Of course the Pharaoh Tutankhamen's treasures have got to be the supreme delight for a history buff! As I climbed the stairs of the Egyptian Museum, leading to the Tutankhamen exhibit, I felt an overwhelming sense of anticipation and excitement. I was on the threshold of a marvellous exhibit. I was not disappointed. From my first glimpse, I was impressed by the magnificence of those well preserved testaments to the artistry and craftsmanship of the ancients, 3000 years ago.
Solid gold mask of Tutankhamen
Tutankhamen ascended the throne at about eight or nine years of age and died suddenly around ten years later at eighteen or nineteen. When he died unexpectedly, before finishing his tomb, it would have become the responsibility of the high priest to finish the tomb. Because of Tutís premature death, the time to prepare his tomb was limited, therefore, his is comparatively a very small tomb. The treasures were piled in a very crowded, disorderly fashion, as is recorded in the photos of the tomb taken when it was opened by Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon in 1922. Lord Carnarvon financed the search for the tomb. Carter, at the time of the discovery, was doing some restoration work on the tomb of Ramses VI. One of his Egyptian work men found a step in the sand. Further excavation led to the now famous tomb of Tutankhamen.
Back view of gold mask of Tutankhamen
Much to their surprise, when they entered the tomb it was filled with wondrous treasure, the first tomb recorded to have produced such a well-preserved testament to the glories of the civilization of the ancient Egyptians--a time capsule unearthed. It was in the burial chamber that they found the gilded wooden shrine that we now saw in the Cairo Museum. Opening that, they found another and again another and another. Altogether four shrines, one inside the other, like Russian dolls, all made of gilded wood. The display of these shrines, which are encased in glass, is done in such a way that the reflection of the second, reflects on the glass of the first. It can be noted by the observer, that they do in fact fit one inside the other. The original bolts, on the doors of the shrine, were made of bronze. The fourth shrine held a stone sarcophagus. In the stone sarcophagus, there were three coffins. Two were made of gilded wood, intricately decorated. The third one was made of solid gold. Opening the third coffin, they found the mummy of Tutankhamen. On the mummy was a golden mask and the jewellery of the King.
King Tutankhamen's solid gold coffin
The next displays, that we came to, were some of the Pharaoh's chariots. These too were made of gilded wood. The King could have used a stand at the back, while horses were tied to the poles at the front. These chariots were found in a jumble amongst the many other possessions of the King. They are identifiable in one of the photos taken in 1922. They had been dismantled to fit in the tomb's limited space, with the rational that when the King came back to life, he would put them back together to use.
Now we came upon another gilded shrine, this one with four statues of goddesses on the sides, and two friezes of cobras holding a solar disc. Each goddess has spent centuries guarding a side with outstretched protective arms. When this shrine was opened, an alabaster canopic chest was found in it. This in turn held four alabaster jars, which in turn held four small gold coffins. These coffins were thought to have contained the preserved viscera of the King.
Among the other treasures, we found a footstool, again of gilded wood, with the figures of the King's enemies symbolically under his control.
Head stands, of a type which are still used in Japan and China instead of pillows, are displayed in a case on a wall. These were made of ivory, gilded wood and prized stones such as lapis lazuli and turquoise.
King Tutankhamen's treasures are the only ones to have been found undisturbed throughout the centuries. The most magnificent treasures of the Pharaoh were in a room by themselves. On one side, we found a large glass case, holding the gold coffin of Tutankhamen. Weighing about 110 kg. this coffin was made of solid gold, inset with semi-precious stones. His mummy was found in it. The mummy has now been returned to rest in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings, as it did for so many centuries. The coffin is anthropoid shaped, roughly conforming to the surface contours of the mummy, with the face and head of the Pharaoh, complete with headdress and false beard.
Alabaster canoptic jars
The four gold visceral coffins were hung in a case on the wall. These coffins appeared to be miniatures of the large gold coffin. Here we also saw the blue and gold coronation sceptres, the crook of southern royalty and the flail of the kings of the north.
His mask, weighing 24 kg., shone golden in the sunlight. I stood looking at the face of the young King, who looked back at me from antiquity. His head, covered with a magnificent blue and gold royal headdress, dazzled me with its golden richness. Who could have known that of all the mighty Pharaohs of ancient Egypt, it would be this boy King, who would become the best known of all, in this the twenty-first century AD., approximately 3000 years after his death.
His golden throne still sparkles in the sunshine
His golden sandals, ivory bracelet, gold collars, rings, gold earrings, and gold crown were all displayed at the museum in Cairo. There were gold covers for his fingers and toes, because during mummification they were covered to prevent those digits from being broken
Ceremonial chair of ebony and ivory
In the opposite end of the room, a gilded wood coffin stood in another large display case. The third coffin was returned, with his mummy, to his tomb near Luxor. The treasures of the King are brilliant with the colours of many semi-precious stones, inset to produce intricate designs or fascinating pictures. Chosen for their rich colours, the stones show the antiquity of various trade routes. The blood-red carnelian came from the Eastern Desert. The blue-green turquoise was from the Sinai. The very deep royal blue lapis lazuli was imported from the Euphrates area, where it was traded from Badakhshan in Afghanistan. Lapis lazuli is called khesbed in Egypt. More colour is added to these ancient treasures, by red jasper and garnets, the Amazon stone - green feldspar, the rich purple amethyst, and yellow, green and brown jasper. A rainbow of rich jewels were crafted into these magnificent treasures. Time has failed to dim the brilliance and beauty of the colourful stones.
