On November 26, 1922, when British archaeologist Howard Carter opened the tomb of Tutankhamun and peered inside for the first time, with his patron, Lord Carnarvon looking over his shoulder, they were unprepared for the riches that met their eyes. For 18 years, they had searched the Valley of Kings in Egypt for the lost tomb of pharaoh Tutankhamun, also spelled Tutankhamen. Having finally found it, they discovered to their disappointment, that the tomb seals had been broken and the tomb had more than likely been looted in ancient times. To find the burial chamber essentially untouched was a miracle most “marvelous,” Carter said.
Many of the objects found in King Tut's tomb were either gold or gilded, making Carter's first words, “... wonderful things!” upon seeing them, quite understandable. Among the assorted grave goods were gold leaf-covered burial couches shaped like animals; solid gold statuettes of servants and gods; gold and glass or semi-precious stone-inlaid funerary masks; three elaborately worked cedar and gold coffins nested one inside another; solid gold pectorals depicting scarabs holding the solar disk, Nekbet, the vulture, Buto the uraeus or cobra, and Horus the falcon-god; and gold and lapis or coral-inlaid earrings, bracelets and amulets. Gold shone everywhere in astonishing abundance. Considering that Tutankhamun took the throne at age 10 and died at 19, therefore, having little time to properly furnish his tomb, this relatively “poor” showing leaves one wondering what well-prepared tombs of longer-lived pharaohs may have contained.
All That Glitters
Not every treasure in the tomb was gold, however. Many everyday items of the boy-king -- from his sandals and jewelry to furniture and even his makeup box and toys are represented -- giving archaeologists an unparalleled and priceless glimpse into the life of this ancient ruler. Figural alabaster jars held the remnants of unguents and salves; a cartouche-shaped coffer that acted as a kind of “shoebox” for the precious objects treasured by the king as a boy; an ebony and ivory gaming table with stone game pieces; and paint brushes and a gold palette still containing traces of paint -- all provide insight into the daily activities of ancient Egyptian nobility.
Life After Death
Both the antechamber and the “treasury” of the tomb, contained many of the everyday items that the young pharaoh would need in the afterlife. Clay containers filled with duck, mutton and other foodstuffs were piled high atop household furnishings such as beds, chairs, chests and even full-sized chariots. Some important things that could not be stored in full-scale -- human servants, ships and granaries, for example, were reproduced as miniature statues and models. Presumably, these would be restored to full-size in the next life. Also in this room, four canopic shrines of solid gold held the entrails from the king's body, and a large statue of the jackal god Anubis guarded the entrance to the treasury.
The Burial Chamber
Sandwiched between walls only two feet wider than their contents, lay the box-like shrines that housed the nesting coffins of King Tutankhamun. The four wooden, gilded outer shrines -- each successively smaller than the previous, eventually led to a stone sarcophagus -- each corner carved with a protective goddess figure -- which in turn contained two nested, gilded wood coffins and finally a pure gold coffin containing the mummified body of the king. On each shrine were depicted various religious scenes as well as hieroglyphic writings. The information contained in these ancient writings and the wall paintings surrounding the shrines are treasure indeed.
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