LearningDiscover the story behind the Golden Boy Pharaoh.
TIMELINE OF EVENTS
Excavation work at Amarna
At Amarna, Flinders Petrie, father of British Egyptology, decides Carter lacks the skills to become an archaeologist. “Mr. Carter is a good-natured lad, whose interest is entirely in painting and natural history… It is of no use to me to work him up as an excavator.”
Explore | Highlight Artefacts
The World-famous Gold Coffinette
During the mummification process, Tutankhamun’s organs were removed, individually wrapped in linen bandages and laid in four miniature coffinettes. These coffins were then placed inside a stunning alabaster box kept in a golden canopic shrine. These coffinettes held the king’s liver and was protected by the goddess Isis and Imseti, one of the four sons of the god Horus.
Gilded Wooden Naos containing the Pedestal of a Statue
This is one of the most fascinating objects discovered in Tutankhamun’s tomb. The small gilded wooden shrine has decorations that show the royal couple — Tutankhamun and his wife — in a scene that reveals intimacy. These apparently domestic themes placed an emphasis on the role played by Queen Ankhesenamun with regard to her husband on earth and in the afterlife.
Within the shrine is a rectangular base for a statue, however, no figure is on it. The footprints on the base suggest that there may have been a statue but what happened to it is unknown.
Gold Inlaid Hands Holding the Crook and Flail
The young king’s mummy was protected by many object of precious materials that were placed within the multiple layers of wrappings. Gold was seen as imperishable and thus provided eternal protection. One of these objects found in the wrappings was the gold hands that hold a crook and flail. The crossed position of the hands and the heqa sceptre and the nekhekh flail identify Tutankhamun with Osiris, god of the Netherworld.
Tutankhamun on the back of a Panther
Tutankhamun’s tomb contained large statuettes representing the pharaoh using a harpoon, or, in this case, standing on the back of a panther. These statuettes recall the dangers that could prevent the dead king’s rebirth. The panther on which Tutankhamun is standing is believed to represent Mafdet, a goddess who protected the solar star during its journey at night. Thus, the feline was assisting the king, who was likened with the sun god, in his journey to the afterlife.
Gold Inlaid Pectoral, Chain, and Counterpoise with Lapis Scarab Flanked by Uraei
This bulky pectoral is generously decorated with the imagery of Lapis lazuli scarabs. The centrepiece is the morning journey of the sun, where two uraei flank the largest scarab, above which is a carnelian solar disk. Between the snakes and the beetle are three hieroglyphic signs (top to bottom): djed (“stability”), ankh (“life”), nefer (“beauty/good/perfection”). Two serpents guard the solar disk; an ankh hangs from each one via a chain consisting of repeating motifs. The ends terminate as vultures, seen in profile with one wing outspread. To each of these, two strands of beads attach the clasp, which takes the form of serpents.
Gilded Openwork Wooden Shield of Tutankhamun
This ceremonial gilded wooden shield shows the traditional image of the pharaoh slaughtering his enemies. Here Tutankhamun is depicted in the shape of a sphinx trampling on Nubian prisoners. Driving away Egypt’s enemies was seen as preventing disorder. It symbolised maintaining the stability of the universe. The pharaoh was considered the guarantor of world order, as created by the gods. The open spaces in the wood indicate that this kind of shield was used for ceremonial rather than practical purposes. This artefact is traveling outside of Egypt for the first time.
Silver Military Trumpet
Two trumpets were discovered in the tomb, one of which was the partly gilded silver trumpet, which was found inside the burial chamber of the king. The decorations on the bell represent a lotus flower and also include a panel representing three major gods: Re-Horakhty, Amon, and Ptah.
Trumpets first appeared in the New Kingdom, the period of Tutankhamun’s reign, and they were primarily used for military purposes, as well as during religious ceremonies. Acoustic experiments carried out in 1939 and 1941 attest to their ‘raucous and powerful’ timbre (according to the musicologist Hans Hickman).
The silver trumpet became damaged when played in 1939 for a BBC radio broadcast.
