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In Egypt, King Tut's tomb getting a makeover
[ 2009-12-16 11:11 ]



This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. I'm Barbara Klein.


And I'm Bob Doughty. This week, we will tell about efforts to protect the burial place of Egypt's King Tutankhamen. And we will tell about what imaging tests found in ancient human remains.



Experts from the United States are working to return the final resting place of King Tutankhamen to its full beauty. The Getty Conservation Institute is cooperating with Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities on the project.

Tutankhamen is often called Tut. His tomb is in the Valley of the Kings on the west side of the Nile River at Luxor.

King Tut ruled Egypt more than 3,000 years ago. He became Pharaoh when he was about nine years old. He was probably the son or grandson of Amenhotep the Third, a major ruler. Tut's mother or stepmother may have been Queen Nefertiti.


Thousands of people visit King Tutankhamen's tomb every day. The rich beauty of the tomb is well known. But experts say his burial place needs scientific attention.

Tim Whalen directs the Getty Conservation Institute, which is based in Los Angeles, California. His team will study problems with paintings on walls of the burial room and other areas. Mr. Whalen says the tomb is currently in what he called pretty good condition. He says the final goal of the work is to develop a long-term plan to operate and protect the tomb for years to come.

Jeanne Marie Teutonico is the associate director of the Getty Conservation Institute. She will direct other experts in scientific restoration during the five-year project.

The study and repair work is expected to cost the G.C.I. about 1,500,000 dollars. Egypt has not yet said how much financial responsibility it will take for the project.


One goal of the project is to record the condition of the tomb and the wall paintings in the burial room. One of the most beautiful paintings shows the underworld ruler Osiris. He is reaching his arms around King Tutankhamen. Osiris seems to be welcoming the king to the spirit world.

After more than 3,000 years, parts of the paintings still look clear and bright. But they also contain brown, damaged areas. The damage worries archeologist Zahi Hawass. He is Egypt's vice minister of culture and secretary general of the Supreme Council of the Antiquities. Mr. Hawass says that scientists have not yet been able to tell what caused the brown spots. He hopes answers will be found.

Miz Teutonico's team will study materials used in the paintings in an effort to solve the mystery. The team will examine records of conditions over the years. It will attempt to find possible environmental reasons for the damage.


The damaged areas were present when Howard Carter discovered King Tut's tomb in 1922.

With Tut's remains, the British archeologist also discovered priceless gold jewelry and other objects. Shining treasures filled the tomb, including a solid gold mask of Tutankhamen's face.

Mr. Hawass says Carter's team damaged the King's remains. The team raised his mummy to reach more jewelry and artifacts. Some archeologists, however, defend Carter. They say he permitted this because he knew tomb-robbers would steal the treasures.

The team from C.G.I. is seeking to learn the effects of thousands of visits to the tomb each day. People bring heat with them. They also add wetness to the dry air. The team wants to know what this does to the ancient artifacts. When the C.G.I. team members have answers, they will make a plan to protect the tomb. Training for the team members and others will continue throughout the project.


Tut's final resting place is one of the smallest of the rulers' tombs in the Valley of the Kings. That may be because he died before his 20th birthday.

Workers in ancient Egypt had made little progress in preparing burial rooms for the king.

Some people believe that Tut's death was unnatural. Unconfirmed stories say the king was murdered. In 2005, doctors used medical imaging tests to examine his remains. But they found no evidence to support the idea that King Tut's life had ended in violence.



Earlier this year, doctors used computer X-ray tomography, also known as CT scans, to examine Egyptian mummies for heart disease. The doctors studied the remains of 20 people who died long ago. The results from these unusual patients surprised experts. It seemed the ancient Egyptians could have suffered from atherosclerosis, much as people do today. Such thickening and narrowing of the blood passages can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Some of the mummies had signs of atherosclerosis in the inner walls of up to six arteries, the passages that lead blood away from the heart. But it is not known if the condition caused any of their deaths.


The 20 mummies were about 2,000 to 3,500 years old. They were chosen for examination from the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo, where they are kept. The study also included two other mummies that were tested earlier.

Medical doctors from the United States and Egypt reported on the results. The report appeared recently in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Randall Thompson was one of several American doctors who cooperated with an Egyptian heart expert on the study. Doctor Thompson works at the Saint Luke's Mid-America Heart Institute in Kansas City, Missouri. He said the ancient peoples' remains had stayed in very good condition over the centuries. The CT scans produced images of their whole bodies.

Doctor Thompson said 16 of the mummies had enough heart or blood vessel tissues remaining for the doctors to examine. Of those, five had thickened and narrowed places in the arteries. In another four, the CT examination showed abnormal areas where the arteries should have been.


Experts in ancient Egyptian studies also took part in the mummy project. They estimated the ages at which the ancient Egyptians died. Age appears to have played a part in the disease.

The most severe cases of atherosclerosis were in people over age 45. At the same time, only two of the eight ancient people who died at an earlier age showed signs of the disease.

A woman identified as Lady Rai was the earliest Egyptian with the condition. She lived more than 3,300 years ago. She is believed to have been an aide to Queen Ahmose Nefertiri. The experts in Egyptian studies say this meant that Lady Rai lived about 200 years before King Tutankhamun.


The experts were able to tell the names and occupations of most other mummies in the study. They learned that those they could identify held high places in their societies, like Lady Rai. Most had served as religious officials or advisers for Egypt's rulers.

It was not possible to know exactly what they ate. But the experts said that it was not unusual for ancient Egyptians to eat duck, geese and beef. Doctor Thompson said the ancient people may have used salt to help keep their meat fresh. He said it was possible that they had high blood pressure. But he also said there is no way to know that.


The study got its start in 2007. At that time, American heart expert Gregory Thomas was visiting the Museum of the Antiquities with Egyptian heart expert Adel Allam. Doctor Thomas works at the medical school of the University of California at Irvine. Adel Allam works at the Al-Azhar Medical School in Cairo.

The two men saw the name of the pharaoh Merenptah in the museum. Information about the pharaoh said he died at about age 60. It said he suffered from joint problems, bad teeth and atherosclerosis.

The doctors wanted to know how this could be known. They decided to carry out a study. Doctor Thomas helped Doctor Allam organize the mummy study to find out what modern methods could show about heart disease in ancient patients. Doctor Thomas gathered other experts, and he and Doctor Allam led the research.



This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by Jerilyn Watson. Brianna Blake was our producer. I'm Barbara Klein.


And I'm Bob Doughty. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.

atherosclerosis: a form of arteriosclerosis characterized by the deposition of atheromatous plaques containing cholesterol and lipids on the innermost layer of the walls of large and medium-sized arteries 动脉硬化症

Related stories:

Mummy discovered in Egypt

King Tut's mummy on public display for first time

A 2,500 year-old mummy

“流浪”海外百余年 木乃伊回归故里

(来源:VOA 编辑:陈丹妮)

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