and Crazy Songwriter

In 1978, comedian Steve Martin wrote and debuted an elaborate sketch on Saturday Night Live accompanied by his song “King Tut” satirizing the fascination with the Treasures of Tutankhamun exhibition.

The show’s creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels pulled out all the stops, and it was one of the most expensive sketches performed on SNL. Martin, dressed in psuedo-Egyptian costume, sang and danced, turning his head and arms in opposite directions in imitation of Ancient Egyptian paintings.

Even though I was only 9 years old at the time, I can still remember the verse, “Born in Arizona, moved to Babylonia, King Tut.” A classic moment from the skit featured musician Lou Marini emerging from a sarcophagus in gold face paint to perform a raucous saxophone solo with Martin placing a blender at his feet as an offering. Not long after, the single, cleverly credited to Steve Martin and the Toot Uncommons, reached #17 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and went on to sell more than a million copies.

The renovated Tut statue at the Oriental Institute in Chicago

The renovated Tut statue at the Oriental Institute in Chicago

King Tut Goes Highbrow

A towering 17-foot-tall statue of King Tutankhamun can be seen in the Egyptian Hall of the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute Museum. One of a pair, the likeness was discovered during the institute’s excavation efforts at Medinet Habu from 1926 to 1931. The better-preserved statue remained in Egypt, while the other was gifted to the institute. 

Taking casts from the more complete twin statue, the institute’s talented restorer, Donato Bastiani, made the statue whole again. The inscription carved on the back pillar of the statue shows evidence of having been appropriated by Horemheb, the penultimate ruler of the Eighteenth Dynasty. However, the facial features of the figure strongly resemble other representations of Tutankhamun, suggesting that it was originally commissioned for him. Traces of the name of Tut’s successor Ay can be seen under the cartouche of Horemheb, indicating that the statue was usurped not once but twice. –Duke

Bes, the Egyptian God Who’s Part Dwarf, Part Lion

As unlikely as it might seem, the ugly demon Bes was a much-loved guardian of the home and childbirth. Heck, he could even cure impotence.

Look for this block carving of Bes in the courtyard of Dendera

Look for this block carving of Bes in the courtyard of Dendera

We liked him instantly — perhaps because he’s so unlike all of the other gods and goddesses of Ancient Egypt we had seen carved onto temple walls and painted in the dark, narrow tombs. And since most of those deities feature animal heads, that’s saying something.

Even so, Bes is perhaps the most unique character in the Ancient Egyptian pantheon. I’d try to come up with my own colorful description, but once Duke read this to me, I figured why bother? I can’t top Alastair Sooke’s write-up in Frieze, who describes this “grotesque little fellow” so evocatively:

His physique is squat and stocky, with flabby man-boobs, pronounced buttocks and a pot-belly. He crouches as though he is about to defecate, so that his genitals dangle, prominently, between bandy legs. A wild beard frames his gargoyle’s face, along with a lion’s mane. Yet, his ferocious visage also has a playful aspect, since he sticks out his tongue, like a clown pulling a crude face.

I realized part of Bes’ uniqueness among his fellow Egyptian gods is that, aside from cow-eared Hathor, Bes is the only other deity depicted face-on. The rest of the pantheon are always shown in profile. 

Bes was a popular guardian deity, popping up on household items and amulets like this one

Bes was a popular guardian deity, popping up on household items and amulets like this one

The Household Guardian

For some reason, the ugly little bugger became a common household apparition. Artisans and craftsmen carved him onto beds and headrests, mirrors and makeup containers. His likeness is even found in the ruins of Amarna, where Pharaoh Akhenaten forbid all worship besides that of the sun disk, Aten. Bes was so popular that people might have been risking their lives to keep this protective imp in their homes.

Bes guarded households, much like gargoyles on a Catholic church or the hideous monsters outside a Thai temple. The name Bes came later, a logical choice given his role — besa means “to protect.”

A cosmetic jar shaped like Bes. Both sexes wore makeup, in part to protect from the sun and insects, so the connection to a protector god makes sense

A cosmetic jar shaped like Bes. Both sexes wore makeup, in part to protect from the sun and insects, so the connection to a protector god makes sense

His worship goes back at least as far as the 1700s BCE, Egypt’s Middle Kingdom, though some scholars think Bes originated even earlier, in a more lionlike form. 

Bes, a conglomeration of numerous gods and monsters, was a fighter, protector, partier and clown

Bes, a conglomeration of numerous gods and monsters, was a fighter, protector, partier and clown

Bes’ popularity was aided by the fact that he was also a god of humor, music and dancing. He knew how to have a good time. There weren’t any temples to Bes, he had no high priests or priestesses — and yet he was a favorite god across all classes, from the royal family down to the poorest laborer. There is evidence that someone would don a Bes costume during religious ceremonies. 

Priests might have dressed in a lionlike Bes costume during some rituals

Priests might have dressed in a lionlike Bes costume during some rituals

Ten or so deities and demons that shared characteristics with Bes became conflated with him, an ever-evolving leonine dwarf deity. In one of these earlier forms, Bes was known as Aha, or Fighter, and is shown strangling snakes with his bare hands. This explains why his image appears on knives as a protection charm for the wielder.

Aha, the god or demon who later morphed into Bes

Aha, the god or demon who later morphed into Bes

By the New Kingdom, Aha had merged into Bes, when he was sometimes given an elaborate feathered headdress.

Bes developed moobs (man boobs) and a potbelly to evoke characteristics of a pregnant woman

Bes developed moobs (man boobs) and a potbelly to evoke characteristics of a pregnant woman

Protector of Pregnant Women and Childbirth

Bes also shows up on magic wands designed to help infants come into this world, and for the dead to leave it for the afterlife. The dwarf became associated with childbirth, protecting pregnant women. In fact, two magical spells mention a “dwarf of clay” that was placed on the belly of a woman in labor — giving birth was a particularly dangerous process back then, and women and newborns needed all the help they could get. Bes would dance, shout and shake his rattle to scare off evil spirits. 

In these depictions, Bes is shown with a protruding belly and fleshy breasts, probably to connect him to his role as protector of pregnant women. He was sometimes said to be the husband of Taweret, the hippo goddess of childbirth.

If a baby laughed or smiled for no reason, it was said that Bes must be nearby, making funny faces.

Bes mania spread throughout the Mediterranean, where he became, um, quite well endowed, to represent his connection to virility

Bes mania spread throughout the Mediterranean, where he became, um, quite well endowed, to represent his connection to virility

Incubation Chambers to Cure Infertility and Impotence

As a protector of the pregnant, it’s not too far a stretch to imagine why Bes later became associated with fertility and sexuality. The imp was given a nude female companion named Beset during the Ptolemaic Period (332‒30 BCE), and mud plaster images of them decorated “incubation chambers” at Saqqara. Pilgrims would spend the night here, hoping for erotic dreams to cure them of infertility or impotence.

Bes and Beset, his nude female companion, decorated incubation chambers, where pilgrims would sleep, praying to be cured of infertility or impotence

Bes and Beset, his nude female companion, decorated incubation chambers, where pilgrims would sleep, praying to be cured of infertility or impotence

Prostitutes were known to get tattoos of Bes on their thighs in the hope that he’d help prevent them from getting STDs. Other women might have gotten a similar tattoo to increase fertility.

Maybe you should get a tattoo on your thigh of Bes, like this carving at Philae, to protect you from venereal diseases!

Maybe you should get a tattoo on your thigh of Bes, like this carving at Philae, to protect you from venereal diseases!

