I SAT IN MY OFFICE looking out at the view of Lake Worth and the large homes across the water, but my mind was lost in the desert. When I am writing a draft of a book, I occasionally scribble the words Be There at the top of a page. This reminds me to make each chapter come alive for the reader, to place myself in the scene. I knew this story was vivid—in my imagination at least. And nothing could be more stunning than what happened to poor Tut in 1925, more than two full years after his tomb was discovered. I could hardly believe it myself.
The investigation would have been impossible without Howard Carter, of course. It had taken him years just to extract Tut’s remains from the burial chamber. The process began the moment the plaster wall separating the anteroom from the burial chamber was knocked down. Reporters clustered outside the tomb and breathlessly awaited news. Doubters in the Egyptology community still believed that Carter had found nothing more than an elaborate closet. And still there was no sign of Tut’s mummy.
Poor Carter! And it only got worse for him.
Once his workers had pried the wood apart at the joints and hauled away the protective panels, he was surprised to be looking at another, smaller shrine.
This too had to be disassembled, piece by piece.
But inside was another shrine. And then another.
In all, there were four shrines, one within the other, like Russian nesting dolls.
Finally, however, Carter reached the sarcophagus. He saw that the lid was made of pink granite and cracked across the center, as if someone had struck it with a hammer or stone club. But who would do such a thing? And for what reason?
At least Carter was fairly certain he had found Tut. The two outer coffins were opened. Politics intruded. Carnarvon died mysteriously. And the Egyptians expelled Carter for a year.
He returned in October 1925 to open the final golden coffin. The mummy was coated with black unguent. When Tut was seen for the first time in modern history, he was covered in black resin and so was still cloaked in mystery.
What happened next was as shocking as anything else in the story.
Dr. Douglas Derry of Cairo University was brought in to examine the body. As a professor of anatomy, he was seen as a more suitable choice for this task than Carter. That was debatable. With Tut stuck inside the tomb, Derry got extreme, to say the least. First he tried to chisel Tut out. Then he used hot knives to melt the resin. And then Derry did the unthinkable: he took a saw and cut Tut’s body in half.