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Tomb of Tutankhamun

The wall decorations within Tutankhamun's Tomb.

Today, Tutankhamun’s tomb is considered to be one of the world’s great art treasures. When his burial items go on tour, they continue to draw record crowds. Its fame is due in no small part to the grave goods in King Tutankhamun’s tomb being intact when Howard Carter discovered it. Intact royal burials are rare making King Tutankhamun’s tomb a very special discovery.

Facts About King Tut’s Tomb

  • Tutankhamun’s tomb with its elaborate wall paintings and a treasure-trove of grave artifacts is one of the world’s great art treasures
  • For all its international fame, King Tut’s tomb is one of the smallest tombs in the Valley of the Kings due to his burial being rushed when he died young
  • Howard Carter discovered the tomb in November 1922
  • Tutankhamun’s tomb was the 62nd tomb discovered in the Valley of the Kings hence it is referred to as KV62
  • Inside King Tut’s tomb Howard Carter discovered around 3,500 artifacts ranging from statuary and objects believed to be essential for the departed soul in the afterlife through to golden objects and exquisite pieces of jewellery and a gold death mask
  • When Egyptologist Howard Carter removed King Tut’s mummy from its sarcophagus he used hot knives as the mummy had become stuck to his coffin’s inner walls

The Valley of the Kings

King Tutankhamun’s tomb is set in the iconic Valley of the Kings, a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to at least 65 tombs. King Tutankhamun’s tomb was the 62nd tomb to be discovered and is known as KV62. The Valley of the Kings is set on the Nile River’s west bank, opposite modern-day Luxor. In ancient Egyptian times, it was part of the sprawling Theban necropolis complex.

The valley comprises two valleys, the Western Valley and the Eastern Valley. Thanks to its secluded location, the Valley of the Kings made an ideal burial place for ancient Egypt’s royalty, nobility, and socially elite families. It was the burial location of New Kingdom pharaohs including King Tut who ruled from 1332 BCE to 1323 BCE.

In 1922 in the East Valley, Howard Carter made a stupendous discovery. His news reverberated around the world. KV62 held the intact tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamun. While many of the tombs and chambers previously found in the area had been ransacked by thieves in antiquity, this tomb was not only intact but was stockpiled full of priceless treasures. The Pharaoh’s chariot, jewellery, weapons and statues proved to be valuable finds. However, the crème de la crème was the magnificently decorated sarcophagus, holding the intact remains of the young king. KV62 proved to be the last substantial discovery until early 2006 when KV63 was found.

Wonderful Things

The story behind the discovery of Tutankhamun’s Tomb is one of the most compelling archaeological tales in history. Initially an amateur archaeologist Theodore M. Davis, a lawyer laid claim to its discovery in 1912. He proved to be quite wrong.

In November 1922, Howard Carter found himself with one last chance to achieve his life’s ambition and find King Tutankhamun’s tomb. Just four days into his final dig, Carter moved his team to the base of Ramesses VI’s tomb. On November 4, 1922, Carter’s dig crew found a step. More diggers moved in and uncovered 16 steps in all, leading to a sealed doorway. Convinced he was on the verge of a major discovery Carter sent for Lord Carnarvon, who arrived on site on November 22. Examining the newly discovered entrance again, excavators established it had been broken and resealed at least twice.

Carter was now confident of the identity of the owner of the tomb he was about to enter. Resealing the tomb indicated the tomb had been raided by tomb robbers in antiquity. Details found in the tomb’ interior showed ancient Egyptian authorities had entered the tomb and restored it to order before resealing it. Following that incursion, the tomb had lain untouched for the intervening thousands of years. Upon opening the tomb, Lord Carnarvon asked Carter if he could see anything. Carter’s reply “Yes, wonderful things” has gone down in history.

Carter and his excavation team came across a tunnel dug by ancient tomb robbers and later refilled. This was a common archaeological experience and explained why most royal tombs had been stripped of their gold, jewels and valuables and rarely contained anything beyond academic and historical value.

At the end of this tunnel, they discovered a second door. This door had also been broken into in ancient times before being resealed. Thus, Carter and his team were not expecting to find the amazing finds that lay beyond the door. When Howard Carter peered into the room for the first time, he later said there was, “everywhere the glint of gold.” In the tomb’s interior lay treasures beyond Carter’s imagination, treasures designed to ensure a safe and successful journey through the afterlife for the young King Tut.

Having worked to clear their way through a staggering quantity of precious grave goods, Carter and his team entered the antechamber of the tomb. Here, two life-size wooden statues of King Tutankhamun guarded his burial chamber. Within, they discovered the first intact royal burial ever to have been excavated by Egyptologists.