The god even found his way to Pompeii, where he’s depicted in this fresco

The god even found his way to Pompeii, where he’s depicted in this fresco

Simply the Bes

The Bes craze reached its peak during the Roman era. He became part of the Horus myth, protecting the falcon-headed infant from his murderous uncle Set. Worship of the tiny troll spread all around the Mediterranean. 

In another protector role, the dwarf god adorned mammisi, the birth houses that honored infant deities such as Horus. 

Who’d have known that this ugly squatting dwarf who’s sticking out his tongue would capture the hearts of so many for so long?

Who’d have known that this ugly squatting dwarf who’s sticking out his tongue would capture the hearts of so many for so long?

Bes became a mascot for the military, as well. Roman legionnaires put Bes in armor and gave him a sword and round shield. 

True to his origins as a war god, Bes became a mascot of Roman legionnaires

True to his origins as a war god, Bes became a mascot of Roman legionnaires

It wasn’t until after the advent of Christianity that Bes finally got his own priesthood — oracles at Abydos, where he was said to have guarded the corpse of the death god Osiris. The cult of Bes drew an impressive crowd, until Emperor Constantius II shut down the operation around 359 CE. 

Bes confronts a sphinx in this bas relief from the Ptolemaic era

Bes confronts a sphinx in this bas relief from the Ptolemaic era

While you’re exploring the ancient temples of Egypt, be on the lookout for this merry prankster, the dwarf Bes, with his genitals exposed and his curlicue beard adorning his oversized head. He’ll be sticking his tongue out at you, making you giggle even as he protects you from harm. –Wally

The Discovery of King Tut’s Tomb

The botched recovery and vandalism of Tutankhamun’s mummy (including its erection!) — and a connection to Downton Abbey.

Everyone ogles over the treasures of King Tut’s tomb — but few know how messy the recovery of the mummy was

Everyone ogles over the treasures of King Tut’s tomb — but few know how messy the recovery of the mummy was

Ancient Egypt’s most famous and recognizable pharaoh in the modern world was still a teenager when he died, and his nickname, King Tut, has become a household name. 

When Howard Carter discovered and unsealed Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 and revealed its extraordinary contents, he sparked a global interest in archaeology and Ancient Egypt the likes of which had never before been seen. 

It took his team eight years to catalog and remove all of the ancient artifacts within the relatively small tomb. One can only begin to imagine the wealth of relics entombed within the larger royal sepulchres surrounding Tutankhamun’s, prior to being plundered over the centuries. 

New technologies and conservation continue to yield information about his treasures almost a century later. 

Carter (right) must have been dying of impatience while he awaited the arrival of Lord Carnarvon to begin excavating the tomb he found!

Carter (right) must have been dying of impatience while he awaited the arrival of Lord Carnarvon to begin excavating the tomb he found!

When Carnarvon Met Carter

George Herbert, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, was the patron who footed the bill for the search for Tutankhamun’s tomb. He was also the lord of Highclere Castle, the impressive estate where Downton Abbey is filmed. And like the fictional Lord Grantham, Carnarvon married into money. 

Is that Downton Abbey? Sort of — the show is set in the real-life Highclere Castle, once home to Lord Carnarvon, who paid for the search for and excavation of Tut’s tomb

Is that Downton Abbey? Sort of — the show is set in the real-life Highclere Castle, once home to Lord Carnarvon, who paid for the search for and excavation of Tut’s tomb

He liked fast horses and even faster cars. A near-fatal automobile accident in 1903 (he was reportedly going a whopping 30 mph or so) left him in chronic pain, and his physician advised the restoring influence of a warmer climate. So he and Lady Carnarvon often spent their winters in Cairo, buying antiquities for their collection and sparking his passion for Egyptology. 

Carnarvon only lived five months after being a part of the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun

Carnarvon only lived five months after being a part of the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun

In 1907, Lord Carnavon was introduced to a driven and stubborn young archaeologist named Howard Carter by French Egyptologist Gaston Maspero, who was the director general of the Egyptian Department of Antiquities. 

From the very beginnings of their association, Carter wanted to excavate the Theban necropolis of the Valley of the Kings (modern-day Luxor) in search of the elusive tomb of a minor 18th Dynasty pharaoh, first known through a small faience cup inscribed with the king’s name that was found by American Egyptologist Theodore Davis in 1905. 

Permission to excavate in the valley was granted to Carnarvon in 1914 but didn’t commence until 1917 due to World War I. After four relatively fruitless seasons, and with the final resting place of Tutankhamun undiscovered, Carnarvon was ready to put an end to Carter’s search. Were it not for Carter’s insistence to continue for one more season, the tomb might never have been found. 


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The Boy King became the most famous pharaoh of Ancient Egypt when Carter discovered his unplundered tomb in the 1920s.

Was the tomb cursed?
What’s it like to visit today?

EXPLORE King Tut’s Tomb


Talk about a 12-step program! These stairs were the first evidence of the wonders that lay within this untouched tomb

Talk about a 12-step program! These stairs were the first evidence of the wonders that lay within this untouched tomb

On the morning of November 1, 1922, the top of a sunken staircase was revealed. By the following afternoon, 12 steps had been cleared. Carter ordered his men to refill the staircase and sent off the now-famous telegram to Carnavon, who was in England at the time: 

At last I have made wonderful discovery in Valley; a magnificent tomb with seals intact; re-covered same for your arrival; congratulations.

The earl’s death, five months after the tomb was opened, purportedly from a mosquito bite, is the stuff of legends and is regarded by some as evidence of the curse of the pharaoh. 

Be careful, Carter and Co.! The poor mummy of King Tut was horribly mangled during its removal process

Be careful, Carter and Co.! The poor mummy of King Tut was horribly mangled during its removal process

Off With His Head!

It wasn’t until 1925 that Tut’s mummy was finally revealed. The bands of linen cloth that covered the king from head to feet had been saturated by copious amounts of unguents and resins, leaving his desiccated skin the color and texture of nori seaweed. Perhaps it was thought that by making the boy king appear as Osiris, the god of the afterlife, the transgressions of his heretic father, Akhenaten, who foisted monotheism upon the unwilling population, would be forgiven. 

Whoops! Carter and his team accidentally decapitated the Boy King when they took off the funerary mask

Whoops! Carter and his team accidentally decapitated the Boy King when they took off the funerary mask

Over time these resins changed into a hardened black substance, acting as a glue and adhering his body to the coffin. Carter and his anatomist, Douglas Derry, had to chisel the king's remains out in pieces. Tut’s mummy was unceremoniously decapitated by Carter and his team when its golden death mask was removed. 

On the wall to the right, Tut is shown with his ka, or embodied soul, worshipping Osiris, the mummified god of the afterlife

On the wall to the right, Tut is shown with his ka, or embodied soul, worshipping Osiris, the mummified god of the afterlife

The Osiris Connection: A Boner of Contention

Beneath their swaddling, Tutankhamun's mortal remains had more than a few unusual features. According to Carter’s notes, a conical form, composed of linen bandages, was found atop the king’s head, its shape resembling the feathered, bowling pin-shaped atef crown of Osiris. 

Also noted by Carter was that Tut’s mummy had a woody. The royal penis was embalmed and preserved in an upright nearly 90-degree angle, perhaps symbolically evoking Osiris’ fertility and regenerative powers. 

Photographed after unwrapping by Harry Burton, Tut’s member was reported missing in 1968, when British scientist Ronald Harrison took a series of X-rays of the mummy. His royal endowment sprung up on a CT scan in 2006, hidden in the sand surrounding the king’s remains.

