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King Tut's Mummy on Public Display for First Time

The face of the ancient Egyptian King Tutankhamun has been shown to the public for the first time since his tomb was discovered 85 years ago. King Tut's mummy has been moved into a special display case where it will be better protected from dust and the elements. VOA's Challiss McDonough is in Luxor and has this report.

With a heave, six men lifted the mummy of King Tutankhamun out of the coffin in which he had lain for more than 3,000 years. They carried him past TV cameras to the other side of his cramped tomb, where a specially designed climate-controlled display case waited to become the boy king's new home.

King Tut's well-preserved face looks like dark leather, and he has a hint of a smile. King Tut has what Egyptian antiquities chief Zahi Hawass calls beautiful buck teeth.

"The face of the golden boy is amazing. It has magic and it has mystery. If you look at his face, you can feel the face of the golden king," he said.

Tutankhamun, popularly called King Tut, was just 19 when he died more than 3,200 years ago. The host of gold and treasure found when his tomb was opened in 1922 has made him one of the most famous of ancient Egypt's rulers. His golden death mask has become an iconic image.

Moving they boy king's mummy is not just about putting his body on show. It is also designed to protect his remains from the heat and humidity, which can reach sweltering levels as hundreds of visitors file through the tomb every day.

"Tutankhamun would be happy because we are preserving the mummy. Because humidity and heat can change this mummy to a powder," added Hawass.

King Tut's mummy went on public display for the first time 85 years to the day after his tomb was discovered by British archaeologist Howard Carter. It took five years for Carter to remove and catalogue the contents of the tomb. In order to remove the king's gold and jewel-encrusted amulets and his famed golden death mask, Carter cut the mummy into 18 pieces.

"Howard Carter, he did a good job. But towards the mummy, especially about the mummy, no, he did not a good job. He did not do a good job. He damaged the mummy," said Egyptologist Mustafa Wazery is the director of the Valley of the Kings.

While the mask and amulets were put on display in Cairo and around the world, the mummy has lain in his tomb unseen by the public.

Some foreign tourists who were in the Valley of Kings when King Tut was moved were disappointed to discover that they would not be able to view the mummy until the following day.

New York City resident Scott Rudnick planned to rearrange his schedule so he could return to the tomb on Monday or Tuesday to see the mummy in person.

"The number-one thing I ever wanted to do in my life was seeing the pyramids," said Rudnick. "Now, they are bringing out Tutankhamun, this is the best thing I could ever do in my life. This is just gonna be it."

Rudnick has been chronicling his Egypt tour on his Web site for family and friends. He joined a small crowd of tourists eagerly snapping pictures of Zahi Hawass as he walked into the tomb to supervise the moving of the mummy. Many said they recognized the Egyptian antiquities chief from countless documentaries.

Hawass said scientists began restoring the mummy of King Tut two years ago when he was briefly removed from the tomb for a CT scan. He said the scan revealed that Tutankhamun had likely died after contracting an infection from a broken leg.

Hawass said the king's remains are in poor condition, except for his head and feet, which are the only parts visible in the new display case. The rest of his body has been covered with beige linen.

Tour guides in the Valley of Kings said they were pleased that visitors would have a new reason to visit King Tut's tomb. The mummy has gone on display as a touring exhibit of artifacts from the tomb has been drawing huge crowds in North America and Europe.