Gold Ba Bird Pectoral with Glass Inlays
The human-headed bird represents a ba, the aspect of an individual that flew from the body at the moment of death. The deceased’s ability to reach the afterlife depended on the ba reuniting with the body and the ka (“life force”). The pectoral here was made of gold inlaid with glass to mimic turquoise, lapis lazuli, and carnelian. In the bird’s claws are shen signs, rings that symbolise the eternal circuit of the sun.
Wooden Guardian Statue of the King
Two life-size guardian statues flanked the sealed entrance to Tutankhamun’s burial chamber. Until the discovery of his gold funerary mask, these figures represented the boy king in the popular imagination. For the first time, one of these gilded wooden masterpieces has left the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Dramatic and imposing with its golden eyes, golden clothing, its gilded royal mace and staff, this statue marks Tutankhamun’s passage from the dark night of the Netherworld to rebirth and resurrection at the dawn of a new day.
The black colour of the wood associates the king with rebirth, not because black was the color of death but because it was the colour of the nutrient-rich soil, deposited by the annual Nile floodwaters, from which new plants—and new life—arose.
Gilded Wooden Bed
The ancient Egyptians believed that the dead were merely sleeping. For the living, sleep was the state closest to death and waking up each morning was a form of rebirth. As the king slept, the gods spoke directly to him. His nightmares were proof of his vulnerability to evil supernatural forces.
This ceremonial bed was probably made especially for Tutankhamun’s funeral. The carved lion feet represent the most powerful animal in the ancient Egyptian cosmology. The carvings of gods on the bed’s headboard provided protection for the king, keeping him safe from the dark forces intent on harming him.
Egyptian beds are higher at one end than at the other. Some scholars believe that the board is at the foot of the bed but others argue the board is at the head. With the head of the sleeper at this end the body would experience improved blood circulation, something of which the Egyptians were aware.
Discover | 10 Key facts
1. What does Tutankhamun mean?
Although the young king is generally known by the name of Tutankhamun, it was not always the case.
At birth, he was named Tutankhaten, meaning ‘living image of Aten’, and subsequently some years later he changed his name to Tutankhamun, meaning ‘living image of Amun’, once he ascended the throne.
This new name reflected his desire to distinguish himself from the reign of Akhenaten (and from the worship of Aten, the solar disc) and declared his allegiance to the Theban god Amun.
2. Who were Tutankhamun’s parents?
Tutankhaten/Tutankhamun is believed to have been born in the city of Tell el-Amarna (formerly Akhetaten) circa 1340 BCE. However, the identity of Tutankhamun’s parents has been the subject of much debate and hypotheses, which were not entirely resolved by the DNA analyses carried out by a German-Egyptian team in 2010 on several royal mummies believed to be connected with Tutankhamun.
A body of evidence confirms that he was the son of the pharaoh Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten and that, according to the DNA analyses, his father (whose mummy has been identified amongst several royal mummies with indeterminate identities) and his mother (an anonymous mummy known by the name ‘Young Lady’) were brother and sister.
In fact, the DNA analysis confirmed that the mummy known as ‘Young Lady’ is one of the daughters of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye, father and mother of Akhenaten.
3. Did Tutankhamun have a queen?
Prince Tutankhaten is believed to have ascended the throne around the age of eight or nine years and at the beginning of his reign he married his sister Princess Ankhesenamun (originally called Ankhesenpaaten), daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti.
Tutankhamun and Ankhesenamon were the only known surviving children from the royal family of Akhenaten. Although child ‘marriages’ were attested in the royal family, it does not mean that uterine marriages were common in the Eighteenth Dynasty, as is sometimes believed.
Although little is known of the daily life of the young royal couple, they did live mainly in Memphis (south of Cairo), and they had two daughters, who died at birth and were buried with their father in the Valley of the Kings.
Queen Ankhesenamun survived her husband, but her fate thereafter is unknown: hence, the date of her death remains a mystery, as does her burial site.