The consensus among Egyptologists was that additional damage to Tutankhamun’s mummy was done by looters sometime after Carter had finished clearing the tomb of its contents in 1932 — most likely during World War II and again in 1968. Both ears were missing, and the eyes had been pushed in. The standing theory is that the looters had bribed the Valley of the Kings guards to let them in, steal the remaining jewelry left in the tomb, and “blinded” and “deafened” the mummy to keep it from coming after them.  

The famous funerary mask of King Tut seems to help prove that Nefertiti did indeed become pharaoh

The famous funerary mask of King Tut seems to help prove that Nefertiti did indeed become pharaoh

A Recycled Mask From Nefertiti 

Interestingly, the most iconic of Tutankhamun’s treasures, his golden death mask, seems to have originally been intended for his stepmother, Nefertiti. 

The face, ears and beard of the beautifully wrought mask were modeled separately to represent the young king as Osiris. Research has revealed that one of the cartouche inscriptions found inside the mask was reinscribed in antiquity with Tutankhamun’s name imposed over the previous, partially erased cartouche of Ankhkheperure Neferneferuaten, the official name used by Nefertiti after she became co-pharaoh of Egypt. This has led some to believe that, like Hatshepsut, Ancient Egyptians attempted to edit out a woman’s rule as king. 

Can you imagine how freaked out the museum staff must have been when they broke off King Tut’s funerary mask beard?!

Can you imagine how freaked out the museum staff must have been when they broke off King Tut’s funerary mask beard?!

The Broken Beard 

In August 2014, the elongated braided beard attached to that iconic funerary mask accidentally snapped off while staff at the Egyptain Museum in Cairo were replacing a lightbulb in its glass display case. A sloppy attempt to hastily reattach the beard with epoxy followed, further damaging the treasured 3,300-year-old mask. This iconic item was taken off display to be restored by a team of German specialists. The resinous glue was carefully removed and the beard reattached with beeswax, an adhesive used in antiquity. 

This 1925 photo by Harry Burton shows that Tut’s beard had broken off previously

This 1925 photo by Harry Burton shows that Tut’s beard had broken off previously

Interestingly, this wasn’t the first time the beard had been separated from the mask, though. Photographs taken of the artifact in 1925 by Burton are of a beardless Tut, and it apparently wasn’t reattached until the 1940s. 

The scarab on this necklace was created by a meteorite crash!

The scarab on this necklace was created by a meteorite crash!

Jewelry That’s Literally Out of This World 

Among the incredible objects discovered in Tut’s tomb was a protective scarab pendant featuring a rare chartreuse yellow gemstone originally identified as chalcedony by Carter. However, modern researchers determined that it’s not a stone at all but a type of extraterrestrial glass created by a meteorite that crashed into the silica-rich sands of the Grand Sand Sea millions of years ago. Known as Libyan desert glass, this material was valued by the Ancient Egyptians as having celestial origins. –Duke

The Mummified Animals of Ancient Egypt

4 reasons Egyptian animal mummies were created — and what the mummification process involved. (Spoiler alert: Think turpentine enemas.)

One wing of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo contains animal mummies like this baboon

One wing of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo contains animal mummies like this baboon

When they hear the word “mummy,” most people think of the bad horror movies of the past that starred a reanimated corpse wrapped in what looks like toilet paper. Those of us who have visited Egypt have been lucky (or perhaps unfortunate) enough to have seen rooms full of the dark-skinned, twisted, desiccated remains of the ancient pharaohs.

But humans weren’t the only ones who were mummified by the Ancient Egyptians: Animal mummies were produced from about 800 BCE to 400 CE. This included all sorts of creatures, from cats and dogs to bulls, crocodiles, birds and more. They even mummified hippos!

The animal’s butt was then plugged with a “linen tampon” until all internal organs had softened and would flow out when uncorked.

There were four types of animal mummies in Ancient Egypt:

1. Food for the deceased in the hereafter

Leg of goat or duck breast, anyone?

Ancient Egyptians expected (or at least hoped for) an afterlife much like their time on Earth. They wanted to play with their toys, ride chariots, go hunting and perform other activities they enjoyed while alive. And that of course included eating. So the mummified remains of animals found in some tombs were there to provide sustenance in the next world. 

Ancient Egyptians wanted their pet kitties to be with them in the afterlife, so they were mummified and put into their tombs (let’s hope they were at least allowed to live out their natural lives)

Ancient Egyptians wanted their pet kitties to be with them in the afterlife, so they were mummified and put into their tombs (let’s hope they were at least allowed to live out their natural lives)

2. Pets of the deceased

It’s not clear if these pets were killed or allowed to live out their natural lives. But who doesn’t want to play with their pet gazelle or dog in the afterlife? I know my version of heaven would include my cats, Co-Co, Norman and Bowzer, all lounging with me while I watch new episodes of Gilmore Girls and Jane the Virgin

Part of Egypt was home to a cult that worshiped (and mummified) bulls

Part of Egypt was home to a cult that worshiped (and mummified) bulls

3. Cult animals

Some animals were thought to house the spirit of a god during its life. Bull cults were particularly popular, but other animals joined the minor pantheon. People could predict the height of the Nile flood based on where crocodiles built their nests. Baboons were associated with Ra, the sun god, because every morning they face the east and raise a racket, which Ancient Egyptians believed helped the sun rise. And ibises, now extinct since the 19th century, with their crescent moon-shaped beaks, were connected to the god of wisdom, Thoth, who bears an ibis head. 

This falcon mummy was a cult animal or an offering to a deity like Horus

This falcon mummy was a cult animal or an offering to a deity like Horus

4. Votive offerings 

This is similar to a candle lit in a church — only it’s an offering of something like a desiccated corpse of a crocodile instead.

Votive offerings weren’t considered divine — they were simply offerings to the gods. It strikes me as a bit odd that you’d offer up a dried-up dead cat to honor the feline-headed Bast, for instance. It seems she might take offense, but I’m assuming she didn’t. The Egyptian gods are an odd bunch. 

Animal votive offerings packed prayers with an added punch. The animals were believed to gain access to the realm of the afterlife to carry pleas to the gods.

And they were a big biz. Massive amounts of animal mummies have been unearthed at Saqqara (8 million dog mummies alone!). That was just one of many sites throughout the country where votive animal mummies were discovered. In fact, it’s thought that up to 70 million animals were turned into votive offerings throughout the Egyptian Empire. 

This votive offering contains dog bones

This votive offering contains dog bones

I don’t like this idea, but researchers think that many of the animals were killed to meet the demand of pilgrims seeking favors from the gods. In fact, millions of animals were victims of breeding farms, raised for the sole purpose of being killed and mummified. I suppose it’s not much different from factory farms or what happens to alligators in New Orleans, where their heads are piled high in every souvenir shop. And something tells me the rabbit once attached to the foot I had as a good luck charm as a kid didn’t die of natural causes. 

The ibis is now extinct, but the long-billed bird was associated with Thoth, the god of wisdom

The ibis is now extinct, but the long-billed bird was associated with Thoth, the god of wisdom

Researchers from the Manchester Museum and the University of Manchester in England used X-rays and CT scans to examine over 800 Ancient Egyptian animal mummy votive offerings. They found that one-third contained actual mummies of birds, cats, crocodiles and other animals. Another third had only partial remains. And the final third had no animal remains at all: They were linen wrappings stuffed with mud, sticks, eggshells, feathers and herbs.

At first, these offerings were thought to be fakes meant to dupe unsuspecting pilgrims. But the resin and contents found within were different for each type of animal and were actually quite expensive at the time. So the buyers might have been aware that they weren’t getting actual mummies and were OK with that. After all, they still had something of great value — but less expensive than a proper mummy — to offer to the gods.

