When on November 4th, 1922, Howard Carter discovered the almost intact tomb KV62 of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt Nebkheperoure, the Son of Re Tutankhamun, a major page in archaeology opened up. For the first time Egyptologists and the public, spellbound, were to be made truly aware of the splendour with which the kings of Egypt surrounded themselves. The thousands of objects in the tomb, magnificent sarcophaguses, thrones and masks of gold: these would fire the imagination of archaeologists and tourists for generations.
The circumstances of the discovery of the tomb having been amply detailed by Carter himself, none of this will be repeated here. Instead this page will continue with the description of the actual tomb.
In spite of this being the greatest archaeological discovery of all time, a recurrent theme has been to regret that the tomb that had been found intact was only one of a “minor” pharaoh, and to imagine what might have been the case had its subjects been a prestigious pharaoh after a long reign. Yet might it not be wiser to reflect on the fact that this particular tomb dates from the 18th Dynasty, one of the most prestigious and richest periods of Egyptian history, and that it features a king from a pivotal transitional moment in history, a period on which it contributes to shed light? And in any case it is far from clear that the amount of funerary material discovered in it was significantly less than for any other pharaoh of longer reign and with a bigger tomb. For it might have been that any such larger tombs might have contained equivalent quantities of treasures, but spread over a greater area, in a larger number of chambers.
Tutankhamun (~1335-1327 B.C.) was the son of the "heretical" pharaoh .
His origins on his mother’s side, as also the circumstances of his acceding to the throne, remain under discussion. DNA surveys of some members of the royal family of the Amarna period are said to indicate that Tutankhamun was neither the son of Nefertiti nor of the lady Kiya (the two usually cited wives of Akhenaten), but rather of a girl related to Amenhotep III and Akhenaten. If this were the case he would have been the fruit of an incestuous relationship, which might go far to explain his debilitated physical state (see below). Despite this, it seems that his legitimacy was not questioned by his contemporaries.
He ascended to the throne under the name of Tutankhaten,
“The living image of Aten”. In year 2 of his reign he was to renounce the Amarna ‘heresy’ and re-establish the cult of Amun, as he described it on what is called “the restoration stela” that he had erected in the temple of Karnak. He then changed his name to Tutankhamun
“The living image of Amun” and returned to Thebes, so abandoning his father's short-lived capital, Akhetaten.
But Tutankhamun being still a child, and not yet knowing how to govern Egypt, it seems that two of his sisters, notably Merytaten, conspired to separate him, temporarily, from power, but apparently without result. Instead, the governing of the country was entrusted to three main figures: Ay, the
“divine father” (an epithet the specific significance of which is still open to question), was to play the central part of regent; Mayan, who was in charge of the treasury; and general Horemheb, at the head of the army. Under this competent triumvirate, Egypt’s power was to be restored both internally and externally, as evidenced by the magnificent tomb general Horemheb had made for himself at Saqqara (see ).
Tutankhamun was to die still young, at about 19 years of age, around the year 1352 B.C., without having left a prince as heir.
The circumstances of his death, a violent one, still remain a mystery. However, publication in March 2005 of the report of the scanning survey undertaken of Tutankhamun's mummy makes it possible to set aside the hypothesis of his being murdered with a blunt instrument, as had been believed earlier: his skull shows no trace of any blow. Rather, there was a leg fracture, and this, were it an open wound, might have led to death from infection (see ). The king's skull shows no trace of a blow, as was believed earlier.
In 2010, a very important study of comparative genetics appeared in the journal of the American Medical Association: “Ancestry and Pathology in King Tutankhamun's Family”.
Tutankhamun’s successor, the
“divine father” Ay, was already old when he in turn ascended to the throne. It was Ay who organised Tutankhamun’s funerary ceremony in the Valley of the Kings, in accordance with tradition, and uniquely, Ay’s name appears in the tomb of his own successor. On Ay’s early death (only 4 years later), it is yet another figure, and one who also did not have a legitimate right to the throne, the general Horemheb, who was to follow Ay. Only with this new reign is the Amarna episode finally considered closed, and the years of the reign would be counted beginning from the last “legitimate” pharaoh, Amenhotep III.
Over the succeeding generations and especially by the Ramessides, attempts would be made to erase all traces of the Amarna period, including deleting the names of all kings between Amenhotep III and Horemheb from official lists.