There is currently an excavation underway in the Valley of the Monkeys, near the Valley of the Kings, to try to find her burial site.
4. Apart from his tomb, what do we know of his reign?
The discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb and the ‘treasures’ found within shed light on this Eighteenth Dynasty pharaoh; however, historians have been unable to fully retrace the history of his reign.
Apart from anecdotal events such as the ostrich hunt he took part in in the region of Heliopolis, and from which he returned with feathers (used to make a fan found in his tomb), his reign was primarily distinguished by the restoration of polytheistic worship, which had been weakened after the reign of his father Akhenaten, and restored the god Amun and his great temple at Karnak to preeminence.
Hence, the young king’s attention was focused on the Theban region, as attested by restorations and new constructions, as well as the construction of stelae and statues, at Karnak and in the temple of Luxor.
5. How did he die?
Since the discovery of the king’s tomb, theories have abounded about the circumstances of Tutankhamun’s death, after reigning for only about 10 years.
The hypothesis of murder has been eliminated. Recent scans of the king’s mummy have revealed no trace of a fatal blow, as suggested. Given his young age—around eighteen to nineteen years old—, his death may have resulted from an accident and/or an illness.
A study of the mummy, carried out in 2010 by a team of researchers, directed by Zahi Hawass, revealed an open fracture of the femur, as well as the fact that he undoubtedly had malaria and a mild club foot on the left foot.
Although it is difficult to establish the exact causes of Tutankhamun’s death, it must be assumed that there was a combination of factors (a fragile constitution, a serious fracture, and malaria).
6. Was the tomb intact when it was discovered by Howard Carter?
Tutankhamun’s small tomb, KV 62, has certainly provided us with fabulous treasures, which give us an idea of the probable splendour of the burial furniture that has been lost or pillaged from the tombs of the great pharaohs of the New Kingdom, such as Touthmosis III, Amenhotep III, and Ramses II.
But that does not mean that attempts were not made to pillage the tomb. Some time after Tutankhamun’s funeral and the closing of his tomb, thieves managed to break in and steal fragrant balms and valuable objects.
Howard Carter noticed that there were traces of two distinct re-openings and successive re-closings in the sealed doorway, but the thieves were unable to break into the sarcophagus chamber.
They did, however, leave traces of their presence, despite the duties carried out by the ‘sergeants of the necropolis’, who rearranged the scattered objects regardless of their original order.
7. A forgotten pharaoh?
Although the twelfth king of the Eighteenth Dynasty is now one of the most famous pharaohs, he received little posthumous recognition in the New Kingdom and the memory of his reign was somewhat tarnished by his successors.
During the reign of Horemheb, the last king of the Eighteenth Dynasty, inscriptions concerning Tutankhamun and his successor Ay were erased from monuments and their statues were defaced and destroyed; the reason for this obliteration of their memory was that they were still too closely linked to the reign of the ‘rebel’ Akhenaten, and his name was deliberately excluded from the official royal lists of the Nineteenth Dynasty.
8. Is there such a thing as the Tutankhamun ‘curse’?
As famous as Tutankhamun and his burial treasure, deaths that occurred in the years that followed the discovery of the tomb revived the idea of a curse of the mummies, which emerged at the end of the nineteenth century.
Lord Carnarvon’s untimely death in 1923 probably sparked off the idea and gave free reign to rumours about the curse of Tutankhamun, attributed to the poisons left by the ancient Egyptians in their tombs, and to mushrooms and toxic microorganisms, which affected all those who dared to enter the royal tomb.
Yet, the man who discovered his tomb, Howard Carter, only died in 1939, at the age of sixty-four, and was probably spared from the young king’s vengeance.
It is also said that the two trumpets discovered in the tomb had magical properties, and, in particular, the power to summon war. On the evening they were played for the first time, in 1939, a power cut plunged Cairo’s Egyptian Museum into darkness and the recording was made by candlelight. Several months later, war broke out in Europe.
