An unusual detail has emerged in an investigation into what caused the death of King Tutankhamen, the 14th-century B.C. Egyptian pharaoh whose 1922 unearthing sparked international interest in ancient Egypt. King Tut, scientists now believe, likely succumbed to sickle-cell anemia when he died at age 18. But the researchers uncovered another interesting, slightly unusual fact about Tut. It seems that his penis has gone missing. It was in place when Tut's mummy was first discovered and has been studied by archeologists since then. (That part of the job didn't make it into Indiana Jones, did it?) But scientists now admit the royal penis is nowhere to be found.
Jo Marchant, a researcher on the project to determine Tut's cause of death, writes in New Scientist that the team first figured it out when trying to determine whether the pharaoh could have died of something called Antley-Bixler syndrome.
Irwin Braverman of Yale Medical School and Philip Mackowiak of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, believe that a variant of this syndrome could explain why artwork from the time depicts Tut and his relatives - in particular his father Akhenatun - as having feminine bodies, with hips and breasts, and particularly long heads.
Hawass dismisses the idea, in part because Tut's penis is, as he puts it, "well-developed". But on closer scrutiny of his paper, I spotted a note admitting that the penis in question is no longer attached to the king's body.
I smelled a conspiracy. Could ancient Egyptian embalmers have replaced the royal member to hide the fact that their king's manhood was somewhat lacking? What's more, the front of Tut's chest is missing, so it's impossible to check whether he did indeed have breasts. Was this part of the mummy's anatomy sabotaged too?
Marchant walks us step-by-step through their phallic quest. "The wayward penis was reported missing in 1968, before it was discovered again during a CT scan in 2006, lying in the loose sand around the mummy's body." She concludes, "Conspiracy theorists may have something to hang onto after all," although it is not exactly clear what the theories are and who would be conspiring about a mummified penis in the first place
Time's Allie Townsend floats the possibility that "Tut's penis was swapped sometime after his body was embalmed, suggesting a conspiracy existed to save him from embarrassment of the locker room variety, even in the afterlife." iO9's Marc Bernadin writes, "It remains to be seen what exactly happened to the phallus in question — or, still, what actually killed Egypt's most famous ruler — but you'd have to think Tut's wang would fetch a handsome price from the right collector."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.