It is certainly not for its size or for the wealth of its decoration that Tutankhamun’s tomb is famous. The modest size of the tomb is often emphasised, and understandably so: for it is the smallest of all the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings. This tomb also does not follow the general plan for tombs. In fact it is considered that this tomb might have been originally intended for a high-ranking non-royal figure, possibly Ay, and that it had been completed and decorated in a hurry upon the unexpected death of the very young king, for whom no tomb had been prepared in time. Perhaps the tomb originally proposed for Tutankhamun was that which would in the end be used, only 4 years later, for his successor in the east branch of the valley, situated next to that of Amenhotep III. And this would surely not by chance: whether it was Tutankhamun or Ay, both had in mind a need to affirm their own legitimacy and did this by having their own tomb placed close to that of the last sovereign prior to the “heretical” period.
Although Tutankhamun’s tomb was small and different in style from the others, it was nevertheless considered that it combine sufficient canonical criteria to allow its use for a ritual royal burial, even with its notable change of axis. The in Amarna had a straight-line axis and was thus unique in this respect.
Tutankhamun’s tomb is rock cut, carved directly into the limestone along the main watercourse of the valley.
A descending flight of 16 steps leads to a short corridor 7.60 m in length, aligned to the west, where it opens directly onto the antechamber.
The lowest six of the original steps were re-cut, deeper, when it was found necessary to enlarge the access into the tomb, so as to alow the larger items of funerary furniture to be brought into it. After this, the steps were restored using stone and mortar, to bring them back to their original height.
The corridor walls were properly smoothed but no sealer had been applied. The end had been blocked up with masonry plaster rubble, behind which lay the antechamber and its all-important furniture.
All precautions must have been taken to secure the burial. Even so this had not stopped the tomb of Tutankhamun from being robbed twice, very shortly after the funeral. Despite these incursions the Theban necropolis was in reality well guarded, and no further intrusions were to occur until the tomb of Ramesses VI of the 20th Dynasty was being excavated. It was at this that there was a rockfall, which had amazingly covered and hidden Tutankhamun’s tomb; and it was on this old avalanche that the workers built their huts and so put a stop to the great act of depredation that occurred from the end of the 21st Dynasty, and right up to the tomb’s rediscovery in 1922.
The antechamber was so named by Carter. This rectangular room is arranged perpendicularly, on a south-north axis. Its walls had been plastered but no decoration undertaken. An opening on the left-hand side of its west wall leads to a room, named the annexe, the floor of which is about 1 m below the level of that of the antechamber. This annexe also was not decorated.
Both of the chambers on their rediscovery were filled with funerary objects. These principally, though not exclusively, related to or bore the name of the young king; some of the remainder had been made for a female pharaoh.
The initial arrangement of the objects had, however, been completely disturbed by the robbers. Inspectors who intervened following the intrusion made an attempt at restoring some semblance of order; but their heart seems not to have been in the task, as they stacked objects untidily in the caskets and left any longer pieces leaning haphazardly against the walls. Carter was to wonder why they had made even this token effort, judging by the result.
The north wall of the antechamber has an opening that leads towards the burial chamber. This opening was initially walled up and plastered, and a great quantity of seals of the necropolis had been affixed to the plaster. Yet this wall too had been penetrated by the robbers and restored after being checked by the inspectors. On either side of this opening, as if minding the entrance as Anubis would have done, stood the famous statues of the king, in blackened wood (see ).
The burial chamber is the only area that is decorated in the tomb. When the tomb was discovered, most of the room in this chamber was taken up by the great wooden shrines surrounding the royal sarcophagus (measuring 5 x 3.30 x 2.73 m.), leaving only a very small amount of free space by the walls (75 cm). Placed on the floor of this space were objects with magical value, and in particular 11 steering rudders.
This chamber is set lower than the antechamber, and it is probable that it had originally to be widened to accommodate the large golden shrines. It thus reproduced the appearance of a classic tomb where a hypostyle hall would be greater in height than the burial chamber.
The four walls of the burial chamber had been dressed with plaster, then decorated. The ceiling was left as it was. Running across the top of each of the four walls is the hieroglyphic sign of the sky (Gardiner N1), supported by narrow painted props at its two extremities.
