What is missing from the tomb of Tutankhamun?

Keeper of Secrets? Anubis on his shrine

Keeper of Secrets? Anubis on his shrine

The world of archaeology is holding its breath. Will radar results confirm recent claims that there may be more to the tomb of Tutankhamun (KV 62) than it’s discoverer Howard Carter, and most Egyptologists since, believed?

The excitement centres on the claims of English Egyptologist and established authority on Tutankhamun Nicholas Reeves. Reeves is not a crack-pot, which makes the claims all the more exciting. Referring to recent 3D scans by high-tech conservation firm Factum Arte, Reeves identifies the possible traces of two previously undetected doorways leading off the burial chamber of KV 62 – with potentially sensational implications. Not least, that there is an intact storeroom to the west and a continuation of a one-time corridor leading north, perhaps containing the burial of Nefertiti (or, rather ‘Smenkhkare’ as she may have been styled as pharaoh and predecessor of Tutankhamun). Although other scholars have critiqued some of the methods, such as the art historical evaluation of the scenes on Tut’s burial chamber wall, Reeves’ claims seem intriguingly possible. Even if Nefertiti does not lie behind the north wall, two additional (intact) chambers of any size or shape would be of enormous interest.

I recently wrote an article on the objects – other than coffins, sarcophagi and canopics – found in the Kings Valley tombs for a Handbook of the Valley of the Kings. Tutankhamun’s tomb contents are often regarded as a ‘full set’ of objects, despite some losses of valuable items in (limited) robberies. While there are many correspondences between Tutankhamun’s objects and the fragmentary remains found in other tombs, it is interesting to consider what is not represented in Tut’s assemblage.

We know from records on ostraca that tombs were stocked in advance of the royal funeral proper, so this would have allowed time to seal up a storage chamber in the manner of the ‘Annexe’ and of the burial chamber itself. The ‘Treasury’ appears to have been left open in anticipation of the elongated poles used to carry the Anubis shrine.

Ram-headed divine statue from the tomb of Tuthmose III now in the British Museum (EA 50702)

Ram-headed divine statue from the tomb of Tuthmose III now in the British Museum (EA 50702)

One curious category of divine statues is not attested in KV 62, showing fearsome entities with hippo, gazelle or turtle heads. These are known from wooden examples in the tombs of Tuthmose III, Horemheb and Ramesses I, some now in the British Museum. As so often, these wooden sculptures had their precious metal coatings removed either by tomb robbers or during a state-sanctioned sweep of the Valley at the end of the New Kingdom. Tutankhamun’s objects are unique in that they retain their gilding. At a discussion of Tutankhamun’s tomb goods in Cairo in May, Professor Stephen Quirke emphasised the importance of these divinities being in close proximity to the king’s sarcophagus. Might the putative ‘secret’ western chamber contain (fine, gilded) versions of such images?

The number of shabti figures provided for a royal burial seems to have increased steadily during the 18th Dynasty – from the one known example for Ahmose I to the supposedly “complete” set of 413 examples for Tutankhamun. But a couple of generations after Tut, Seti I was given in excess of 1000 examples – so should more shabtis be expected of Tut?

King_Tutankhamun_Guardian_Statue

So-called ‘guardian statue’ of Tutankhamun

Thirty years ago, Reeves drew attention to the fact that no papyri had been found in Tutankhamun’s tomb. Drawing analogies with hollow statues containing papyri in the tombs of Amenhotep II, Ramesses I and Seti I, papyrus scrolls might have been secreted in the kilt parts of the so-called ‘guardian statues’ flanking the entrance to the burial chamber. Though X-rays showed no such cavities, the question remains: if they existed at all, where are Tutankhamun’s papyri and what might they contain? While hardly likely to be a diary of the Boy King, they are likely to be funerary texts from an interesting time of religious transition.

While the original intended contents of Tutankhamun’s burial is unknowable, it is an intriguing possibility that further objects may await discovery.

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