May 11, 2005

CT Scans Show What King Tut Looked Like

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) -- The first ever facial reconstructions based on CT scans of King Tutankhamun's mummy have produced images strikingly similar to the boy pharaoh's ancient portraits, Egypt's top archaeologist said Tuesday.

One of the models shows a baby-faced young man with chubby cheeks and a round chin - with a resemblance to the famous gold mask of King Tut found in his tomb in 1922 by British excavation Howard Carter.

Three teams of forensic artists and scientists - from France, the United States and Egypt - built models of the boy pharaoh's face based on some 1,700 high-resolution photos from CT scans of his mummy to reveal what he looked like the day he died nearly 3,300 years ago.

"The shape of the face and skull are remarkably similar to a famous image of Tutankhamun as a child where he was shown as the sun god at dawn rising from a lotus blossom," said Zahi Hawass, Secretary-General of the Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.

The CT scans - the first ever carried out an Egyptian mummy - have suggested King Tut was a healthy, yet slightly built 19-year-old, standing 5 feet, 6 inches tall, at the time of his death.

The three teams worked separately in creating their reconstruction models - the Americans and French working from a plastic skull, the Egyptians working directly from the CT scans, which could distinguish different densities of soft tissue and bone.

The French and Egyptians knew they were recreating King Tut, but the Americans were not even told where the skull was from and correctly identified it as a Caucasoid North African, the council said in a statement.

"The results of the three teams were identical or very similar in the basic shape of the face, the size, shape and setting of the eyes, and the proportion of the skull," Hawass said.

"The primary differences were in the shape of the end of the nose and ears," he said. The French and American versions had similar noses and chins, though the Egyptian's had a somewhat different nose and a stronger jaw and chin, the council said.

The scans were carried out on Jan. 5 in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, where Tut's leathery mummy was briefly removed from its tomb and placed into a portable CT scanner.

The tests provided an unprecedented look at Egypt's most famous mummy - but they did not resolve the mystery of the death of King Tut, who came to power at the age of nine.

They were able to dismiss a long held theory that Tut, who died in mid-January, 1343 B.C., was murdered by a blow to his skull or killed in an accident that crushed his chest. It raised one new possibility for the cause of his death: Some experts on the scanning team said it appeared Tut broke his left thigh severely - puncturing his skin - just days before his death, and the break could have caused an infection.

Hawass is leading a five-year project to scan all of Egypt's known mummies - including royal mummies now exhibited at the Cairo Museum. Eventually, each mummy will be displayed alongside CT images and a facial reconstruction.

"For the first time, we will make these dead mummies come alive," Hawass said.