The decorative themes are simple and few, and one can sense the haste in which the finished work was carried out. This work would have been made the more difficult owing to the lack of space in which the painters had to operate. It would appear almost certain that the plastering and decorating were undertaken only after the shrines for the coffin had been brought in. The cramped working conditions can thus be imagined, in such a confined space.
The way this work was carried out might also explain one of the facts that becomes more obvious when examining the walls: the innumerable brown spots that more or less mutilate all the illustrations and which look like specks of fungus. Carter thought that mushrooms had been introduced by plaster or the painting, then the humidity, which occurred following the evaporation from plaster, permitted their growth.
A survey undertaken in 2011 revealed that the brown colouring is due to accumulations of melanin pigment produced by the metabolism of mushrooms, or from bacteria. No definite infectious agent was identified, however, and the DNA research was negative. Nevertheless these findings confirm that the funerary chamber was decorated in haste, and sealed while the pictorial layer was still damp. When it had dried out completely, the micro-organisms disappeared and the stains became established. The curators considered, therefore, that they were part of the history of the tomb and did not consider getting rid of them.
The figures in the wall decorations are painted on a grand scale, so dramatically reducing the possible number of scenes. The king is depicted in front of divinities as well as in front of vignettes of the Amduat (= the underground world), all applied on a base of yellow-ochre to imitate the colour of gold. The sarcophagus chamber was moreover called
"Room of Gold" by the Ancient Egyptians.
In the plasterwork, on each of the four walls, a small niche had been made for holding protective figurines. These niches in the west and south walls can be seen in . For an example of one of the figurines, of Anubis covered with cloth, see .
The strokes of the painters is hasty but precise. The proportions of the characters appear to be exaggeratedly modified, close to the Amarna grid. This is no surprise, as the craftsmen had probably worked or been trained previously for Akhenaten.
Some of the motifs recall those found in the tombs of the last two "legitimate" predecessors of the king Tutankhamen: his grandfather and his great-grandfather . The background colour of the walls was yellow-gold in the case of the latter, and blue-grey for the former, Amenhotep III. On the other hand the inclusion of depictions of a funerary procession and of the ‘opening of the mouth’ ceremony, only found in the tombs of particular individuals, appears to be directly linked to identical scenes found in the royal tomb of Akhenaten.
The north wall is the one that faces the visitor when looking into the burial chamber from the antechamber.
It consists of three scenes one after the other — which are here considered in turn from right to left.
It depicts the Opening of the Mouth ceremony: here, the new pharaoh Ay, specifically so-named, is carrying out the ceremony on Tutankhamun, who is referred to as his “father” even though Tutankahamun was a lot younger than Ay (see ). The new king Ay is represented, canonically, as youthful, and in stature a little less than Tutankhamun. Ay is wearing the panther skin cloak of sem-priest, and the blue crown (the Khepresh) complete with the uraeus, and has white sandals on his feet. He is thus filling the role here that is normally reserved for the eldest son of a deceased king; and in so carrying out the rituals he is affirming his own legitimacy. So what is taking place here is the elderly courtier staking his — very questionable — claim to the throne.
The accompanying text states:
"The good god, Lord of the Two-lands, Lord of rituals, (the) King of Upper and Lower Egypt Kheper-kheperu-re, (the) son of Re, Divine-Father Ay, endowed eternally with life and forever like Re".
Tutankhamun is represented as Osiris (see ). He is wearing the Atef crown with a gold-plated uraeus, and in each of his hands he is holding a Nekhakha whip, or flagellum, as signs of his power. His extended beard, with the hooked tip, indicates his status as glorified deceased. Around his neck he has a large Wesekh collar, from which is suspended a Kheper scarab in the act of rolling the solar disk in front of it, as a sign of rebirth.
Shown between Ay and Tutankhamen is a casket: this contains the objects necessary for the ‘Opening of the Mouth’ ceremony, and these are shown directly above it, the better to distinguish the one from the other. The small vases contain wads of incense. The text states:
"The good god, Lord of the Two-lands, Lord of the Crowns, (the) King of Upper and Lower Egypt Nebkheperoure, (the) son of Ra, Tutankhamun, Master of the Heliopolis of the South (= Thebes), endowed with life, eternally".