The trumpets appear to have been played again before the Six Day War in 1967, before the 1990 Gulf War, and, more recently, before the Egyptian revolution of 2011. That was all it took to associate a new legend with the name of Tutankhamun.
9. A burial treasure and a highly unusual tomb
Tutankhamun was certainly buried with some extraordinary burial furniture, but it was largely ‘borrowed’. Some of the most famous objects in Tutankhamun’s tomb (such as the second and third gilt-wood chapels, the miniature coffins containing viscera and the canopic stoppers) were originally made for a Queen/Pharaoh, who reigned for a brief period between Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten and Tutankhamun.
This Queen/Pharaoh, known as Ankh(et)kheperure Neferneferuaten, was none other than Princess Merytaten, Tutankhamun’s elder sister. For some unexplained reasons, Merytaten had not been buried with the furniture of a king, but merely as a member of the royal family and these objects were thus reused for Tutankhamun’s burial.
Furthermore, the small and unusual shape of Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings suggest that it was not his. It may be possible that the construction of a tomb of royal dimensions had been begun, but that it was unfinished when he suddenly died. It was therefore necessary to make use of a tomb that could be used and decorated rapidly, once part of the burial furniture was installed—as attested by the drops and splashes of yellow paint accidentally and hurriedly left by the necropolis artists on the gilt-wood external chapel.
10. Tutankhamun as a pop icon
Tutankhamun, who became a veritable popular icon, only became famous 3,200 years after his death—in contrast with other Pharaohs such as Ramses II and Cleopatra—, turning him into a cultural phenomenon, which was dubbed ‘Tut-mania’ (‘Tut’ is the Egyptian king’s nickname, an abbreviation of ‘Tutankhamun’).
The tomb’s discovery had all the ingredients to set off a wave of fascination in the young Egyptian king: the discovery of a tomb that was almost intact, extraordinary funerary treasures, a little-known pharaoh who died in the prime of his life and the rumours about a curse. As of 1922, Tutankhamun experienced a rebirth going well beyond the usual Egyptomania, and this time his fame was present in every sphere of life — architecture, the decorative and furniture arts, fashion, music, and even advertising (from lemons to nougat bars and Cleopatra soap).
This ‘Tutankhamun-mania’ was particularly prevalent in the Roaring Twenties, permeating every sphere of society. An example is the German shepherd of the American president, Herbert Hoover, which was affectionately called King Tut.
The 1970s, a period during which the traveling exhibition of some of the king’s tomb furnishings was held, saw a revival of the phenomenon, even in the American TV show Saturday Night Live in which Steve Martin sang his song King Tut (1978) live. Indeed, Tutankhamun and his gold burial mask, a veritable graphic symbol that has been used and adapted on many occasions, have been widely used in music, particularly in clips and during concerts (very recently by the singer Beyoncé).
Although these references often have very little to do with the real Tutankhamun and his reign, they do attest to the way in which ancient Egypt in now perceived and, above all, to the impact of the discovery of his tomb in the Valley of the Kings in November 1922, shedding new light on the reign of a pharaoh which until that point had been somewhat overlooked.
Incident at Saqqara
Carter intervenes when rowdy French tourists assault Egyptian ticket inspectors at the pyramids. Amid a diplomatic row, Carter resigns. Since arriving in Egypt, Carter had taken refuge in painting watercolors of landscapes, tomb scenes, and local flora and fauna, especially birds. Sales and commissions of his artwork now become his main source of income.
Carnarvon acquires the permit to dig in the Valley of the Kings
“Ever since my first visit to Egypt it had been my ambition to dig in the Valley and when I began to excavate for Lord Carnarvon it was our joint hope that we might be able to get a concession there.” Howard Carter
View | Biographical Elements
TUTANKHAMUN – BIOGRAPHICAL ELEMENTS
Tutankhamun was one of the last kings of Egypt’s 18th Dynasty. Though he appears to have been a minor king and made only modest contributions to the Egyptian empire, he lives large in modern archaeology.
