King Tut's Children

King Tut's Children

by Jimmy Dunn

Box containing two very small coffins found in the tomb of Tutankhamun

Many non-enthusiasts of ancient Egypt have a tendency to think of King Tut as a child king who died before reaching real adulthood, leaving the throne to his regents, Ay and Horemheb, but that was not the case. Tutankhamun was certainly old enough to have sired more than one child, and in fact, he probably did.

Among the shrines and chests that were piled up in the part of King Tut's tomb that is now referred to as the Treasury was an undecorated wooden box (no. 317), that measured some 61 centimeters long. the lid was originally tied into position and sealed with the jackal and nine captives, but these had been broken during antiquity. Within the box were two miniature anthropoid coffins, one measuring 49.5 centimeters and the other 57.7 long, placed side by side, head to foot.

The golden mask of the first mummy (317a(2))

This had been painted with the usual black resin, relieved by gilded bands of inscriptions referring to each occupant simply as "the Osiris", with no other names specified. The lids were attached to the coffin bases in the normal manner, using eight flat wooden tenons. Bands of linen were then tied around the coffins beneath the chin and around the waist and ankles, and applied to each of the bands was a clay seal, again with the impression of the jackal and nine captives.

After these linen bands were removed and the lids pulled away, the coffins were each found to contain a second coffin (no. 317a(1), 317b(1)). They were different than the outer coffins in having their entire surface covered in gold foil. Within these second coffins were the mummified remains of two tiny humans.

The first mummy, no. 317a(2), was less then 30 centimeters in height, and was preserved in almost perfect condition. There as a swathing sheet which held it in place with five transverse and two triple longitudinal band down the front, back and sides. A well-modeled mask of gilded cartonnage and black, painted facial details was placed upon its head. Though the mask was very small, it was nevertheless far too large for what was probably a fetus.

Though the second mummy, no. 317b(2), was less well preserved than the first, it was also somewhat larger at 39.5 centimeters. It was also wrapped similar to the first one, with a triple longitudinal band over the front, back and sides, and four transverse bandages. Although a mask had evidently been prepared for it, there was none present, apparently because the embalmers found that it was too small to fit over the head of the wrapped bundle. Hence, the mask had been tossed into the embalming debris stored in the entrance corridor and later reburied in Pit 54, where it as found by Davis in 1907, sometime before the discovery of King Tut's tomb.

Coffins and mummy of the first, smaller child

Sometime after their discovery, Douglas Derry, in 1932, performed autopsies of these mummies. The bandages of the first mummy had been removed by Howard Carter, so Derry was able to record little more than a badly ordered mass of linen some 1.5 centimeters thick, with pads placed over the chest, legs and feet to give the bundle its form. Beneath he found the body of a premature fetus with gray, brittle skin, through which could be seen the bones. Eyebrows and eyelashes were not evident, and the eyelids were nearly closed. There was no abdominal incision, and it was not even apparent how the body had been preserved. However, the limbs were fully extended, with the hands arranged flat to the thighs. Even a part of the umbilical cord was preserved on the fetus, which itself measure only 25.75 centimeters. He determined that the body was probably that of a female, that was probably least born four months premature.

Derry was able to unwrap the second mummy himself, and beneath the linen shroud, held in place by the transverse and longitudinal wrappings, he found a further series of transverse bandages which in turn revealed a second shroud. Under this shroud, which covered the whole front of the body was a layer of transverse and criss-cross bandages and a series of pad which had evidently been inserted for stiffening and shape. The sides, legs and chest of the mummy were built out with further pads, again held in place by transverse bandaging. The removal of several large, transversely wound and somewhat charred covering sheets finally revealed a final layer of delicate linen, which covered the body of a child measuring 36.1 centimeters in length. Again, though this body was rather less well preserved than the first, Derry believed that it was probably a female child, born some two months prematurely.

Coffins and mummy of the second, larger child with deformities

This child's limbs were, however, fully extended though with the hand placed beside rather than upon the thighs. Though the skin was gray in color, there remained some downy hair upon the scalp. Furthermore, the eyebrows and eyelashes were visible, and the eyes were open and still contained the shrunken eyeballs. On this child, the method of embalming was evident. The skull had been packed with salt soaked linen inserted through the nose, and Derry noted a tiny embalmer's incision, little more than 1.8 centimeters in length, just above and parallel to the inguinal ligament (the groin). Further salt-soaked linen had been introduced into the abdominal cavity through this cut, and according to Derry, sealed over with resin. However, later analysis identified the sealant as altered animal tissue.

Derry determined that the child died at, or shortly after birth. The umbilical cord, which seems to have been cut off close to the abdominal wall, had not dried up as it would have had the baby survived for any length of time after birth.

A later examination of the second child was later made by a team at the University of Liverpool headed by professor R. G. Harrison. In this examination, radiography revealed evidence to suggest that the child had a condition known as Sprengel's deformity, with congenitally high right scapula, spina bifida and scoliosis. This time, however, the age suggested by the X-ray was at most only one month premature, if not full term.

X-Ray of the second, larger child, clearling showing spine and other deformities.

Though there has been some speculation otherwise, most scholars seem to believe that these were the children of Tutankhamun by his wife, Ankhesenamun, since he is not known to have had any other wife. It should further be noted that there exists some (small) evidence that spina bifida can be a result of incest. We believe that Ankhesenamun was probably Tutankhamun's half sister.

See Also:

Tut's Tomb






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Last Updated: June 13th, 2011