"Lord of the Two-lands Neb-kheperu-re, endowed with life eternally and forever" is represented in the costume of the living. This depiction continues the Amarna style, with the protruding belly and long neck. Tutankhamen is clothed in a loincloth resting high on his hips; draped from his neck and shoulders is a broad wesekh collar, and on his head he has a short wig encircled with a gold band with a uraeus. In one hand he is holding a staff, and in the other a club together with the ankh sign of life.
He is welcomed by the goddess Nut, who is presenting him with what she is holding in each hand: the hieroglyphic sign for water (Gardiner N35), at the same time making the sign of welcome: (Gardiner N35), that of water, which it is necessary here to be read
"nyny", "welcome". Nut is wearing a close-fitting gown with a shoulder strap, and has a broad red linen sash with folds, the ends of which reach below her knees. She is also adorned with jewellery, a wesekh collar and bracelets, and her wig is held in place with a white ribbon of mourning. The following text explains this scene of mourning:
"Nut, Mistress of the Sky, Lady of the Gods, she performs nyny (= a welcome) (for) the one whom she gave birth, she gives health and life to your nostrils, which is life eternally".
The third scene shows three figures. They are:
In this scene the king’s Ka is on the right, standing behind Tutankhamun himself.
The idea of the ka is very complex and debated extensively. Man is born with his Ka (sometimes called his double), which constitutes his vital energy. But after death the man is reunited with his Ka (dying is in fact referred to as ‘passing on to one’s ka’), whose function is different. The Ka-figure is bedecked with a tri-partite wig; on the top of this stands the Ka hieroglyph (Gardiner D28) which holds two further signs between the upright arms; these in turn read
"powerful bull", this being a standard royal epithet. The ka-figure has the long curved beard characteristic of the gods from the beyond. In one hand he is holding the sign of life, and with the other he is embracing the young king who is standing in front of him. A similar image is found in the tomb of Ay, Tutankahmun’s successor (see ).
A short text identifies this Ka-figure as:
"The royal Ka of the one who is at the head of the changing room (of the royal palace)".
Tutankhamen is shown in the costume of the living, wearing the nemes headdress, but not yet with the hooked beard of the gods. He embraces
"Osiris, master of the west, the great god", who in turn welcomes him, as indicated by the two hands shown emerging from the shroud. It should be noted that the two arms of the king form an image recalling the Ka hieroglyph.
He wears the Ureret crown without an uraeus. His flesh is green: green, as a cadaver in putrefaction; but also green, as vegetation born again after flooding. Osiris’s two arms protrude from his close-fitting shroud and extend towards the young king.
The scenes on the south wall are based on a grid of 18 sections (no longer visible), not on the Amarna grid of 20 sections used in the rest of the chamber. This suggests that they might have been made by a different hand.
The first figure, on the right, is the goddess Hathor,
"Mistress of the sky, who is at the head of the western necropolis". She is clothed as she is on the north wall. On her head is the hieroglyph of the west (allowing her to merge with the goddess of the west, Amentet). Holding an ankh sign in each hand, she extends one of them towards the king's nose (see ).
Here Tutankhamun is shown wearing the khat head cloth that was in fashion during the Amarna period. He is standing passively facing the goddess, with his arms at his side. Around the top of his white loincloth there is a piece of black cloth that rises up at the back, the ends meeting at the front to form an embossed red belt from which a multicoloured front piece is suspended. He is also wearing broad black wristbands edged with gold.
On the left, the god with the canine head is Anubis, also depicted in the Amarna style. He too is holding the ankh sign of life in one hand, while placing the other on the shoulder of the young king, as a sign both of protection and also of introduction. The accompanying text designates him as
"Anubis, at the head of the west, the great god who is in the place of embalming, master of the sky".
For the tomb replica, which has made it possible for anyone to experience the tomb without the need to visit the actual monument itself, Factum Arte created a facsimile from a black and white photo taken by Harry Burton.
Standing behind Anubis is the goddess Isis, clothed in the same manner as Nut on the north wall opposite; and, just like her, she is making the nyny gesture of welcome. The accompanying text reads:
"Mistress of the sky, who offers welcome to the one whom she brought into the world, giving all health, all life […] to your nostrils eternally".