Very little is known about his life because he was the son of Akhenaten, a pharaoh who was considered a heretic (he introduced a new religion, the worship of Aten, banned other gods and shut down temples), and records mentioning him and his successors were destroyed by officials.
Tutankhamun was born around 1342 B.C. in the Egyptian city of Akhetaton, now known as Tell el-Amarna. His mother is believed to be one of Akhenaten’s sisters. He became pharaoh at age 9 or 10, around 1336 B.C. In the early years of his reign, the king and his court were moved from Tell el-Amarna to Memphis. Shortly thereafter, the name of the young king, originally Tutankhaten, was changed to Tutankhamun (meaning “the living image of god Amun”) in recognition of the ascendancy of Amun.
Around the age of 12, scholars believe, Tutankhamun married his half-sister, Ankhesenamun, Akhenaten’s third daughter by his wife Nefertiti. The couple had no surviving children, although mummified fetuses of two stillborn daughters were found in Tutankhamun’s tomb.
In his name a mighty program of restoring and rebuilding old temples was undertaken. A stela found at Karnak commemorates the pious work, describing how the temples had “fallen into neglect.”
Tutankhamun died shortly after an accident around 1326 B.C., in the ninth or tenth year of his reign. An X-ray taken in 1968 revealed damage to his skull, which could have been caused by a fall, a blow to the head, or during mummification. More recent CT scans suggest the likely cause of death was infection from a fracture in his left leg. The exhibition includes information about some of these findings and present-day conclusions that have been drawn about his life and death.
Tutankhamun was buried in the Valley of the Kings, where he lay undisturbed for some 3,300 years until his tomb was discovered by Howard Carter in November 1922. Although the vast collection of treasures has been removed, his mummified remains still lie in the tomb.
Carter and Carnarvon assemble a first-class team
- Arthur Mace, Assistant Curator of Egyptian Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
- Harry Burton, Metropolitan Museum photographer sets up a “studio” in a nearby empty tomb. His glass negatives of the tomb objects are among the finest examples of archaeological photographs.
- Alfred Lucas, Egyptian Antiquities Service chemist and conservation expert.
- Arthur Callender, architect and engineer.
- Alan Gardiner, hieroglyphics scholar.
- Percy Newberry, botanical expert.
- Walter Hauser and Lindsey Foote Hall, artists.
Fake News: The Mummy’s Curse
Carnarvon dies from an infected mosquito bite on his cheek and although the ancient Egyptians held no such belief, the British Daily Mail uses the death to manufacture a story about a mummy’s curse:
- At the moment of Carnarvon’s death, Cairo is plunged into darkness by a power cut.
- A few days later, Carnarvon’s stepbrother dies unexpectedly.
- When unwrapped in 1925, the mummy has a cheek wound identical to Carnarvon’s.
- Several people associated with the opening of the tomb meet early deaths.
Afterlife | THE EGYPTIAN TRADITION OF THE JOURNEY TO IMMORTALITY
Beliefs and funerary practices in ancient Egypt
The ancient Egyptians, in their desire for eternal life, liked to think of every end as a new beginning. Death was certainly perceived as an enemy, but it also represented a rebirth. However, life after death was only possible if the body was preserved and subjected to the appropriate rites. In order to facilitate posthumous rebirth and ensure survival in the afterlife, the ancient Egyptians created a whole series of rituals, objects, images and texts that can be found inside the tombs.
The legend of Osiris explains why physical integrity was important for the Egyptians. Osiris was the God who reigned over Egypt and was killed by his brother Seth. His dismembered body was reconstituted by his wife Isis, and then embalmed by Anubis; a process for preserving the body was thus developed. The practice of mummification began circa 3100 BCE and is attested up to the Greco-Roman period. Mummification included various practices to render the body imperishable: after the extraction of the internal organs (embalmed separately), the body was desiccated by covering it in natron salt crystals for a relatively long period, which nevertheless never exceeded seventy days; the body was anointed with resins and balms, and then wrapped in strips of linen. Tutankhamun’s mummy, which was generously ‘coated’ with resinous products that blackened the king’s skin, is reminiscent of the colour of the pieces of Osiris’s body, which were black like the fertile silt that was carried and deposited every year by the flooding of the Nile — black was indeed a symbol of regeneration and fertility.
