Tag Archives: Tutankhamun

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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DAYSCHOOL 24/10/15 – Egypt: 7000 Years of History In A Day!

AbuSimbelDAYSCHOOL: Egypt: 7000 Years of History  In A Day!

With Sarah Griffiths, Deputy Editor, Ancient Egypt Magazine

When boy king Tutankhamun came to the throne in around 1336 BC, the pyramids were already ancient history, over 1000 years old, and Cleopatra would not appear on the scene for more than a thousand years later.

Ancient Egyptian history stretches over a vast period of time – from the earliest prehistoric hunter gatherers to the Arab conquest and beyond and is peppered with fascinating pharaohs, monumental building, wars, invasions and conquests, the development of writing and literature, amazing advances in technology and medical treatment, tomb raiders and treasure seekers and great archaeological discoveries.

In this study day we will chart the entire span of 7000 years to build to a complete timeline of ancient Egyptian history, from Predynastic pots to pyramids, warrior kings to murdering queens, through feasts, floods, famine and pharaohs, mummies and monuments, gods and goddesses, ascendency and assassination, death and divinity,  providing a broad overview of Egyptian history through a closer study of the key people, monuments and events of each period – ideal for beginners and for those wishing to bring perspective and context to their knowledge of this ancient civilisation.

Saturday, 24th October, 2015           

Time: 10.30am– 4.30pm.

Venue:

Cross Street Chapel

Cross Street, Manchester, M2 1NL

Bookings and further details: bit.ly/7000Years or www.mancent.org.uk

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Curator’s Diary 20/05/15: Discussing & Displaying Tutankhamun

Last week I attended a conference on the complexities of moving and displaying objects from the tomb of Tutankhamun. These world-renowned artefacts, from perhaps the greatest archaeological find in history, have already begun to be moved from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square to a new home in the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) in Giza, which will display objects focusing on the themes of kingship and eternity – including the Tutankhamun tomb group. International participants met between 10-14th May in various venues in Cairo to discuss possible approaches.

Dr Tarek Tawfik, Director of the Grand Egyptian Museum Project, opens the conference

Dr Tarek Tawfik, Director of the Grand Egyptian Museum Project, opens the Tutankhamun conference at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC)

The issues posed by the move are manifold. How to conserve often very fragile objects that have rarely – if ever – left their 90 year old display cases? How to transport them safely? How to interpret them in their new display space? There is no doubt that Tutankhamun is a world-wide celebrity, and that his mummy mask is an iconic, instantly recognisable image of ancient Egypt around the world. Ever since the discovery of the tomb by Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon in November 1922, the objects have spawned an interest in popular culture – ‘Tutmania’. The ongoing interest in aspects of the discovery, clearance, and subsequent popular influence of the tomb’s contents was well-illustrated in a recent exhibition – ‘Discovering Tut’ – at the Ashmolean in Oxford.

View from the Grand Egyptian Museum site towards the three pyramids at Giza. A visitor centre is planned for Spring 2016, with an initial opening in 2018.

View from the Grand Egyptian Museum site towards the three pyramids at Giza. A visitor centre is planned for Spring 2016, with an initial opening in 2018.

But despite all this attention, Egyptologists often falter when asked to explain the importance of the tomb. And this is a significant part of the problem: Egyptology doesn’t really know how to handle the success of Tutankhamun, and so the challenge for the new display will be to harness the extraordinary public interest in the Boy King and at the same time to correct assumptions and misconceptions about the king, the tomb, and ancient Egypt in general.

At the conference we discussed how to present individual objects and object categories, the broader historical context of Tutankhamun’s time, and the value of digital interpretation. These are a set of issues many museums face, including here in Manchester. One big task is trying to distil recent scholarship and present it in an engaging way. Most visitors to the current Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square are foreign tourists on package holidays; these people tend only have time to see highlights and so a priority will be to allow free flow of movement for these groups whilst also providing access for visitors with more time. A recommendation that was welcomed by participants is a dedicated space in the new Grand Egyptian Museum to showcase research – the everyday work of conservators and Egyptologists that increases our understanding of the objects.