Below the arches, you can see a variety of animal mummies in this illustration by Giovanni Battista Belzoni, a well-known archaeologist

Below the arches, you can see a variety of animal mummies in this illustration by Giovanni Battista Belzoni, a well-known archaeologist

How Animals Were Mummified

The discovery of sacred bull remains have allowed scientists to figure out how Ancient Egyptians mummified animals. (It’s gruesome but surprisingly similar to what they did to humans who couldn’t afford the royal treatment.)


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Known as Buchis bulls, the holy animals were the center of a cult in Armant, a town south of Luxor. They were associated with Montu, a falcon-headed god of war, and represented strength and fertility.

Turpentine enemas and linen butt plugs were involved in the time-consuming process to make a bull mummy

Turpentine enemas and linen butt plugs were involved in the time-consuming process to make a bull mummy

To mummify one of these beasts, they probably first inserted turpentine or juniper oil into the anus or, ahem, a nearby orifice. Archaeologists have found enemas, douches and vaginal retractors at the excavation site. The animal’s butt was then plugged with what the sign at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo called a “linen tampon” until all internal organs had softened and would flow out when uncorked.

The animal was then packed in natron (hydrous native sodium carbonate — a fancy way to say that it’s a salt). This naturally occurring preservative worked wonders in drying out corpses. Large animals were laid in natron for 40 days (just like humans).

The Buchis bulls were arranged in the position of a sphinx — not natural for the animals, so they had to cut the leg tendons to avoid breaking any bones. 

Animal mummies were ceremonially wrapped in linen, then coated in a resin to help preserve and protect them from disintegration and bug infiltration. This time-consuming and expensive method resulted in a mummy as good as that of any human. –Wally


mummifiedcrocs.jpg

Thutmose III’s Futile Attempt to Erase Hatshepsut’s Legacy

Try as he might, Thutmose III wasn’t able to completely eradicate references to his aunt Hatshepsut as his co-pharaoh. And why did he wait so late in his reign to do so?

Thutmose III tried to get rid of all references to Hatshepsut as pharaoh — but he couldn’t find them all, thankfully!

Thutmose III tried to get rid of all references to Hatshepsut as pharaoh — but he couldn’t find them all, thankfully!

Hatshepsut was, undeniably, a remarkable woman. A princess who married her half-brother to become his queen. A high priestess (and symbolic wife) of the most powerful of the gods. A queen regent for her nephew (and stepson), Thutmose III. And then, in an unprecedented move, the most senior of two simultaneous pharaohs. She was, as Kara Cooney’s book title proclaims, The Woman Who Would Be King.



Duke stands in the ruins of Karnak Temple, a massive complex that Hatshepsut helped build (and, as such, once sported countless depictions of the female king)

Duke stands in the ruins of Karnak Temple, a massive complex that Hatshepsut helped build (and, as such, once sported countless depictions of the female king)

Hatshepsut’s reign of 20 years was a time of peace and prosperity, during which the Two Lands of Upper and Lower Egypt experienced stability. Backed by military might, the country received goods from every direction, including Nubian gold. With the coffers full, Pharaoh Hatshepsut embarked on massive construction projects, putting her people to work building tombs and temples. Her image, which became more and more masculine, literally covered the country. 



So it was quite ambitious to attempt to obliterate her legacy. But that’s exactly what her one-time co-ruler, Thutmose III, tried to do. The strange part is that he waited about 25 years after Hatshepsut’s death to do so. If he was so upset with his aunt/stepmother, why the delay?

Thankfully, Thutmose III, try as he might, ultimately failed to completely erase all mentions of Hatshepsut as king. Here are some of the fascinating facts that led to this complicated string of events.

Like mother, like daughter: Evidence reveals that Pharaoh Hatshepsut, depicted here as a sphinx, attempted to pave the way for her daughter to ascend the throne

Like mother, like daughter: Evidence reveals that Pharaoh Hatshepsut, depicted here as a sphinx, attempted to pave the way for her daughter to ascend the throne

Hatshepset put her daughter Nefrure into the role of God’s Wife — probably hoping she would be her successor.

There are plenty of things a female ruler can do. But having a Great Wife like every male pharaoh before her isn’t one. But she could assign her child to one of the most powerful positions at the time: the high priestess of Amun (aka Amen). 

“And so we see Hatshepsut performing her religious duties in the temple with the God’s Wife — offering up bloody haunches of freshly sacrificed calves, striking ritual chests with sacred instruments, or chanting transformational spells to the sun god on the hour,” Cooney writes.

There’s good evidence that Nefrure was also married to Thutmose III, so in a strange way, she was also acting as wife to her mother simultaneously — at least for ritual events, according to Cooney. “Poor Thutmose III: he had to share absolutely everything with his aunt Hatshepsut, even his own Great Royal Wife,” she writes.

Imagery of a woman at Deir el-Bahari, Hatshepsut’s funerary temple, is believed to be that of Neferure, offering a strong argument that Hatshepsut intended for her daughter to co-rule with Thutmose III as she did. 

Those depictions were rather quickly scratched out or replaced with carvings of Thutmose I, Hatshepsut’s father, as is evident in the Chapel of Anubis at Deir el-Bahari. 

“It is likely that Thutmose III, or the Amen priesthood, or some faction of elites resisted, fearing the creation of another strange male-female coregency, this time beyond the justification of necessity and dynastic security,” Cooney writes. “Hatshepsut apparently relented, bowing to political or religious pressures and ordering the removal of all such images from her funerary temple. Or maybe no one dared speak against the senior king at all. Nefrure might have died during her mother’s reign, ruining all such hope for an heir of her own lineage.”

There are hints that not everyone was too happy about a female pharaoh.

This dissent is evident in numerous carvings throughout Hatshepsut’s funerary temple. They read, “He who shall do her homage shall live. He who shall speak evil in blasphemy of Her Majesty shall die.” 

That being said, “there is absolutely no evidence of insurrection, rebellion or coup during her reign,” Cooney points out. “Even if people were unhappy about Hatshepsut’s rule, they weren’t so dissatisfied that they were going to do anything about it.”

And why should they? All was right with the world during the two decades of Hatshepsut’s reign.

Riddle me this: Why did Thutmose III (seen here as a sphinx) wait so long for the smear campaign against his aunt and co-ruler?

Riddle me this: Why did Thutmose III (seen here as a sphinx) wait so long for the smear campaign against his aunt and co-ruler?

Twenty-five years after Hatshepsut’s death, Thutmose III developed an obsession with erasing his co-pharaoh from history.

I suppose I should be grateful at how much of this amazing ancient culture is left to us. But I still get bummed at the gaps in what we know of its history. And one such gap is that we have no idea how Hatshepsut died. We do know that she reigned from about 1479 BCE until her death in 1458 BCE. 

Thutmose III then became solo pharaoh. But it wasn’t until 25 years into his reign that he began a regime of obliterating all traces of Pharaoh Hatshepsut, starting with her impressive obelisks at Karnak (which were located at a prominent place where all could see). The masculinized depictions of Hatshepsut as king, after a bit of chisel work, were quickly reassigned to Thutmose II or Amenhotep I. 

“It stands as our earliest evidence of Thutmose III’s removing Hatshepsut’s image from the temple landscape in favor of his own father’s,” Cooney writes. “But it was far from the last.”

Only the images of Hatshepsut as pharaoh were modified — those showing her as a queen were left untouched.

Thutmose III, shown in a devotional pose, must have asked the gods to secure the throne for his son

Thutmose III, shown in a devotional pose, must have asked the gods to secure the throne for his son

Thutmose III’s long-delayed plan to eradicate all evidence of Hatshepsut as pharaoh most likely was a way to secure the throne for his son.