When a person died he or she was divided into the different entities of which they were composed during their life, in particular the ka, the vital energy, the life force that needs to be nourished, and the ba, represented by a human-headed bird, the soul of mobility that enabled the dead person to move around and occasionally leave the world of the dead. The ba, the ka, and the spirit (akh) were reunited in the body and ensured the survival of the dead person in the afterlife.
To enable the dead person to recover the use of his or her senses, the Opening of the Mouth ritual was practiced on the mummy (or on the coffin) during the burial, as illustrated in Tutankhamun’s burial chamber. Food and prayers were indeed essential for the afterlife, as were vital breath, light, and freedom of movement.
Although mummification and the Opening of the Mouth ritual were intended to counter the disappearance of the body and its vital functions, the tomb and the burial furniture it contained provided the necessary baggage for the journey in the afterlife, but also for post-mortem ‘life’.
The Egyptians’ perception of the afterlife evolved over the centuries, as new visions complemented the old ones. And while many of the beliefs in the afterlife concerned everyone in ancient Egypt to a greater or lesser degree, differences in the arrangement of the tombs, their decorations, and the furniture and burial inscriptions distinguished the pharaoh, and even his entourage, from ordinary individuals. There are also differences in the types of material used (semi-precious stones and precious metals), as well as in the quality and quantity of the objects making up the furniture.
Next to these specifically burial objects, those made specially for the tomb and the afterlife—sarcophagi and coffins, the burial mask, vases and canopic equipment the funerary servants or shabtis, and lastly the guides of the afterlife, and provisions; the burial furniture comprised standard objects used for everyday life, such as beds and seats, trunks, toiletry items, bins and baskets, tableware, weapons and tools, and even musical instruments (e.g. JE 62064.AB in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo), as well as clothing and jewellery. No burial papyrus has been discovered in the royal tombs, but during the New Kingdom, the young king’s era, the great funerary texts were present elsewhere, in particular on certain elements of the burial furniture. Hence, in Tutankhamun’s tomb, there are chapters taken from the Book of the Dead on the famous golden burial mask and the three gilded wooden chapels. The books of the Netherworld, dedicated to the nocturnal journey of the sun, are present on the tomb walls (First Hour of the Book of Amduat), as well as on items of furniture (such as the Book of the Celestial Cow, an innovation introduced during the reign of Tutankhamun, inscribed on two of the chapels).
The dead king was identified with both the god Re and the god Osiris (as they were both kings of Egypt, from the time when the god ruled over the earth), as here solar and Osirian mythologies were complementary. In the tomb of Tutankhamun, many objects, images, and inscriptions are references to the nocturnal journey of the god in the Netherworld during the twelve hours of night; the idea was to protect the dead king from any hazards, in particular from Apophis, a monstrous serpent who attempts to impede the course of the sun every night and plunge the world into chaos, and thereby ensure his existence in the world of the dead.
This assimilation with the divine is also reflected in the use of gold, which was, of course, associated with the royal status of the dead person, but also evoked the imperishable flesh of the gods and the reflection of sunlight. It was an additional means of protecting the body and an instrument for an eternal life.
The decorations of the tomb and the burial furniture also evoke the pharaoh’s entry into the world of the gods, via divinities who were significant for the fate of the dead person in the afterlife, which are represented for example in the tomb by divine statues, or on the walls via scenes representing the king before the gods.
Tutankhamun’s new home in Egypt
The Grand Egyptian Museum will open in Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo. For the first time, the entire contents of Tutankhamun’s tomb will be on display along with many other ancient royal artifacts never before seen by the public. A glass wall provides visitors with a view of the Great Pyramid of Khufu, the only remaining wonder of the ancient world and the inspiration for this spectacular building. At 650,000 square feet, it will house the world’s biggest museum dedicated to a single civilization