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Inside King Tut's Tomb

Randy H. Sooknanan

ASAG Journal

April 20, 2020

*Tutankhamun (also known as “King Tut”) was an ancient Egyptian king. He ruled from 1333 BC until his death in 1323 BC. His fully intact and undisturbed tomb is more significant than his short reign because of the well preserved artifacts found within it.

Entering the tomb

The unbroken seal of King Tut's tomb which remained untouched and unopened for 3,245 years. This photo, taken in 1922 by Harry Burton, is just one of the meticulously taken records from the famous excavation led by British Archaeologist and Egyptologist, Howard Carter. When Carter discovered the intact tomb of the 18th-Dynasty Pharaoh Tutankhamun, he and his team went on to find the best-preserved pharaonic tomb ever uncovered in the Valley of the Kings. With so many treasures, now in museums, we learned much about the period and the reign of the boy King, Tutankhamun.

The unbroken seal on Tutankhamun’s tomb, 1922
Harry Burton (English, 1879–1940), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Entering the Tomb

King Tut's Painted Wooden Chest

When archaeologist Howard Carter entered the great King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922, where the king was put to rest for his eternal slumber three millennia before, he was also met by Tut's many earthly belongings. Carter and his team found a plethora of treasures, including an ornate and beautifully detailed plastered and painted wooden chest. Ancient Egyptian furniture did not include wardrobe type cabinets, but instead, clothes were stored in chests and boxes. This artifact belonged to Tut, who reigned circa 1336-1327 BCE during the 18th dynasty, classified as the first dynasty of the New Kingdom of Egypt, the era in which ancient Egypt achieved the peak of its power. Through the imagery and paintings, this receptacle gives us a historical account and timeline into events from the boy king's life, along with some
fascinating cultural history and art trends associated with the period of his reign. Temporarily housed in the Wood Laboratory at the Conservation Center of the under-construction Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) located in Giza, Egypt, this item was displayed with the rest of Tutankhamun's treasures, together in entirety, for the first time, inside the GEM when it opened its doors fully to visitors in 2021. 

This intricately decorated box features exquisite scenes that are painted on all 4 sides as well as the top lid. Although it is large chest, and has much complexity and detail in its scenes, the images may have seemed like miniature depictions to archaeologists, especially when compared to the massive towering tomb wall paintings they found in Tut's burial chamber. However, whether in the context of that space during discovery, or examined on its own in a museum, the impressive narratives seen in both the chamber walls and painted chest are quite similar. They convey a sense of power and successfulness that the young king was able to achieve during his brief time among the living.

On the long side of the boxed chest, the king is shown upon his chariot, charging Syrians and Nubians, who were his kingdom's enemies and rivals from the North and the South. We can also note the confused mêlée of fallen enemies closely parallels the depictions of battle scenes on his temple walls. On the box's lid, he is again seen in his chariot, but this time we find him hunting wild animals. On the two shorter sides of the chest, he is, in the guise of a sphinx, trampling over fallen enemies. These are all traditional themes that were meant to reaffirm a pharaoh's domination over external enemies and the forces of nature. They are presented in a way that became standard in the New Kingdom. It is interesting to note that the chariot was only introduced to Egypt in the period preceding the rise of the New Kingdom, so they began to be featured prominently in art around this era and beyond. What this artifact is showing us, in particular, is the formability of Tut as a warrior and is in correspondence with many of his tomb's other paintings, carvings, and items which were discovered a century ago. But whether or not he was a true warrior conqueror has been hotly debated for decades.

Egyptologists have often described Tutankhamun as a weak and sickly boy-king, and most doubt that he was personally involved in wars against the Syrians or Nubians. However, in 2018, researchers from the University of Northampton in the UK revealed that Egypt's most famous pharaoh was potentially an experienced warrior. They examined the battle armor found in his tomb using a technique known as Reflectance Transformation Imaging. They found signs of abrasion along the edges of the leather scales that made up the armor's exterior, suggesting that Tut was a battle-hardened soldier. Regardless of the validity of King Tut's military exploits, his wooden box is an iconographical masterpiece, a work of art, and a treasure chest for our knowledge concerning ancient Egyptian history.


King Tut's Painted Wooden Chest

Gilded wooden statue of Tutankhamun from his tomb

Here Tut is wearing the Red Crown of Lower Egypt, 'Deshret', known for the area's red sands. Statue style is influenced by the Amarna period, 1344-1320 BC. Located in The Egyptian Museum, Cairo


A figure of Tutankhamun on a skiff, throwing a harpoon
Image: IMG

King Tut's 3,300 year old sandals

About 42 pairs of sandals were found in King Tut's tomb and about 80 pairs of footwear altogether. Statues and statuettes of Tutankhamun from the tomb show him wearing golden sandals, and there were indeed some predominantly gold material ones discovered within Howard Carter's incredible archaeological find from just over a century ago. These pictured sandals however, are not made entirely of pure gold, but rather they are made of wood and overlaid with a marquetry veneer of bark, and green leather, yet they do feature some gold foil on a stucco base. The outer soles are covered with white stucco. The straps over the insteps are of bark ornamented with a diaper pattern in gold foil. As we can see, on the inner sole are figures of enemy captives bound with stems of lotus and papyrus. Above and below are groups of four bows which together with the captives, represent the nine traditional enemies of Egypt whom the king symbolically trod underfoot when wearing the sandals. This artistic device had a long history dating back more than a thousand years in Ancient Egypt prior to the rules of Tut. Also, if you’re wondering, Tut was about a size 8 or 9 shoe.


Foreigners depicted on king Tutankhamun’s sandals
Image by Asaf Braverman, flickr cc.20

Tutankhamun's Golden Chariot

Here we see the Golden chariot found in the tomb of Tutankhamun. Chariots were the earliest high-performance machines. Within Tutankhamuns tomb there was 2 large ceremonial chariots, a smaller highly decorated one, and three others that were lighter and made for daily use. This represents that the ancient Egyptians had a skill for engineering. It represents that since there was more than one it was a industry depended upon the selection of materials; for in vehicular construction non-faulty material was naturally of the greatest importance. On the other side it also shows that a chariot represented prestige as it symbolized wealth and was used amongst those of high status in the social hierarchy.


Tutankhamun's Golden Chariot
Credit: Pinterest

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