A century after the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, CT scans, 3D printers and virtual reality are shedding light on the world of pharaohs – and ordinary ancient Egyptians –
November 2, 2022
A CENTURY ago this month, Howard Carter opened the tomb of young King Tutankhamun. Inside, he found ornate jewelry, fine furniture, fine clothing – and that famous gold face mask. Everything was in keeping with a royal burial from the most prosperous period of ancient Egyptian history. Or almost everything, because hidden in the bonds of the mummy, Carter discovered a dagger that seemed out of place.
The problem wasn’t with her golden sheath. It was with his blade of gleaming iron – a metal the Egyptians didn’t learn to smelt until centuries after Tutankhamun’s death. Carter had a simple explanation. He surmised that the dagger was imported, possibly from the ancient Hittite Empire of Anatolia, where there was an early iron industry. It wasn’t until 2016 that iron was confirmed to come from much further afield, with the discovery that it contains the high levels of nickel associated with meteoric iron. For the Egyptians who wrapped the dagger close to their king’s body, it was a gift from the gods.
What makes this discovery significant is the way it was made – through X-ray analysis performed without damaging the dagger. It is indicative of a new approach to Egyptology that emphasizes preservation rather than destruction. From studying mummies without unboxing them to generating virtual landscapes as they existed millennia ago, we can now make discoveries Carter barely dreamed of while leaving artifacts untouched for the future generations.
Scanning a mummy is nothing new: X-rays were discovered in 1895, and a few years later, in 1903, Carter took the…