As part of a documentary Channel 5, experts on ancient Egypt made an unexpected discovery about Pharaoh Tutankhamun that completely contradicts the image we all had of him.
We can finally say that the eleventh pharaoh of Egypt was perhaps not as puny and timid as one could imagine. Researchers at the British University of Northampton have indeed discovered that the young Tutankhamun was perhaps an outstanding warrior. This is what they revealed during a documentary filmed by the crews of Channel 5, titled ‘Secrets of Tutankhamun's Treasures’, which aired this year.
In order to shoot this documentary, the specialists implemented a state-of-the-art imaging technique to examine the leather armour worn by the Pharaoh 3,000 years ago: RTI, for Reflectance Transformation Imaging. Invented in the early 2000s, it generates a dynamic image of an object from a series of shots obtained by varying the angle of the lights.
Traces that are invisible to the naked eye
Thanks to this technology, scientists have found invisible marks on the armour of the young king of Egypt. ‘It has been possible to observe some wear along the borders of the leather scales, which means that the armour has been used extensively,’ Lucy Skinner, leather expert from ancient Egypt explained to the University of Northampton. These marks appear to specialists as a novel and unsuspected discovery.
‘This suggests that Tutankhamen wore it, and perhaps even witnessed a battle, and if this were true, it would be an incredible revelation, contradicting the idea that Tutankhamun was a weak and sickly child king’ says Lucy Skinner. So far, the specialists have drawn up an unflattering portrait of the sovereign. In 2014, a study even suggested that he was unable to drive a chariot because of the clubfoot he was suffering from, calling into question what was thought to be the cause of his death.
Before joining the laboratory of the British University, the combat clothing was housed in the Egyptian Grand Museum of Cairo, since its discovery a hundred years ago in his tomb of the Valley of the Kings, by the famous archaeologist Howard Carter. Despite the interest aroused by the discovery and the many studies conducted, Tutankhamun is far from having revealed all of his secrets, although the theory of the veteran fighter remains to be confirmed.
In addition to this imaging study, veterinary specialist Lucy Skinner has also been involved in the reproduction of the antique armour. A member of the Institute of Innovative Leather Technology, the scientist has implemented the experimental techniques that she has the secret to in order to achieve a faithful replica of the object.
‘I have worked on several experimental tanning methods to create replicas of each of the scales. The old methods that were used to make this type of leather are not really well understood, and it rarely survives on archaeological sites because it is very vulnerable to damage caused by mould’, says Lucy Skinner.
This reconstruction work is also crucial to safeguard this treasure of ancient Egypt, which is very fragile and already heavily damaged during its extraction from the tomb of the Pharaoh in 1922. Only a tiny portion of the armour remains today and the curators of the Cairo Museum hope that these recent works will lead to a meticulous restoration of the object. Able to resist the violence of the fighting, the armour seems however powerless when it comes to the wear and tear of Time.