The Layout of Tutankhamun’s Tomb

Entry to King Tut’s dazzling tomb is via the first doorway found by Howard Carter and his excavation team. This goes down a corridor to a second door. This doorway leads into an antechamber. This antechamber was filled with King Tut’s golden chariots and hundreds of beautiful artifacts, all found in complete disarray due to ransacking by the tomb robbers in antiquity.

A major treasure discovered in this room was a beautiful golden throne depicting the king seated while Ankhesenamun his wife rubbed ointment onto his shoulder. Behind the antechamber lies the annex. This is the smallest room in the tomb. Nevertheless, it housed thousands of objects large and small. It was designed to store food, wine and fragrant oils. This room suffered the most from the attention of the tomb robbers.

To the right of the antechamber sits Tut’s burial chamber. Here the team found King Tut’s sarcophagus, sumptuous funerary mask and the only decorated walls in the tomb. Four gilded shrines celebrating the young pharaoh surrounded the intricately decorated sarcophagus. Combined, these treasures completely filled the room.

The treasury was located just beyond the burial chamber. This room was found to contained wine jars, a large golden Canopic chest, the mummies of what modern DNA analysis showed to be King Tutankhamun’s stillborn babies and more fabulous golden relics.

Elaborate Tomb Paintings

The haste with which King Tutankhamun’s tomb was prepared appears to have limited its wall paintings to those in the burial chamber itself. The walls of this chamber were painted a bright yellow. This paint has survived thousands of years. Analysis of microbial growths on the paint revealed the tomb was closed while the paint was still wet. The wall murals were similarly brightly painted. They were over-scale and lacked some of the fine details found in other burials. This was another indication the king was buried in a hurry.

The ritual Opening of the Mouth Ceremony is shown on the northern wall. Ay, Tut’s vizier is depicted performing the ritual. This ceremony was pivotal in ancient Egyptian burial practises as they believed the dead ate in the afterlife and the only means to ensure this was possible was by performing this sacred ritual. A picture of Tut beginning his journey to the afterlife with Nut and his soul or “Ka” greeting Osiris god of the underworld is also included on this wall.

The Eastern Wall to the right of the Northern Wall depicts Tutankhamun being conveyed on a sled with a protective canopy to his tomb. The Southern Wall, which was unfortunately badly damaged by Carter and his excavation team when they forcibly entered the room, shows King Tut together with Anubis, Isis and Hathor.

Finally, the tomb’s Western Wall features text from the Amduat. The top left-hand corner shows Osiris in a boat with Ra the sun god. To the right are several other gods standing in a row. Twelve baboons representing the twelve hours of the night the king had to go through to reach the afterlife is positioned below the pictures of the gods.

The Curse of King Tutankhamun’s Tomb

The newspaper frenzy surrounding the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s lavish burial treasures fired the imaginations of the popular press fuelled by the then romantic notion of a handsome young king dying an untimely death and the prurient interest in a series of fateful events following the discovery of his tomb. Swirling speculation and Egyptmania create the legend of a royal curse upon anyone who entered Tutankhamun’s tomb. To this day, popular culture insists those who come into contact with Tut’s tomb will die.

The legend of a curse started with the death of Lord Carnarvon from an infected mosquito bite five months after the tomb’s discovery. Newspaper reports insisted that at the precise moment of Carnarvon’s death all Cairo’s lights went out. Other reports say Lord Carnarvon’s beloved hound dog howled and dropped dead in England at the same time as its master died.

Rumoured Hidden Chambers

Ever since Tutankhamun’s tomb was discovered, there has been speculation about the existence of hidden chambers waiting to be discovered. In 2016 radar scans of the tomb revealed evidence of a possible concealed room. Additional radar scans, however, failed to show any evidence of a void behind a wall. Much of this speculation is fueled by the hope of finding the as yet undiscovered tomb of Queen Nefertiti, the mother or stepmother of King Tut.

Many amateur historians have claimed King Tutankhamun’s tomb conceals a hidden doorway leading to Queen Nefertiti’s final burial place.

Reflecting on the Past

The enduring fame of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun rests primarily on the spectacular artifacts discovered in his tomb on 4 November 1922 CE. News of the discovered quickly went around the world and has been intriguing the popular imagination ever since. The legend of the `Mummy’s Curse’ has only intensified Tutankhamun’s celebrity.

Header image courtesy: Hajor [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

David Rymer BA MBT

David is a freelance writer, non-fiction and fiction author and university lecturer in journalism, marketing and law. He has been based in the Middle East for over a decade travelling extensively in the region, including Egypt indulging in his passion for archaeology. He amuses himself in his down time by writing.

David can be found at @daviddoeswords and www.zaharablu.com

Cite this article

David Rymer BA MBT, "Tomb of Tutankhamun," Give Me History, April 14, 2019, https://givemehistory.com/tutankhamun-tomb.

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