Why did Thutmose delay for so long before deciding to obliterate Hatshepsut’s legacy? That’s when he was starting to concern himself with his successor. “Thutmose III waited until the end of his reign to systematically erase Hatshepsut’s presence because it was only then that he needed to shore up the legitimate kingship for a son who had no genealogical connection to Hatshpesut’s side of the family,” Cooney explains. “By removing his aunt, whose lofty and pure family connection sullied the aspirations of his own chosen son, Thutmose III was strengthening the history of his dynasty.”

Thank Amun, this smear campaign to eradicate the record of her rule ultimately wasn’t successful: “Despite the breadth and organization of the destruction, Hatshesut had simply built too much and embellished Egypt too wide for Thutmose III to destroy it all,” Cooney writes.

“Hatshepsut’s kingship was a fantastic and unbelievable aberration, but little more than a necessity of the moment,” Cooney wraps up. “Her feminine kingship was always to be perceived as a negative complication by the ancient Egyptians, a problem that could only be reconciled publicly and formally through its obliteration. After all her great accomplishments, despite her unique triumph, her fate was to be erased, expunged, silenced.”

I sure am glad that failed. Many references to Hatshepsut remained undisturbed. I’ve always been drawn to badass women, and Hatshepsut certainly qualifies. –Wally

A Brief History of King Tut

The all-too-short life of the Boy King, Tutankhamun, who gained fame when Howard Carter discovered his tomb — one of the only ones in the Valley of the Kings that wasn’t plundered by grave robbers.

This is what King Tut’s tomb looked like when Howard Carter discovered it in 1922

This is what King Tut’s tomb looked like when Howard Carter discovered it in 1922

Ever since I was a young boy, I’d yearned to visit Egypt. I was fascinated by King Tutankhamun and the discovery of his mostly intact tomb, with its wealth of magnificent, well-preserved artifacts. 

For starters, the Boy King’s legacy is fascinating. Filled with political corruption, incest, religious upheaval and a possible murder, his history is just as epic as the eight seasons of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones — and, much like the addictive HBO adaptation, it all collapsed in the end. 

Born in 1341 BCE, his given name was Tutankhaten, Beloved of the Aten, the solar disc of the sun worshipped at Amarna, the capital city established by his father, Akhenaten, the revolutionary heretic king who embraced Aten as the sole supreme being for Egyptians to worship. 

A sphinx bearing the head of Tutankhamun at the Luxor Museum

A sphinx bearing the head of Tutankhamun at the Luxor Museum

The Boy King

Tut was nicknamed the Boy King because he ascended the throne around the age of 8 or 9. Some historians have suggested his vizier, Ay, was the real power behind the throne, citing that it was Ay’s decision to abandon the new capital city of Amarna and restore the authority of the priests and the polytheistic pantheon of Thebes. Whatever the case, when Tut died without an heir, Ay briefly became king. 

Like other pharaohs, Tutankhamun took five royal names, and most of us know him by his fifth nomen, Tutankhamun, after he dropped the -aten suffix in favor of -amun, chief among the old gods. Ancient Egyptians, though, would have called him by his prenomen or throne name, Nebkheperure, which essentially meant Ra Is the Lord of Manifestations to honor a different sun god. 

A goddess guards Tut’s canopic shrine

A goddess guards Tut’s canopic shrine

Incest Is Best?

Tutankhamun was married to his half-sister, Ankhesenamun. The practice of incest to keep the royal bloodline pure was common among the ruling class of Ancient Egypt. They regarded themselves as representatives of the divine on earth. Atum, the god of creation, produced his children Shu and Tefnut by his own hand (aka jerking off). His daughter Tefnut married her twin brother Shu, and voilà! Nut and Geb were added to the ever-expanding pantheon of incestuous liasons. 

Tut and Ankesenamun had two stillborn daughters, likely casualties of genetic deficiencies from generations of inbreeding. Their tiny mummified fetuses were buried in Tutankhamun’s tomb. A DNA study revealed that one was 5 to 6 months old and the other 9 months old. 

Because of his link to the scandalous Akhenaten, Tut’s reign was eventually struck from the record by his successors. Between the ever-shifting desert sands and the Ancient Egyptians attempt to remove all traces of the “Amarna heresy,” Tutankhamun was literally out of sight and out of mind. This in all likelihood helped to preserve his tomb. 


The Abydos Kings List

The Abydos Kings List

Tutankhamun, Akhenaten (aka Amenhotep IV), Ay, Hatshepsut and Meryneith were some of the rulers stricken from the official record. 

LEARN MORE about the Kings List in the Abydos Temple. 


Lord Carnarvon, his daughter Evelyn and Howard Carter

Lord Carnarvon, his daughter Evelyn and Howard Carter

The Untouched Tomb

Unlike other royal tombs, which were looted in antiquity (often by the very laborers who built them), 5,000-some items were found inside King Tut’s tomb. 

British archaeologist Howard Carter was no stranger to the Valley of the Kings and had been obsessively searching for the elusive burial site of Tutankhamun for years. In 1914, his financier George Herbert, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, secured a license to excavate a parcel of land close to the tomb of Ramesses VI. Carter hired a crew of workers to help find the tomb, but was halted by World War I.

By 1922, Lord Carnarvon, frustrated with the lack of progress and financially spread thin, informed Carter that he would only extend funding for one more season unless Carter struck pay dirt. Like sand in an hourglass, time was running out, when, on November 4, while excavating the very last plot, the crews’ waterboy discovered a step that appeared to be part of a tomb. Carter immediately wired his employer, and the excited Lord Carnarvon arrived two and a half weeks later, with his daughter Lady Evelyn Herbert. 

Carter made a tiny hole in the plaster-sealed entrance. By the light of a candle, he was stunned by what he saw and wrote in his diary:

Presently, as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues and gold — everywhere the glint of gold. For the moment — an eternity it must have seemed to the others standing by — I was struck dumb with amazement, and when Lord Carnarvon, unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, “Can you see anything?” it was all I could do to get out the words, “Yes, wonderful things.”

Carter and an assistant unveiled the remains of Tutankhamum

Carter and an assistant unveiled the remains of Tutankhamum

Next came the laborious task of cataloging and removing each artifact from the tomb, beginning with the antechamber. Carter called upon the skilled archaeological photographer Harry Burton, who happened to be among the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Egyptian expedition team working at the nearby site of Deir el-Bahari. Burton captured the contents of the tomb as they were found. Then, a sketch and description were made on numbered cards before the object was carried out on wooden stretchers. Carter would eventually catalog thousands of artifacts from the tomb. The final contents were finally removed 11 years later, on November 10, 1933.

Did breaking this seal unleash a curse upon all present?!

Did breaking this seal unleash a curse upon all present?!

The Curse of King Tut’s Tomb

Shortly after the burial chamber was opened, stories of the legendary mummy’s curse began surfacing. Rumors quickly spread that Carter had found a clay tablet over the tomb’s entrance that read, “Death shall come on swift wings to whoever toucheth the tomb of the Pharaoh.” 

Near the end of February 1923, Carnarvon was bitten on the cheek by a mosquito. He reopened the bite while shaving, a seemingly innocuous event that would prove fatal. Carnarvon died in Cairo two weeks later from sepsis-abetted pneumonia. 

Even the likes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who by this time had stopped writing his popular Sherlock Holmes mysteries in favor of spiritualist leanings, weighed in, declaring to the press that “an evil elemental may have caused Lord Carnavon’s fatal illness. One does not know what elementals existed in those days, nor what their form might be. The Egyptians knew a great deal more about these things than we do.” 