Golden collars for King Tut
Continuing on our journey through the treasures of King Tut, we came upon three funerary beds, which were found in the antechamber of his tomb. Most likely, one of these was the setting for the rites and operations of the mummification of the Pharaoh. Decorated with bronze and black stars, one bed took on the shape of a cow. The cow is the symbol of the goddess Hathor, who was to receive the deceased in the after world. The second took the form of a panther, with insets of lapis lazuli. The third funerary bed has the body of a crocodile and the head of a hippopotamus. These were found piled on top of each other in the tomb.
There are cedar boxes, made from the cedars of Lebanon. Also displayed are models of boats, meant to transport the King in the afterworld. Made of papyrus, they were found in the tomb too. We look at items made of ostrich feathers preserved 3000 years, and shields made of wood covered with cheetah skin. An alabaster vase which, when lit from within, becomes translucent so that the design painted on the inside shows through, making it an exquisite lamp.
We came to a ceremonial chair of ebony, decorated with a scene inlaid with ivory. The arms of the chair are in the shape of the cobra, with two wings of a vulture on the back of the chair. The vulture is the symbol of Horus and symbolized protection. The picture portrayed on the back of the chair shows the young King with his wife standing before him, holding out a plant. In Egyptian mythology, this plant gives the receiver "life for a million years." Although this King lived a relatively short life, his name has lived on through many centuries. A matching footstool has the enemies of the King depicted on it, as had the previous one that we saw here.
King Tut's Golden lounge
Displayed on a wall, there is a collection of boomerangs, made of wood inset with turquoise and ivory. Their purpose was the same as the more famous Australian boomerangs. No one is sure which country had the first boomerang, as the Australians have no record of when their original ones were made. Because these were found in the tomb of King Tutankhamen, we are able to establish the existence of Egyptian boomerangs 3000 years ago.
We came to a most marvellous treasure, the throne of the King. Overlaid with gold and richly adorned with colourful stones, this was the work of master craftsmen. The legs were fashioned in feline form, with lion's heads. Magnificent crowned and winged serpents form the arms. It has six protective cobras between the bars on the back. The scene, depicted on the back of the chair, took place in one of the halls of the palace, as shown by the flower garlanded pillars. It showed Tutankhamen seated, wearing a pleated skirt of silver and the dual crown. The dual crown on the head of the Pharaoh indicated that he was the King who ruled both Upper and Lower Egypt. In front of him, stood his wife, wearing a very long dress, also made of silver. In her left hand she was holding a small container possibly containing perfume, which she was putting on the shoulders of the King. (Remember they did not have deodorant in those days!) On top, a solar disc with rays shone down on the royal couple, indicating that the God of the Sun was the one who gave them life. The throne was all covered with sheet gold, with inlays of vivid blue, turquoise and red, the colour scheme extraordinarily attractive and harmonious. Even with the patina of the ages, it was still exquisite.
There was a case displaying the King's walking sticks. The carved heads, on the ends of the sticks, were of the enemies of the King. Both Asian men, whose features appear Oriental, and black African men are depicted, showing that both races were among his enemies. These sticks were thought to be ceremonial, meant to be used by the King in his afterlife, however recent research has shown that the King probably needed them during his lifetime. He is now known to have had a broken leg before his death and a serious problem with his ankle, probably genetic, which would have impeded his mobility.
Shrief explains the Jackal god to us
We see the statue of the jackal god Anubis, who was believed to be responsible for the mummification of the King. Of course, it was not the god himself who did the mummification, but the high priest, wearing the mask of the jackal.
Twin life-sized statues were found, facing each other, guarding the entrance to the burial chamber in the tomb of Tutankhamen. These are known as the Ka of the King, as they are the eternal double of the ruler. They are made of carved redwood, coated with black resin. Wearing a gold apron, which covers his loincloth, he is also wearing a golden headdress and a wide golden collar. Carrying a long bronze staff and shod in golden sandals, he is ready to walk the beautiful road to the west - the road to the afterworld.
The Ka of the King guarded the sanctuary
Tutankhamen, I have seen his golden throne, majestic, covered with all the symbolism of his era. I have toured through the exhibits of his treasures, his jewels, the art treasures of the ages. One truly amazing thing about these ancient works of art, is that the colours are exceptionally brilliant, especially the royal blues, and the turquoise. The fact that the scholars today, can interpret the meaning and symbolism of the many scenes and hieroglyphics is really remarkable.
Story by M. Maxine George
Pictures by M. Maxine George and Marion George
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