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CT scans reveal King Tut's face

Facial reconstructions based on CT scans of King Tutankhamun's mummy have produced images very similar to the pharaoh's ancient portraits.
This photo shows a model of King Tutankhamun based on facial reconstructions from CT scans of King Tutankhamun's mummy.
This photo shows a model of King Tutankhamun based on facial reconstructions from CT scans of King Tutankhamun's mummy.SCA
/ Source: The Associated Press

The first facial reconstructions of King Tutankhamun based on CT scans of his mummy have produced images strikingly similar to the boy pharaoh’s ancient portraits, with one model showing a baby-faced young man with chubby cheeks and his family’s characteristic overbite.

That model, a photo of which was released Tuesday, bears a strong resemblance to the gold mask of King Tut found in his tomb in 1922 by the British excavation led by Howard Carter.

The beardless youth depicted in the model, created by a French team, has soft features, a sloping nose and a weak chin — and the overbite, which archaeologists have long believed was a trait shared by other kings in Tut’s 18th dynasty. His eyes are highlighted by thick eyeliner.

Three teams of forensic artists and scientists — from France, the United States and Egypt — each built a model 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 done on 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 created their reconstructions separately — 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 French and American models, seen in photos released by the council, are similar — with the Americans’ plaster model sharing the more realistic, French silicone version’s receding chin and prominent upper lip. The Egyptian reconstruction has a more prominent nose and a stronger jaw and chin.

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 age 9.

They were able to dismiss a long held theory that Tut, who died around 1323 B.C., was murdered by a blow to his skull or killed in an accident that crushed his chest. It raised a new possibility for the cause of 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.

The life of Tutankhamun — believed to have been the 12th ruler of ancient Egypt’s 18th dynasty — has fascinated people since his tomb was discovered in 1922, revealing a trove of fabulous treasures in gold and precious stones that showed the wealth and craftsmanship of the pharaonic court.

A U.S. museum tour a quarter-century ago of Tut’s treasures drew more than 8 million people. A smaller number of treasures — minus Tut’s famous gold mask — will again go on display in the United States starting June 16 in Los Angeles, after touring Germany and Switzerland.

The decision to allow the exhibit was a reversal of an Egyptian policy set in the 1980s that confined most of the objects to Egypt, after several pieces were damaged on international tour.

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.