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King Tut's penis may help penetrate the mystery of his death

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Even for an ancient culture who liked hollowing out, embalming and then bandaging their leaders' corpses, King Tutankhamun was buried in a weird way. His heart was replaced with a scarab, he was covered in black oils, and his penis was mummified as if erect. One historian thinks she's figured out why.

Egyptologist Salima Ikram, a professor at the American University in Cairo, that King Tut's penis may indicate an attempt to quell a religious revolution begun by his own father (that sound you hear is Freud spinning in his grave and doing a victorious fist pump). From LiveScience:

The mummified erect penis and other burial anomalies were not accidents during embalming, Ikram suggests, but rather deliberate attempts to make the king appear as Osiris, the god of the underworld, in as literal a way as possible. The erect penis evokes Osiris' regenerative powers; the black liquid made Tutankhamun's skin color resemble that of Osiris; and the lost heart recalled the story of the god being cut to pieces by his brother Seth and his heart buried.

Making the king appear as Osiris may have helped to undo a religious revolution brought about by Akhenaten, a pharaoh widely believed to be Tutankhamun's father, Ikram said.

Akhenaten had tried to focus Egyptian religion around the worship of the Aten, the sun disc, going so far as to destroy images of other gods. Tutankhamun was trying to undo these changes and return Egypt back to its traditional religion with its mix of gods.


Ikram cautions that it's still only a theory, but one that does seem to fit with the unusual circumstances of Tutankhamun's burial. Regardless whether Ikram turns out to be correct or not, I thank her wholeheartedly for giving me the opportunity to write this article headline.