Who was Tutankhamun?

In this month’s captivating lecture, Anthony Russell revealed so much of what has been discovered about Tutankhamun while exemplifying the problems faced when trying to interpret the past. By the time he became Pharaoh in 1333BC, Egypt had been a great power for more than a 1000 years. The River Nile gave fertile land and was easily navigable in both directions, facilitating trade, especially in Nubia’s plentiful gold while deserts and sea gave natural defences.

Tutankhamun was the son of Akhenaten who had increased the pharaoh’s power at the expense of the ‘Church’ and possibly a sister or cousin of his father but not the important Queen Nefertiti. Becoming pharaoh about age 9, he must have relied on his two grand Viziers and Horemheb who, as Lord of the Land, was head of the army. He married his half-sister. The remains of their two stillborn daughters were found in the tomb. Before his death at 18 or 19 he had undone some of his father’s changes and moved the capital back to Thebes.

He was the seventh pharaoh to be buried in the Valley of the Kings. With robbery prevalent many of the tombs were moved to the safety of Karnak, but not his, possibly because its location had been lost. Its small area may suggest small stature or unfinished construction while marks on the decorated walls suggest the paint did not have time to dry fully. Perhaps he died before a planned grander tomb was ready and so another was utilized. Carter discovered it in 1922 and found evidence of restoration after two earlier break-ins. He was meticulous in recording everything he found in the tomb. Despite the limits of monochrome photography, one can imagine the dazzling sight of all that gold.

The shrines in the burial chamber were covered with inscriptions from the Book of the Dead. The outer coffin showed Tutankhamun in the form of Osiris, suggesting he was divine. If the tomb was disturbed his spirit would reside in the 5mm thick gold mask. Within the layers of shroud were about 60 pieces of jewellery, against his hip were two swords, representing temporal power. One of solid gold and not Egyptian was possibly a gift and one of iron, more valuable than gold in the Bronze Age, showed military technology. The gold caps on each hand and gold sandals were signs of deity especially the sun. The fabulous coronation pendant inside the treasury chest depicted the 9year old boy with the gods while the 413 images of the young king were offerings from his staff. Carter estimated 60% of the jewellery was missing. The works of art from the tomb proved the ultimate in decorative and fine arts.

The 5’11’’skeleton of a slight young man, showed signs of damage, revealed a possible clubfoot, cleft palette and dormant malaria but no reason for death. The vast number of walking sticks suggested he would not have gone into battle yet he lived during a very dynamic time. After his death Egypt reverted back to the old gods yet this is the pharaoh best remembered. Initially a judge ruled 50% of the find should go to the excavating team but the Egyptian authorities overruled this. When Carnarvon died in 1923, after cutting himself shaving, many considered it part of the fabled curse but Carter lived for another 17 years!

At our next meeting on Thursday March1 at 2pm, in Grayshott Village Hall, Clare Phillips will discuss and illustrate ‘Easter Presents from Fabergé’

For more information please contact Caroline on 01428714276.