King Tut’s detachable penis

Posted on June 29, 2010

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Note: This is the internet. I’m aware what gets hits. And yes, this is semi-tabloidisation of the blog (the title especially) but it’s backed up by actual, interesting scholarship. And it’s King Tutankhamun – we all have an interest in Egypt.

There’s a theory being forwarded by Jo Marchant at New Scientist‘s blog that King Tutankhamun’s penis wasn’t actually his. It’s quite difficult to explain, given that the time removal means that we have no idea about an awful lot of Tutankhamun’s life beyond the official recorded history, but the general gist is this.

Scholars have widely disputed why Tutankhamun died so young. It’s been something which has frankly allowed a lot of bad scholarship and research to be passed off as possible fact, and it’s something which (because of the fact that King Tut is such an iconic figure in our minds) allows for a lot of stupid theories being accepted purely because we will it to be true. There was the theory that he was killed; that he died from a bone disorder; that he contracted malaria. This week Zahi Hawass (leading Egyptologist) published a paper adding another theory: Tut died of sickle-cell anemia. There is, however, another theory published in the same academic journal: that the Boy King suffered from a genetic disease similar to our modern-day Antley-Bixler syndrome.

It’s worth stating at this point that all this is conjecture: we simply will never be able to tell for sure why Tut died so young. However, the Ur-Antley-Bixler syndrome might have had similar characteristics to the modern illness, whose symptoms include underdeveloped genitalia.

This wouldn’t be good. Royalty are, by their very social status, believed to be virile and powerful. The most potent example of power in human minds is the reproductive organs – the penis. And if you’re powerful, you’re presumed to have a large penis. It’s something of a base emotional reaction that we have, and it’s something which has likely been concealed in our minds not just for the past hundred years, but the past several thousand.

Hawass says that King Tut’s penis was “well developed” (that is, he was no shrinking violet). However, Marchant is concerned about the fact that Tutankhamun’s penis went AWOL in 1968 – and that it fell off. (In fairness, most people would be concerned at a penis falling off.)

When Tutankhamun was re-revealed to the world after sitting in his tomb for thousands of years in 1922 he has a penis, and it was very much attached. However, the brittleness of the penis – and the fact that it fell off during a routine CT scan in 1968 – makes Marchant believe that perhaps it wasn’t connected by skin. She thinks that perhaps Tut’s small penis was removed and replaced by a stunt penis (larger) in order to preserve his memory as a powerful, totemic leader with a powerful, totemic penis.

It’s interesting (although it could quite easily be utter nonsense, as an awful lot of the myths surrounding Tutankhamun are). Certainly, as I’ve written about before on this very blog, the Egyptians were preternaturally obsessed with self-image, especially the ruling classes. So what do you think? Real penis or not?

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