Carter, however, seems to have escaped the mummy’s curse and lived on until 1939, when he died of lymphoma at the age of 64.

You’ll have to pay an extra $15 or so to see King Tut’s mummy and tomb

You’ll have to pay an extra $15 or so to see King Tut’s mummy and tomb

Visiting King Tut’s Tomb

While exploring the Valley of the Kings, Wally and I decided to pay the extra fee of 250 Egyptian pounds (about $15) to see KV62, the tomb of Tutankhamun. The site isn’t included with the three tombs that are part of the 200 L.E. fee to the royal necropolis. I imagine this cost is a measure put in place by the Department of Antiquities to limit the amount of visitors entering the tomb. Moisture from breath and perspiration increase humidity levels in the subterranean rock-cut chambers, which in turn damage the lime plaster wall paintings covering the walls. 

The small tomb is less impressive than the other ones you’ll visit in the Valley of the Kings and lacks the elaborate linear design predominantly used by New Kingdom pharaohs — the sun god Ra would find himself challenged, having to follow some twists and turns as he makes his nightly descent at sunset. 

Unlike other tombs, which are covered with paintings, only Tut’s burial chamber is decorated

Unlike other tombs, which are covered with paintings, only Tut’s burial chamber is decorated

Tut’s mummified remains lie on display in a climate-controlled glass box in the tomb’s antechamber. We were the only ones inside at the time and were followed around by a guard, probably to make sure we didn’t take pictures. I incorrectly assumed that my photography pass would be valid and that I could take non-flash pictures while inside. I learned that was not the case when I tried to take a shot of the Boy King’s remains. –Duke

Pharaoh Hatshepsut

14 ways this powerful Ancient Egyptian woman used genderbending to become a female pharaoh, as revealed in Kara Cooney’s The Woman Who Would Be King.

Everyone knows all about Cleopatra, the clever seductress of two powerful Roman men who ruled over Ancient Egypt.

But without her forebear Hatshepsut, there might never have been a Cleopatra. Surely Cleopatra looked upon the woman who rose to the upper echelon of power as a true inspiration.

What made Hatshepsut’s success all the more remarkable was how unprecedented it was. Sadly, for the most part, feminism hasn’t progressed beyond the traditional patriarchy over the past few millennia. Case in point, the United States has yet to elect a woman as president.

In the ancient world, having a woman at the top of the political pyramid was practically unheard of. Patriarchal systems ruled the day, and royal wives, sisters, and daughters served as members of the king’s harem or as important priestesses in his temples, not as political leaders. Throughout the Mediterranean and northwest Asia, female leadership was perceived with suspicion, if not outright aversion.

–Kara Cooney, “The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt”


LEARN 9 FASCINATING FACTS about Hatshepsut’s early life here.


In terms of the ancient world, Hatshepset truly was a remarkable woman. As our guide Mamduh mused, “They should make a movie about her — maybe many movies.”

Thank Sobek for Jean-François Champollion! He was the first to find references to our remarkable pharaoh in the modern era

Thank Sobek for Jean-François Champollion! He was the first to find references to our remarkable pharaoh in the modern era

“History records only one female ruler who successfully negotiated a systematic rise to power — without assassinations or coups — during a time of peace, who formally labeled herself with the highest position known in government, and who ruled for a significant stretch of time: Hatshepsut,” writes Kara Cooney in The Woman Who Would Be King.

During her prosperous reign, gold, cedar, ebony and other goods flowed through Egypt, and the temples, shrines and obelisks raised in her name were so impressive that later pharaohs endeavored to be buried nearby, creating the Valley of the Kings.

Incidentally, we have French archaeologist Jean-François Champollion to thank for rediscovering the first hints of Hatshepset’s existence in 1928 — apparently, deciphering the Rosetta Stone wasn’t enough of a claim to fame. 

Even Hatshepsut must have felt that her cross-dressing image was a bit too shocking for the time.

So how exactly did Hatshepsut move beyond being a queen regent to divine ruler? I do wonder how she viewed herself — could she be the first trans leader in history?


The loss of a nose makes this statue of Egypt’s first female king, Sobeknefru, a bit too creepy

The loss of a nose makes this statue of Egypt’s first female king, Sobeknefru, a bit too creepy

1. There was actually a female king of Egypt before Hatshepsut.

Just like Cleopatra, Hatshepsut had a role model from the past. Sobeknefru, daughter of Pharaoh Amenemhat III of the Twelfth Dynasty, ruled Egypt around 1800 BCE — about three centuries before Hatshepsut was born.

2. There wasn’t even a proper word for queen — so Sobeknefru blended masculine and feminine iconography.

The queens of Ancient Egypt were known as hemt neswt, or wife of the king — “a title with no implications of rule or power in its own right, only a description of a woman’s connection to the king as husband,” Cooney writes. To truly be seen as the ultimate ruler of the country, Sobeknefru had to take on the masculine title of “king.”

“Clothing was more problematic,” Cooney continues, “and Sobeknefru depicted herself wearing not only the masculine headdress of kingship but also the male royal kilt over the dress garments of a royal wife.”


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THE FIRST FEMALE KING OF EGYPT, Sobeknefru, was named for the crocodile god, Sobek.

Learn more about his worship from our post on the temple of Kom Ombo.


3. A title shift on Hatshepsut’s monuments at Karnak might be the first clue of her massive ambitions.

A few years before she even became king, Hatshepsut dropped the title of God’s Wife, opting instead for the title of King’s Eldest Daughter. While the role of high priestess was one of the most powerful in Ancient Egypt, the adoption of this new title set the stage for a legitimate claim to the throne. 

“Some Egyptologists see this rejiggering of her personal relationships as the crux of her power grab, a shift that moved her from a queen’s role to an heir’s, as the rightful offspring of Thutmose I and one who could make a heritable claim to the throne despite her female gender,” Cooney writes.

4. Like Sobeknefru before her, Hatshepsut reinvented her image as a nonbinary gender. 

Another section at Karnak, the most massive temple complex of the day, in the royal city of Thebes, present-day Luxor, depicts Hatshepsut in men’s garments along with women’s.

The block “shows Hatshepsut wearing the gown of a queen on her body but the crown of a king upon her head,” Cooney writes. “The atef crown — a fabulous and extravagant amalgamation of ram’s horns and tall double plumes — was depicted atop her short masculine wig, probably to the shock of the craftsmen in charge of cutting the decoration. It was a confusing image for the Egyptian viewer to digest: a female king performing royal duties, offering jars of wine directly to the god, and all before any official coronation.”

5. She also took on a throne name, a privilege reserved for kings — again, before she was even crowned.

In the text on the same monument at Karnak, Hatshepsut called herself the One of the Sedge and of the Bee, which is translated as King of Upper and Lower Egypt.

What’s more, she introduced a throne name, Maatkare, The Soul of Re Is Truth. This act was “inconceivable,” according to Cooney. “Hatshepsut was transforming her role into a strange hybrid of rule ordained before it had officially happened,” she writes.

Part of her throne name is the goddess of truth and justice, “implying that at the heart of the sun god’s power was a feminine entity, Ma’at, the source that was believed to keep the cosmos straight and true,” Cooney writes, continuing, “Hatshepsut’s throne name communicated to her people that her kingship was undoubtedly feminine, and that feminine justice was necessary to maintain life with proper order, judgment, and continuance.”

6. About nine years into Thutmose III’s reign, Hatshepsut was crowned pharaoh — meaning there were two kings simultaneously on the throne.

