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The Case of the Broken Beard: King Tut’s Mask Damaged, Glued Together. . . and No One Knows Who Did It

Someone broke off King Tut’s 3,000-year-old-beard, used Superglue to put it back on, and none of those responsible for the priceless artifact claims to know how this happened.

There’s a real mystery in Egypt, and it is not going away until it is solved.

The discovery of the boy king’s intact tomb in 1922 was met with worldwide fascination, making the Valley of the Kings an archaeological tour de force. Now, there is a blemish on the famed burial mask of perhaps the most famous king ever.

And no one is claiming responsibility.

The Associated Press spoke to three of the museum’s conservators, and each had a different version of what they believed took place. Of course, they all placed blame elsewhere.

Was the long beard knocked off while cleaning the mask? Was it removed because it was loose? They claimed to not know, but were certain that someone in authority gave the order to glue it back on, but used the wrong kind of adhesive.

“Unfortunately he used a very irreversible material—epoxy has a very high property for attaching and is used on metal or stone but I think it wasn’t suitable for an outstanding object like Tutankhamun‘s golden mask,” one conservator said. They all spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity. “The mask should have been taken to the conservation lab but they were in a rush to get it displayed quickly again and used this quick drying, irreversible material.”

There is now a gap between the face and the beard that is plain to see. “Now you can see a layer of transparent yellow.”

Another museum conservator, who was present at the time of the repair, said that epoxy had dried on the face of the boy king’s mask and that a colleague used a spatula to remove it, leaving scratches. The first conservator, who inspects the artifact regularly, also saw the scratches and said it was clear that they had been made by a tool used to scrape off the epoxy.

It all sounds like a tale conjured up by misbehaving children after breaking mom’s expensive vase.

“The whole job did look slapstick,” said Jackie Rodriguez, a tourist who witnessed the repair work on the beard in late August, provided the AP a photo showing a museum employee holding it in place as the glue sets. “It was disconcerting given the procedure occurred in front of a large crowd and seemingly without the proper tools.”

Mahmoud Halwagy, who became the museum’s director in October, said the damage had not occurred on his watch and experts were investigating the broken beard evidence and would be filing a public report.

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