Three gods in a squatting attitude and set one above the other complete the imagery on the south wall. While each is marked as "Great god, Lord of the Duat", this provides no information as to their actual identity, nature and function. Perhaps they are intended just to symbolise the deities of the underworld generally (remembering, too, that the number three indicates plurality).
The west wall is the main wall of this burial chamber. It features representations and very short text excerpts of the first hour of the Book of the Amduat (= the Book of that which is in the Underworld). This hour is the period when the sun, having set, is no longer visible, but when its last rays still provide some degree of light: for the Egyptians, this was the antechamber of the underground journey of the celestial body, i.e. the sun.
The Book of the Amduat was one of the funerary compositions devised by theologians of the New Kingdom to describe the course of the sun during the twelve hours of the night, as well as its regeneration and rebirth in the morning, a destiny that the deceased wished to emulate. This composition was for a long time kept exclusively for royal use (and some portions of it would remain so); however, part of the composition would be transcribed onto papyrus for the use of private individuals.
In the right-hand rectangle are five standing divinities (see ) :
"The goddess Ma'at",
"the Mistress of the barque",
"the Ka of Shu" and
"Nehes". These are the ones selected by the theologians from among the hundreds who populated the underworld. They welcome the deceased into the underworld.
Written above this group of five deities is a short text in red hieroglyphs. Its components are in no particular order, as is the case in many other such instances from the Book of the Amduat, but the message could be readily understood by the initiated deceased:
"The two Ma'ats who tow this god in the Mesektet, which sails with the members of the assembly of this city". The Mesketet barque is the vessel borrowed by the heavenly body for its nocturnal journey in the beyond; the sun, after its rebirth, at dawn, leaves this boat to embark on the Mandjet barque for its passage through the day. This barque is drawn by the two Ma'at, one of the numerous examples of the omnipresent duality in Egyptian thought: these two Ma'at are the Two Lands, Upper and Lower Egypt, the right bank and the left bank, the double hall of the courthouse, etc.).
The tableau on the upper left of the west wall is canonically found in the lower middle register of the first hour. Presented here is the solar barque in which the Khepri scarab is carrying the celestial body into the future, framed by two men in an attitude of worship, the divine nature of whom is manifested by their curved beards, and each being named
"Osiris"; they represent Tutankhamun ‘osirified’.
The line of hieroglyphs above this scene continues the inscription on the right (arranged once again in no special order):
"among whom this god enters in the form of a ram". The ram is one of the hieroglyphs used to write the word "Ba" (Gardiner E10), and it is in the form of the "ba" (ram) that the sun crosses the underworld; in the texts, he is invariably designated as "the Flesh". The fusion between Osiris and Re in the underworld has been summarised by theologians, as well in the royal tombs (in that of queen Nefertari, Great Royal Wife of Ramesses II, for example), or in that of the humble craftsman Nakhtamun (TT335 in Deir el-Medineh) :
"Osiris, he is the ba of Re, and Re is the ba of Osiris".
The lower register of the west wall is divided into twelve rectangles in each of which is an identical baboon, to symbolise the twelve hours of the night (see ), a role usually reserved for twelve goddesses. Each baboon is individually named, with accompanying epithets sometimes appropriate to music and dance. In the "canonical" versions on the papyrus of the Amduat, these baboons are only nine in number. They welcome the solar barque at the beginning of its nocturnal journey. It is to be borne in mind that these animals are also linked to the rising of the sun, which they greet with loud cries.
The upper register of the east wall, which is the only register to be decorated, portrays the funerary procession, a scene that as a rule is only found in private tombs. A group of high dignitaries is pulling a sledge bearing a funerary barque on which the king’s body lies on a catafalque beneath a canopy decorated with garlands.
These twelve unnamed dignitaries, each wearing white sandals, are arranged in five groups (see and ). The first group of five dignitaries is followed by three pairs, with a final man standing on his own. All of them, apart from two viziers towards the back, look exactly the same. Each is wearing a white broad-sleeved tunic, and on the head of each is a black wig bound with a white ribbon of mourning, the tassels of which hang down behind.
The two figures with shaven heads are, almost certainly, the two viziers of Upper and Lower Egypt (possibly Pentu and Usermontu), given that they are wearing tunics with the characteristic shoulder straps of this function (see ). They, too, both have white mourning ribbons around their heads.