When Hatshepsut was about 24 years old, in 1478 BCE, “the impossible happened,” as Cooney states. Thutmose III might have been a child, but he was still officially the king. Yet Hatshepsut, that wonderful feminist icon, decided to stop being the queen regent and that she would share the throne with her young nephew.

In this carving from her funerary temple, Hatshepsut is shown as a male, wearing the false beard and crown of the pharaoh

In this carving from her funerary temple, Hatshepsut is shown as a male, wearing the false beard and crown of the pharaoh

7. Hatshepsut’s coronation was an elaborate affair that was, apparently, attended by the gods themselves.

The coronation took place in the temple complex of Karnak over the course of several days. If we’re to believe Hatshepsut, her dead-but-deified father, Thutmose I, was the first to place the crown upon her head. The cow-headed goddess Hathor was also present, shouting a greeting and giving her a big hug. And the chief god, Amen-Re (also spelled Amun-Ra), “personally placed the double crown upon Hatshepsut’s head and invested her with the crook and flail of kingship, saying that he created her specifically to rule over his holy lands, to rebuild his temples and to perform ritual activity for him,” Cooney writes.

What better way for Hatshepsut to be seen as a legitimate monarch than by having received the blessings of the gods? She really wanted to hammer home the supposed events of her coronation day — she had images of the gods crowning her chiseled into the major house of worship of the time, Karnak, as well as her funerary temple at Deir el-Bahari.


deirelbahari.JPG

SEE THE WONDROUS ARCHITECTURE of Hatshepsut’s funerary temple — and learn more about this surprisingly modern-looking structure.


8. Upon being crowned, Hatshepsut changed her birth name — yet another instance of gender ambiguity.

Hatshepsut added Khenemetenamen to the front of her name, “which, although unpronounceable for most of us,” Cooney writes, “essentially meant ‘Hatshepsut, United with Amen,’ communicating that her spirit had mingled with the very mind of the god Amen through a divine communion.” 

Interestingly, she kept a feminine ending as part of the construction of that mouthful of a name. “There was no subterfuge about her femininity in her new royal names, but her womanly core was now linked with a masculine god through her kingship,” Cooney adds.

9. Hatshepsut’s royal names didn’t hide the fact that she was a woman. She was out to change the very perception of a king.

Egyptian kings liked to prove how macho they were, choosing names like Ka-ankht, Strong Bull. Hatshepsut’s Horus name was Useret-kau, Powerful of Ka Spirits, tying herself not to physical (and sexual) prowess, but to the mysterious might of the spirits of the dead. 

Like her new birth name, Hatshepsut used the feminine -t ending. “She and her priests knew her limitations as a woman and seemed interested in flexibility rather than deceit,” Cooney explains. “She became king in name and title, but she knew that she could not transform into a king’s masculine body. She couldn’t impregnate a harem of women with any divine seed. There was no need for her royal names to point out those deficiencies or to lie about her true nature. Instead, she and her priests focused on how her femininity could coalesce with and complement masculine powers.”

Only kings wore these long false beards — though only Amun knows why!

Only kings wore these long false beards — though only Amun knows why!

10. Hatshepsut immediately upgraded her existing iconography once she became pharaoh.

All of the images of her as queen under Thutmose III were altered to show her as the senior king of a co-regency. “No longer would she be depicted as subordinate to Thutmose III,” Cooney writes. “Every sacred space in Egypt was changed, especially in the cultic centers of power, where an image translated into reality and to write or depict something was to make it come into existence.”

11. The color of Hatshepsut’s skin in her statuary demonstrated her progression from female to male. 

Females in Ancient Egyptian art were shown with yellow skin, while males were red ochre. It’s thought that women were inside more often (weaving in the harem, one supposes) and didn’t get as tanned as the manly men out on military expeditions and the like. While Hatshepsut’s early statues stuck with the traditional yellow skin tone, later depictions, such as the ones showing her as Osiris, the god of rebirth at her funerary temple, are of an orange hue — a strangely androgynous colorization that must have baffled people at the time. By the end of her reign, Hatshepsut had adopted the red skin associated with males.

Statue after statue of Hatshepsut in a mummy pose like the god Osiris lines her funeral temple. The color has long since faded, but these carvings once had orange skin — in-between the yellow used for women and the red used for men

Statue after statue of Hatshepsut in a mummy pose like the god Osiris lines her funeral temple. The color has long since faded, but these carvings once had orange skin — in-between the yellow used for women and the red used for men

12. In addition to skin color, Hatshepsut’s statues started taking on more and more male characteristics.

Early on, Hatshepsut’s genderbending positioned her as truly androgynous. On a lifesize statue from her funerary temple, she has a woman’s facial features, graceful shoulders and small, pert breasts — but she’s shirtless and wearing a king’s kilt. Even Hatshepsut must have felt that this cross-dressing image was a bit too shocking for the time. It was placed in the innermost chambers of her temple, away from the public, where only the most elite would ever see it. This drastic hybrid sexuality was never replicated.

Eventually, Hatshepsut’s statues had broader shoulders, and her breasts became the firm pecs of an idealized young man.

Because Hatshepsut presented herself as a male, Egyptologists can’t tell whether this is a statue of her or of her co-king, Thutmose III

Because Hatshepsut presented herself as a male, Egyptologists can’t tell whether this is a statue of her or of her co-king, Thutmose III

13. Hieroglyphic text went back and forth between referring to Hatshepsut as a female and as a male.

Sometimes she was “she;” sometimes she was “he.” On occasion, she was the Son of Ra, the sun god; more often she was referred to as the Daughter of Ra. Once in a while, she was called the “good god,” but most of the time — even accompanying a masculinized image of her — she was the “good goddess.”

14. Like many a pharaoh, Hatshepsut told a story of her divine birth.

The combo god Amun-Ra is said to have visited her mother in her bedchamber. “She awoke because of the fragrance of the god,” the text reads. I’m sure a bit more happened than this, but Hatshepsut chose to depict the moment as her mom and Amun-Ra sitting across from each other, hands touching, gazing sweetly into each other’s eyes.

This avant-garde woman rose to the highest political rank in a society over 3,000 years ago. So it shouldn’t surprise us to learn that after her death, her successor tried his very best to wipe all references to his aunt being king from the face of the planet. –Wally

Interview With an Archaeologist

A firsthand account of what it was like to excavate the Hatshepsut temple at Deir el-Bahari in the 1970s.

Kenneth shares his experience as an archaeologist in Luxor, Egypt in the early 1970s

Kenneth shares his experience as an archaeologist in Luxor, Egypt in the early 1970s

Archaeology is one of those careers that sounds so thrilling — I always picture Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones on his search for the Ark of the Covenant (minus the snakes). But it turns out that, more often than not, this profession means long hours, low pay, and months or years of tedious fieldwork.

That being said, when Kenneth reached out to us with a kind note about our blog, mentioning that he had been briefly involved with the excavation of Hatshepsut’s temple at Deir el-Bahari, we simply had to learn more. 

He obliged with an interview of what it was like to be an archaeologist in Egypt half a century ago, back when he was a starving field worker put up at the now-glamorous Winter Palace hotel, “in a shabby, Nile-view room with the bathroom far down the hall.” –Wally

The Colossi of Memnon stood as they do today, in a clearing surrounded by fields. But there were no barriers of any kind — you could climb the statues if agile enough

The Colossi of Memnon stood as they do today, in a clearing surrounded by fields. But there were no barriers of any kind — you could climb the statues if agile enough

What was it like being an archaeologist?

I was not a classical archaeologist for very long. (Not nearly as long as it took me to get my degree!) Turns out I liked to eat. And pay rent. Field work, which was really the reason I went into archaeology, pays next to nothing. There’s always a candidate working towards their doctorate who will offer to do the work for free. 

