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The Twin Tragedy Of Tutankhamun: The End Of An Empire

By: April Carson

The most moving relic of Tutankhamun's brief existence was perhaps the treasured item that was cast away cruelly in a gloomy nook of the magnificent Treasury, subterranean tomb of the boy king.

An exposed and unpainted oblong beetle-infested wooden box with a lid taken off by ancient intruders was positioned next to the gleaming canopic temple that Howard Carter called "the most beautiful monument." Inside, Dr. Carter discovered two exquisitely wrought miniature anthropoid coffins (Carter Nos. 317a and 317b) of gilded wood positioned next to one another. Each one contained a nest of tiny coffins, such as Russian dolls, within which were found the fetuses of two stillborn girls.

Despite having clay seals with the king's impression of the jackal over nine captives, these coffins were merely inscribed: "The Osiris." Carter thought they were “without a doubt” the unfortunate daughters of the boy pharaoh and his consort Ankhesenamun.

From 1925, when the fetuses were first discovered, scientists have studied the remains numerous times in an attempt to calculate their gestation periods and determine any hereditary abnormalities that the children might acquire from their father.

Scholars, Studies and Scans

The first to investigate the phenomenon was Carter himself. He pulled back the smaller fetus, which was less than 30 centimeters (11.8 inches) tall and estimated it to be about five months old; but he was perplexed by its condition of preservation and the lack of an abdominal incision, implying that no mummification had taken place. Archaeologists also found a gilded cartonnage mask over the youngster's head, which was "many sizes too big." In reality, a funerary mask was intended for the other fetus but discarded into a pit containing embalming waste when it was discovered to be insufficiently small to cover the head of the linen shrouds. In 1907, Theodore Davis found the first mask of this type.

In 1933, Dr. Douglas Derry, professor of anatomy at Cairo University, received the second mummy, which was covered with a linen shroud secured by transverse and longitudinal bindings; beneath this lay a second covering. On careful examination, Sir Nicholas Reeves observed a further layer of crisscross bandaging and a sequence of pads that had been inserted for stiffness and form," as indicated in his book "The Complete Tutankhamun."

The archaeologist notes that the same padding was used on the child's sides, legs, and chest. The body of a newborn was discovered beneath yet another layer of thick, transversely wound, and somewhat burned covering sheets. It was determined that it was most likely an embalmed female fetus based on the Derry analysis.

The manner in which the mummy was embalmed was evident; for it had been stuffed with salt-soaked linen inserted through the nose, and an incision made in the crotch to insert more salted linen before sealing the opening with resin—though Alfred Lucas, a professional forensic chemist who Carter called on to assist preserve artifacts from the tomb, noted that there was no evidence of the resin having penetrated into the body cavity.

In his description, which noted numerous physical characteristics, Derry remarked that he observed "very fine downy-looking hairs" on the youngster's head and added, "The brows are distinct, with a few lashes remaining." According to Dr. Bob Brier, the world's leading expert on mummies, this was proof of the ancient embalmers' great ability. The most recent of the four royal babies, who were all stillborn, was a boy whom Derry appraised as follows: "He would have been about seven months old at the time of birth." It's worth noting that both of the royal infants had their hands positioned beside their bodies rather than in the Osiride posture.

When Technology Met the “Twins”

The twin girls vanished mysteriously in the mid-1930s, and few experts were certain if they had ended up at the Department of Anatomy at the Cairo University (where they were initially kept on ice) or the Egyptian Museum.

Professor R.G. Harrison was one of the specialists who knew the fetuses' whereabouts. He served as director of a group at Liverpool University that used radiography to examine them in 1966-68. Through his analysis, Harrison discovered that the larger fetus had Sprengel's deformity, a congenital malformation characterized by excessively high right scapula and spina bifida. This time, and in sharp contrast to Derry's findings over three decades earlier, the X-rays suggested that the child was only one month early, if not entirely full term.

In 1978, the bigger mummy was subjected to radiography once again and it was determined that the fetus had a variety of scapula and spine congenital malformations, including neural tube defects and scoliosis.

“The two fetuses in Tutankhamun's tomb may be twins despite their varied sizes, suggesting that they belong together as a single pregnancy for his young wife,” according to Dr. Robert Connolly, an anatomist who studied the mummified remains of Tutankhamun and the stillborn children in 2008. The analysis shows that they are most likely Tutankhamun's children, which raises their chances of being his offspring. I examined one of the mummies, the larger one, in 1979 and obtained blood group data from this infant mummy to compare with my own blood grouping of Tutankhamun. “The results proved that this larger fetus might be the daughter of Tutankhamun after all,” he stated.

We now believe they are fraternal twins and that both of them were his children. Some have wondered whether the fetuses were placed in the tomb as tokens of purity to accompany Tutankhamun into the afterlife over time. This notion appears far-fetched, especially given that royal funerals had been discontinued more than two millennia before the young pharaoh's death when human sacrifice was still practiced.

However, the burying of these fetuses was by no means uncommon, as Reeves points out: “Webensenu, a son of Amenophis II, was buried in Valley Tomb 35; and Tentamun, Amenemhat and another unnamed kid were interred in Tuthmosis IV's tomb.”

The Road to Decay

Unfortunately, these tiny humans' mummies had been severely damaged and destroyed throughout the years as a result of their fragile build and unquestionably also because they were subjected to many tests. Skeletal abnormalities were first suggested as a result of post-mortem damage, which began to ask whether this was the primary cause for those previous claims.

Analysts at the Cairo University and the Department of State for Antiquities carried out a multi-detector computerized tomography (MDCT) study in November, 2011, which was published in one of the latest batches of examinations. The findings were distressing, since they exposed the extent of damage that the pitiable mummies had suffered.

The bigger fetus had numerous post-mortem fractures of the spine, shoulders, arms, and feet; whereas the smaller one exhibited no obvious signs of skeletal abnormalities. The clavicle of the larger mummy was damaged, indicating that its left shoulder was elevated and the clavicle was dislocated. This damage, which was clearly done after mummification, suggested that the fetus did not have a shoulder abnormality for the first time.

The researchers also discovered that almost all other cranial anomalies were caused by post-mortem damage, and not inherited flaws. A minor curvature of the spine was the only bodily malformation that could be seen by the researchers. Egyptologists are still far away from determining the real cause of death for either fetus at the end of the day, after numerous tests.

Some researchers suggest that Tutankhamun was the result of a consanguineous relationship between his father, Akhenaten, and one of his sisters. If Ankhesenamun was half-sister to his wife Ankhesenamen, could these factors of inbreeding have been the actual causes behind the girls' stillbirths?

End of an Era

To make the resplendent outer coffin of her father fit into the sarcophagus, workers had cut through the toes of his magnificent outer coffin in a last-minute frenzy. The same rudeness was also shown to the bigger child's casket. Aware of all these intimate features, Carter lamented, "... had one of those babies lived there, there would never have been a Ramses."

Twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, according on Culleton, is when blood flow to the twins is uneven, causing one twin to grow considerably larger than the other. It was a condition that neither child would have survived in ancient times.

It makes little difference whether or not Ankhesenamun had lost a few fetuses, as well as her surviving daughters. But, while the death of these royal princesses marked the end of the Amarna dynasty, which was teetering on the verge of collapse ever since Akhenaten journeyed to be one with Aten, there are some points that must be considered. The heaviest coffins are not always those with narrow interiors.

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About the Blogger:

April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on

To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav







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