Marysville pea’s tall tale starts with King Tut

A pea patch growing in Marysville has roots in ancient desert sands, thousands of miles away.

As the story goes, King Tutankhamun’s servants planted and harvested these peas, which then were secreted away in the pharoah’s tomb along with gold and silver to provide for the boy king in his afterlife.

The King Tut peas have grown into a tall tale, debunked by experts, but kept alive as family tradition by Lynn McKee, 72, of Lake Stevens.

Like King Tut’s legend, which had been forgotten in the centuries between the pharaoh’s death and the discovery of his tomb, McKee’s family forgot about the King Tut peas.

They were misplaced in the bottom of a clay pot and in the recess of memory until “Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs” opened at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle.

The exhibit’s publicity stirred McKee to search again for her father’s pea seeds.

She found them, and because McKee lacks a green thumb, a gardener friend in Marysville sowed the seeds. The friend was able to germinate several, now thriving, plants.

“She’s babying them like they’re gold,” McKee said. The Marysville gardener declined to have her name reported, fearing people may invade her yard to abscond the special peas.

Although experts agree that the seeds likely originated in early 20th century English gardens, not in ancient Egypt, McKee and her friend hold onto a vine of the old story — that McKee’s father received seeds derived from some found in Tut’s tomb.

“I told a couple of people,” McKee said. “They said, ‘Sure Lynn.’”

According to the legend, the seeds sat undisturbed for nearly 5,000 years until Howard Carter found King Tut’s tomb on Nov. 4, 1922.

From there, the story says, Carter slipped some seeds out of Egypt back to England, where the plants germinated and propagated.

The seeds were shared, first with an acquaintance in Florida, and in 1950 with J.D. “Jarvin” Molstad in Calgary, Alberta, according to an Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in England. The gardens hold Carter’s botanical collections. “It is therefore highly unlikely that the peas in question come from this tomb,” Sihota said.

Although many attempts have been made, experts haven’t been successful growing ancient seeds, said Salima Ikram, a professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo.

“Various people have tried to plant and grow seeds from tombs, but with no luck,” Ikram said. “They are too old to germinate.”

Documents from Kew support this. Records show that despite many stories of germinated seeds taken from ancient Egyptian tombs, there are no scientific records supporting the claims.

“This aside, the conditions within Egyptian pyramids are very dry and would permit seed longevity in certain species to extend to thousands of years,” one document said.

The Fortean Times, a website dedicated the world of strange phenomenon, says that many so-called “Mummy Seeds” were sold as souveniers in the 19th and early 20th century, at the height of the Egyptian craze that captivated the West, including England.

There also could be a simple explanation to how the peas were flavored with the story.

“It is sometimes said that Tutankhamen’s Pea originated on the country estate of Lord Caernarvon, who financed Howard Carter’s search for King Tut’s resting place and was subsequently named in honor of Caernarvon’s claim to fame, rather than the plant’s origin,” the web site said.

Even Terroritorial Seed Company in Oregon sells a Sweet Pea-King Tut. A spokesman wasn’t certain of the seeds’ true origins.

Despite all this, McKee and her friend are keeping a close eye on the quickly growing vines.

The old newspaper story has been laminated and McKee handwrote her memories on a piece of paper, now folded and kept inside the ceramic pot, the seeds sealed inside a Ziploc bag.

Even if the seeds aren’t from King Tut’s tomb, they are growing after sitting in a jar for 40 years, which still is magical.

“They’re damned old,” McKee said. “It’s something I grew up with. It’s just a thing we all were amused at.”

And maybe the peas provide a glimpse at the diet of the ancients.

“They ate just like we do,” McKee said. “You wonder what was on their menu.”

Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3447;

Talk to us

More in Local News

Work on the light rail trackway will require over two weeks of overnight closures of 236th Street SW near I-5 in Mountlake Terrace. (Sound Transit)
Overnight closures set for 236th Street in Mountlake Terrace

The closure just east of I-5 means a detour for drivers to reach the interstate until Oct. 14.

Marysville man shot in hand during apparent drug robbery

At least two suspects were being sought, and police are seeking surveillance video.

Zach Graham stands in front of a newly restored Three Fingers Lookout. (Friends of Three Fingers Lookout)
Volunteers give makeover to precarious Three Fingers Lookout

Up high, with cliffs on all sides, the 90-year-old hut got much-needed new windows, shutters and paint.

The city of Everett is pursuing changing its municipal code's language to replace gender-specific pronouns with gender neutral words. Instead of his/her the code would use the specific position or title, such as police officer or public works director. (City of Everett)
Everett considers gender-neutral terms for municipal code

References to “he” or “she” could change to title-specific words such as “firefighter” or “police officer.”

Michealob Johnson (left), 25, is accused of killing Jae An at the Food Mart in the 6900 block of Broadway in Everett. (Caleb Hutton / Herald file)
Trial begins for man who admitted killing a mini-mart clerk

Michealob Johnson is accused of aggravated first-degree murder in the 2019 stabbing death in Everett.

Driver who died in Everett car crash identified

Thomas Ogden, 43, was driving Tuesday morning on Rucker Avenue at 41st Street when another car crashed into his.

Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff (center) takes a ride on light rail from the Angle Lake Station in Seatac with King County Executive Dow Constantine (left) on Sept. 21, 2016. (Ian Terry / Herald file)
CEO of fast-growing Sound Transit system to step aside

The search will begin soon to replace Peter Rogoff, who leads the multibillion-dollar transportation network.

Marko Liias
Liias hired to help spread word on county recovery efforts

The lawmaker will guide communications for the new Office of Recovery. He isn’t leaving the state Senate.

The Snohomish County Sheriff's Office released this image of a possible suspect in a homicide at a gas station at 148th Street SW and Highway 99 near Lynnwood. (Snohomish County Sheriff's Office) 20210926
Detectives investigate homicide at gas station near Lynnwood

One person was killed and a suspect was at large, the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office said.

Most Read