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Was Tutankhamun buried in a hurry? Microbial growth on pharaoh's tomb walls hints at rush job


Tutankhamun's tomb famously contained a spectacular collection of richly decorated pieces for his journey into the afterlife.
But while the Egyptians had time to amass an impressive array of artefacts to accompany the pharaoh, it appears they had to rush the burial.
A new scientific study of marks on the tomb's walls suggests that the Boy King, who died in his late teens in around 1300BC, may have been buried at haste.
Harvard microbiologist Ralph Mitchell believes dark brown spots which cover almost every part of the elaborately painted walls hold the key.
The interior of the Tomb of King Tutankhamun in Luxor, Egypt
The interior of the Tomb of King Tutankhamun in Luxor, Egypt
The funeral mask of Tutankhamun, whose tomb was found in 1922
The funeral mask of Tutankhamun, whose tomb was found in 1922
He claims they show the young pharaoh was buried in a hurry and sealed inside the construction before the walls were even dry.
Tutankhamun was an Egyptian pharaoh of the 18th dynasty. The cause of his sudden death in his youth has never been established.
Various investigations have attributed it to a head injury, an infected broken leg, malaria, sickle-cell anaemia or possibly a combination of illnesses.
It is thought his death was unexpected and came before a grander royal tomb was built, meaning he had to be buried in one smaller in relation to his status.
Scientists have been baffled by the spots on the walls ever since the tomb was discovered by Howard Carter in 1922.       
Like many ancient sites, the tomb - which is visited by hordes of tourists each year - now suffers from peeling paint and cracking walls.
The Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities were concerned about is preservation and contacted the Getty Conservation Institute for help who duly turned to Professor Mitchell.
Egyptian experts removing the lid of the Tutankhamun's sarcophagus in 2007
Egyptian experts removing the lid of the Tutankhamun's sarcophagus in 2007
The canopic coffinette of Tutankhamun containing his liver
The cracked face of the Boy King Tutankhamun
A coffinette containing Tut's liver and (right) his face, revealed for the first time
He was asked to examine the spots, find out if tourists were making them worse and whether they presented any sort of health risk.
The expert and his team combined classical microbiology with cutting edge techniques for the study, which involved culturing living organism specimens swabbed from the walls of the tomb and DNA sequence analysis.
Chemists at the Getty also analysed the brown marks, which have seeped into the paint and the plaster,  down to their molecular level.
Ralph Mitchell, pictured in his lab at Harvard, believes that a 'fingerprint' left by ancient Egyptian microbes may reveal a new secret about King Tut's burial
Ralph Mitchell, pictured in his lab at Harvard, believes that a 'fingerprint' left by ancient Egyptian microbes may reveal a new secret about King Tut's burial
They have identified melanins, which are characteristic by-products of fungal metabolism but no living organisms have been matched to the spots.
Postdoctoral fellow Archana Vasnathakumar said: 'Our results indicate that the microbes that caused the spots are dead or, to put it in a more conservative way "not active".'
Analysis of photos taken when the tomb was first opened in 1922 also show the brown spots have not changed in the past 89 years.
The identity of the ancient organism is still a mystery but the evidence suggests the microbes are not growing and can only offer clues to the circumstances of King Tut's death.
Professor Mitchell said: 'King Tutankhamen died young, and we think that the tomb was prepared in a hurry. We're guessing that the painted wall was not dry when the tomb was sealed.'
The moisture as well as the food and incense left inside the tomb would have been a good environment for microbial growth until it dried out, he added.
He says there is little to be done about the 3000-year-old marks because the unique damage has already been done and should be left alone.
'This is part of the whole mystique of the tomb,' he said.

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