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Egypt marks discovery of Tut's tomb

Seventy-five years ago, British archaeologist Howard Carter pushed open the massive stone door leading to the tomb of King Tut, the boy pharaoh, and found a hoard of gold.

The discovery helped turn Egypt into a tourist mecca, shed light on ancient civilizations and - incidentally - prompted the phrase "curse of the pharaoh."Egypt is commemorating the discovery with a Tut festival, which kicks off Sunday with a performance of Verdi's opera "Aida" in Luxor, near the tomb. The house used by Carter during 10 years of excavation will be opened to tourists later this month.

And the Tut exhibit at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo - now housed in cases that date to the 1920s - is being renovated with new display cases, modern lighting and air conditioning.

Tut - whose full name was Tutankhamen - was the youngest pharaoh of ancient Egypt, just 9 when he took the throne and 18 when he died.

Carter discovered the steps leading to his burial chamber on Nov. 4, 1922, in the wind-swept Valley of the Kings at Luxor, 315 miles south of Cairo.

Over the next decade, the four rock-hewn rooms yielded more than 5,000 objects buried with Tut to keep him happy in his afterlife. There were bows and arrows and chariots, game boards and footstools. Even a lock of his grandmother's hair.

And, of course, there was gold. A golden mask inlaid with lapis-lazuli and turquoise. A solid gold coffin. Gold statues and gold necklaces.

The treasure has been shown in museums around the world. Its display at the Egyptian Museum still draws about 4,000 visitors a day, says museum director Mohammed Saleh.

"Everyone who comes to the museum goes to see Tut," Saleh said. "It is by far the most popular exhibit."

Not only did Carter's dazzling find put Egypt squarely on the tourist map, it sparked new interest in exploration, says American archaeologist Kent Weeks.

"Before the discovery of Tut's tomb, scholars thought that what we would learn about ancient Egypt would come from the old papyrus texts," Weeks said. "This proved that we had to pay attention to the sites, too."

Tut ruled from 1336 to 1327 B.C., a time of turbulence in Egypt.

Though very young, Tut had a teenage bride.

"It was definitely a love match," says Zahi Hawass, an expert on pharaohs. He points to objects from the tomb showing scenes of his wife Ankhesenamun gently touching Tut's shoulder or presenting him with a lotus.

"Carter found a bouquet of flowers on Tut's coffin," Hawass said. "There's no question in my mind but that it was put there by Ankhesenamun."

The tomb's discovery brought international fame to archaeologist Carter, who was also a fine artist whose sketches of the tomb and its ornaments are still studied by scholars.

But Carter's discovery also brought misfortune. London tabloids at the time termed it "the curse of the pharaoh" and cited warnings etched in the tomb that anyone who disturbed the resting place of the king would be pun-ished.

Just five months after Carter's discovery, his longtime British financial sponsor, Lord Carnarvon, was dead, some say of a virus that survived for centuries in the vault.

There followed a series of deaths and suicides among people linked to the discovery, all promptly attributed by London tabloids to "the curse of the pharaoh."

And while most of Egypt's royal mummies lie on display in the Egyptian Museum, Tut's body remains where Carter found it - in the sarcophagus in the tomb where Tut was buried 3,300 years ago.