In her new book, The Shadow King, JO MARCHANT traces the intriguing history of King Tut’s mummy.
They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. In this case, ignore whoever “they” are and take a long look at the captivating cover of Jo Marchant’s new book, The Shadow King: The Bizarre Afterlife of King Tut’s Mummy (Da Capo Press, $27). King Tut’s familiar gleaming, golden mask gives way to a haunting image of what remains of Tut’s, well, remains. Marchant’s literary portrait of the boy king is just as compelling: a face-off between King Tut’s myth and the reality of what has befallen Tutankhamun since his discovery in 1922.
It’s not a pretty picture. Over the past century, Tut’s mummy has been poked, prodded, sliced and scanned by researchers. A geneticist and science writer, Marchant knowledgeably describes each round of tests and how they’ve produced wildly varying and conflicting results. Was Tut a club-footed, malaria-ravaged weakling or a fierce warrior? Did he die of a blow to the head, an infected broken leg or a savage hippo attack? “I think Tut still captivates us because we know so little for certain about him,” Marchant tells American Way. “The more we study him, the more questions arise.”
Such questions have kept authors, scientists and tour guides gainfully employed for nearly a century since he was unearthed — and have even earned them cameos in numerous Tut-themed television specials. Marchant pans out from those dramatic close-up re-enactments for a broader perspective. She takes us to the dusty libraries, high-tech labs and vast museums where Egyptologists around the world continue to ponder the past and future of Tut and his royal family.
“The story of Tut’s mummy is also the story of the development of Egyptology as a field and the story of Egypt as a nation over time,” Marchant says. “There have been turbulence and revolution, but all throughout, people have continued to study Tut regardless the conditions or difficulties.”
Marchant herself devoted two years to researching Tut. Her favorite discovery was a description of childhood keepsakes found in Tut’s tomb. “There were toys, paint pots and a slingshot,” Marchant says. “You could imagine Tut as a boy, treasuring these items. It tells you so much more about the person who owned them than any huge pieces of gold ever could.”