The last figure, standing alone and closest to the mummy, might be either the general Horemheb, or the chancellor Maya, being the two most senior dignitaries after Ay.
The text above this procession, states:
"Words to be spoken by the courtiers and high officials of the house of the king who are hauling the Osiris king, the Lord of the Two Lands, Nebkheperoure, to the west. They say the words: 'Oh Nebkheperoure, come in peace, Oh protector god of the land'."
The tall barque-catafalque, on the sledge and barque being towed by the high dignitaries, is decorated at the top with twin friezes, one above the other, featuring protective cobras; (the arrangement here is subtle: two shrines are being depicted, one inside the other). The mummy of the deceased king is shown stretched out on a barely delineated bed, together with a Khepri scarab prominently placed, with the accompanying inscription:
"The perfect god, lord of the Two-lands, Nebkheperoure, living eternally and forever".
At the head and feet of the mummy there are small representations respectively of the goddess Nephthys and her sister Isis (the latter near the two steering oars). Both have their arms raised in worship. At the front of the barque, behind Nephthys, the king is depicted as a sphinx, or human-headed lion, on a stand (see ). An udjat eye is painted on the prow of the barque.
At the time of its opening, the chamber included four nested gold-coloured wooden shrines (see ). These were designed to surround or enclose Tutankhamun’s red quartzite sarcophagus.
Represented at the corners of the sarcophagus are four protective goddesses in raised relief These were Isis, Nephthys, Selkis and Neith, each depicted with protective arms and wings extended over the four sides.
The mummy of the king was placed in three nested coffins or mummy cases, the innermost one of which being the famous coffin made from 110.4 kg of pure gold. The mummy itself was adorned with the famous gold mask.
The north end of the east wall of the burial chamber of Tutankhamun is pierced by an opening providing access to a small space, the walls of which are uninscribed. This space, which is in a north-south orientation, measures 4.75 x 3.80 m in size. It was given the name of the "Treasury" by Carter, because, at the time of the discovery, the most important objects in the tomb were found here.
The floor of the ‘Treasury’ was crammed with boxes of various sizes, with models of boats on top. At the entrance, dominating all, was an image of a reclining Anubis on a portable shrine. Directly behind was the famous gilded head of the Hathor cow. Further behind still was the shrine containing the canopic jars; this shrine was protected by the four goddesses, Isis, Nephthys, Selkis () and Neith. This room had also been visited by tomb robbers in antiquity, but had subsequently been restored to order by the tomb inspectors, and much more effectively so than was the case with the antechamber and the annexe.
It is not possible in the present description of the tomb to provide a detailed list of the manifold objects it contained. An exhaustive list, completed with photos from the period together with excavation reports, can be found on the Griffith Institute site under the header . However, despite efforts made, publication of all the tomb objects found remains far from being completed.
The tomb is fragile. The walls, and notably the decorations on them, have been attacked by micro-organisms, which must be fought under temperature and humidity conditions incompatible with the presence of hundreds of visitors to the tomb daily. In response to this, Factum Arte has undertaken the construction of a replica of the tomb such that it might be likely that the replica would be the destination to be visited in the future rather than the original tomb itself.
In fact, between 2009 and 2012, meticulous work was carried out to scan the tomb in situ so as to map its surfaces with exacting precision. This proved to be no easy task — if the setbacks reported in on the Factum arte’ website are to be believed. The replica tomb, next to the Howard Carter House at the entrance to the Valley of the Kings, finally opened to the public in 2015 (see ).
This same year, Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves published "The Burial of Nefertiti?" (available ). Abstract :
"Recently published, high-resolution scans of the walls of room J (the Burial Chamber) of Valley of the Kings tomb KV 62 (Tutankhamun) reveal, beneath the plastered surfaces of the painted scenes, distinct linear traces. These are here mapped, discussed, and tentatively identified as the “ghosts” of two hitherto unrecognized doorways. It is argued that these doorways give access to: (1) a still unexplored storage chamber on the west of room J, seemingly contemporary with the stocking of Tutankhamun’s burial; and (2) a pre-Tutankhamun continuation of KV 62 towards the north, containing the undisturbed burial of the tomb’s original owner – Nefertiti".
This issue has aroused serious debate among professional, and in the public sphere as well: it is still open (March 2017).