In 1969 I worked in Winchester, England (the Roman capital of Britain) under the well-respected British archaeologist Martin Biddle and Birthe, his Danish-born archaeologist wife. It was Martin who got me a temporary position the next season with the joint British-Polish expedition working at Deir el-Bahari. 

I was only at Luxor a few months before the Vietnam War intruded and I went off to the Navy. When I was discharged in 1973, the Arab-Israeli War was looming and available funds for archaeological work in Egypt had completely dried up. I took what I thought would be a temporary job as a flight attendant, fell in love with the job and stayed 30 years. During that time, I met my husband, Michael (we celebrated our 35th anniversary last week), and the impracticality of going off on a months-long dig and leaving Michael at home put an end to any thoughts of returning to archaeology. 

The top colonnade on Hatshepsut’s funerary temple — which did not exist in 1970 — is complete in this 1989 photo

The top colonnade on Hatshepsut’s funerary temple — which did not exist in 1970 — is complete in this 1989 photo

What was the project you were working on? 

In 1970 restoration work was focusing on the third tier of Hatshepsut’s temple. The structure has been extensively rebuilt. Some Egyptologists would say overly rebuilt. 

There was an ongoing search for stone blocks that had been appropriated by later pharaohs to use for their own building projects. In Upper Egypt there are vast areas filled with thousands of broken stone blocks from fallen or dismantled  structures. Often, missing stones from a particular ancient monument can be discovered and moved (at great effort and expense) to their original site.

Kenneth’s husband, Michael, studying the statue of Horus at the temple at Edfu

Kenneth’s husband, Michael, studying the statue of Horus at the temple at Edfu

Imagine you are working on a jigsaw puzzle. Some of the pieces are missing. In the next room someone has dumped into a huge pile thousands and thousands of pieces from hundreds of different jigsaw puzzles. In that pile you might find the missing pieces from your puzzle. The image on one of the pieces you are missing will be of a human arm. The left arm. And so as you sift through the huge pile of dumped puzzle pieces you are looking for one bearing the image of a left arm. 

Of course, in Ancient Egypt when a stone was reused, it often had carving on one side. The stone would be turned so the carving was no longer visible, and a new carving would be done on a blank side of the stone block. Five hundred years later, the block might be reused again, and so there would be a third side that would be carved…

So, going back to that pile of jigsaw pieces, as you are looking for that image of a left arm, you’re having to turn each puzzle piece because there are different images on each side of each piece.

Fifty years ago, it was a laborious task to try to find a particular stone in one of many locations up and down the Nile. (Now, computers do the work in seconds.) There were huge books full of illustrations of thousands of “available” stones. One needed to just keep looking. And if — by chance — a stone with the left arm was found, arrangements had to be made to legally acquire and move a multi-ton block of granite or sandstone. Reams of paperwork were required. It was what we’d call grunt work. And that's mostly what I did. No glamour. No glint of gold in the sand. It was pouring over books and filling out paperwork. But it was Egypt, and I loved it. (At Winchester I was actually on my hands and knees, excavating a burial ground filled with Roman soldiers. I found coins minted under the reign of Hadrian and carved-bone dice for gambling, and because of the high peat content of the soil, well-preserved leather sandals as well. Skeleton after skeleton too — some of the bodies pathetically shattered in battle.) 

What’s your take on Hatshepsut? 

Well, of course she’s a fascinating person. The oldest known woman on the planet. She jumps out at us, her carved thoughts in many instances perfectly preserved because Thutmose III covered them with a layer of stone: “Now my heart turns this way and that, as I think what the people will say. Those who see my monuments in years to come, and who shall speak of what I have done.”

I think that Hatshepsut, like Cleopatra Vll, 13 centuries later (and Joan of Arc, 1,400 years after that), must have dazzled through the sheer force of her personality, to have accomplished what she did. Usurping her stepson’s throne might have made sense if the lad was unwell or unfit for the job. But he went on to be one of Egypt’s greatest pharaohs! Was that despite Hatshepsut, or because of her?

Kenneth posing with Cleopatra and Caesarion on the rear wall of the temple complex at Dendera

Kenneth posing with Cleopatra and Caesarion on the rear wall of the temple complex at Dendera

When I worked in Egypt, there was only a slim hope that Hatshepsut’s body would ever be found. The fact that her architect (and supposed lover) Senemut’s red granite sarcophagus had been discovered broken into many pieces and spread across the desert seemed to indicate a royal temper tantrum that could very well have been Thutmose lll’s. Easy to imagine him hating the commoner whom Hatshepsut had showered with titles. I always thought that if Thutmose hated Senemut that much, he must have hated his ruling stepmother as well. The thought of ever finding her remains struck me as highly unlikely. I figured he eventually “grew a pair” and had her murdered and her body fed to the jackals.

But no! Now we know she was lying right under our noses in KV20 in the Valley of the Kings! And the proof that it was her right there in the Cairo Museum: one of Hatshepsut's molars, packed in a small wooden box bearing her cartouche, and matching the gap in her mummified jaw. And we now know she grew old, and fat — with pendulous breasts. A life lived long!

So how and why was the throne eventually turned over to Thutmose? That is a mystery we may never unravel. I like to think Thutmose may have been a late bloomer. That his smart, capable stepmother watched over him and groomed him to become the great pharaoh he was.  

The timeless Old Cataract, which Kenneth and Michael say is “one of our favorite hotels anywhere in the world.” Wally and Duke agree!

The timeless Old Cataract, which Kenneth and Michael say is “one of our favorite hotels anywhere in the world.” Wally and Duke agree!

What was your favorite memory of that time in Egypt? 

There were no tourists! War with Israel was looming. Luxor was virtually empty. Once, on a day off, I had Luxor Temple entirely to myself. Walking down a colonnade, between towering pillars, a falcon flew just over my head, sailing along ahead of me about 20 feet in the air. At the end of the colonnade, he rose up and landed on top of the head of an enormous statue — a statue of Horus. I just stood perfectly still, savoring the moment, and feeling I’d been visited by a god.

The floating restaurant Bodour, moored just upriver from the Winter Palace in Luxor, was one of their favorite places to dine, with its sumptuous Belle Epoque furnishings

The floating restaurant Bodour, moored just upriver from the Winter Palace in Luxor, was one of their favorite places to dine, with its sumptuous Belle Epoque furnishings

What was your least favorite memory of Egypt? 

The food. I grew up in health-conscious San Francisco. I was desperate for salads, which were not safe anywhere in Egypt because produce was routinely fertilized with human excrement. I gave in to temptation on a quick trip to Cairo and ordered a chef’s salad at the Nile Hilton, the hotel in the city. (It's now the Ritz-Carlton.) I thought, “Surely it will be safe to eat a salad here."” Nope. I ended up at Cairo's American Hospital for two days!

The rising sun turns the Theban mountains pink. As you can see, the West Bank was entirely agricultural. Luxor had yet to jump the river

The rising sun turns the Theban mountains pink. As you can see, the West Bank was entirely agricultural. Luxor had yet to jump the river

How has Egypt changed since the 1970s?

As far as the monuments are concerned, 50 years is a mere blink of the eye. The ancient stones are unchanged. What has changed is contemporary Egypt. In 1970 the view across the Nile from the Winter Place was one of cultivated fields and the distant Theban mountains. That was it. (I could just make out the ramps at Deir el-Bahari from my room’s balcony.) There were hardly any visible West Bank buildings at all. The few villages, such as sand-colored Qurna, blended in with the cliffs. These days, the city of Luxor has jumped the river and spread along the West Bank.