Burton's photo of statuettes wrapped in linen, from the so-called 'Treasury'

Burton’s photo of statuettes wrapped in linen, from the so-called ‘Treasury’

Another point of discussion centred on how to arrange the objects – for example, the ancient importance of objects being carefully wrapped in linen before being sealed in the tomb. While this is acknowledged by Egyptologists as endowing and maintaining the sanctity of statuettes of the king, deities and other ritual objects, the linen is often removed for display and is mostly unknown to visitors. I was interested to hear, therefore, about an option to ‘re-dress’ some of the statuettes for display, as they appeared in famous 1920s photographs by Harry Burton.

Towards the end of the conference we discussed the value of replicas. Confirming my own impressions, colleagues from Germany reported that the majority of those who visited replica exhibitions of the tomb were more likely to want to go and see the original objects. This reflects a broader effect of Egyptian collections worldwide; having seen some objects, interested people will want to travel to see more. The innate public desire to know more is a big motivation for the team developing content for the galleries. I wish them luck in this impressive task; the initial opening of the GEM is expected in 2018.

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Object biography #8: An inscribed harness finial from a chariot (Acc. no. 9659)

Harness finial Acc. no. 9659

Harness finial Acc. no. 9659

I recently discovered this small object in storage while looking for a piece suitable for visitors to touch on our handling table. Initially, I was unsure of the function of the object (accession number 9659) and invited opinions. Answers ranged from vessel to candle-holder, stamp to spinning implement.

In fact, based on comparison with other artefacts of the same type, this object can be identified as a harness finial from a chariot. It would have been attached onto the yolk between two horses, and would have enabled the reins to run smoothly to control the animals.

A finial in situ on one of the harnesses from Tutankhamun’s tomb © Sandro Vaninni http://www.flickr.com/photos/sandrovannini/4284540920/

A striking parallel in shape and size occurs on one of the chariots from the tomb of Tutankhamun. Interestingly, both seem to have the same deliberate wear or ‘dents’ cut into the upper rim.

Although our example is identified in the catalogue as made of ‘travertine/alabaster’, it seems more likely on close inspection to be made from ivory. The smooth, milky material resembles the stone but has the destinctive criss-cross Schraeger pattern of elephant ivory.

An inscription runs symmetrically around the top of the piece, and reads:

Live, the son of Re, Amenhotep, his fear in the lands…

Unusually, the name Amenhotep is not enclosed in a cartouche, but this name dates the piece to the 18th Dynasty (c. 1550-1295 BC). It seems likely to refer to either Amenhotep III (c. 1390-1352 BC) or his ancestor Amenhotep II (c. 1427-1400 BC) – a famously athletic and war-like king.

The ‘lands’ mentioned in the inscription is an unusual way of referring to foreign countries; Egypt was defined as the ‘Two Lands’, the archetypal united kingdom. But foreign lands were characterised by their chaotic multiplicity, and so the short-hand of ‘three’ (or ‘many’) sums up the multitude lands who were unknown but afraid of the power of the king. A statement about the fear of the king suits the power of the horse, and the chariot, as vehicles of war.

Volunteers Vivian and Patricia discuss the harness finial with visitors

Sadly, the findspot of this object – which was collected by George Spiegelberg, the brother of a famous German Egyptologist called Wilhelm) – is not known. Stables are have been identified at palace sites, such as the Ramesside Delta capital Pi-Ramesse,  but Memphis or Thebes would be more suited to an 18th Dynasty piece, naming Amenhotep. Who knows – perhaps this came from a chariot driven by the king himself?

The details of this object (and, yes, a bit of inference) certainly make for an interesting tale, and one that has already captured the imagination of visitors now able to touch this very tactile piece. I am particularly grateful to the very knowledgeable volunteers on the handling table for suggestions and helpful pointers to comparative images for this and other objects. Each of them tell the stories of these objects daily, and always succeed in bringing them to life.

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