The last great discovery of the golden age of Egyptology – and the first in a new age of mass media – the unearthing of the tomb of the boy king was a sensation, talked about in the popular press and captured on flickering newsreels. The inner chamber was breached by archaeologist Howard Carter on 16 February 1923 and by April, Carter’s outlandish financier George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon (often referred to as ‘Lord Carnarvon’) was dead. The cause was gruesome and Carnarvon sliced open an infected mosquito bite while shaving, leading to blood poisoning and pneumonia.
It’s tempting to trace the ‘curse’ back to Daily Mail correspondent Arthur Weigall, who lashed out at Carnarvon giving exclusive access to the rival Times. In frustration at being unable to access the tomb, Weigall – as well as other newsmen who’d been cut off from the action – began to fill their stories with anything that came to hand, such as the death of Carnarvon’s canary which was grabbed by a cobra on the day the tomb was opened. It was an ill omen as Tutankhamun’s iconic gold and blue headdress is after all crowned by a spitting cobra, the symbol of the goddess Wadjet whose role was to protect of the Pharaohs.
A passionate (if controversial) Egyptologist who did much to popularise the subject back in Britain, Weigall was no friend to superstition but for lack of anything else to report he tried to have his cake and eat it. While professionalism – and sanity – prevented him from actually blaming ancient magical forces, he certainly massaged enough ambiguity into the matter for his readers to see exactly what they wanted to. In Tutankhamun and Other Essays (1923) he recalled being awed by the solemnity of the tomb being opened, and appalled by Carnarvon’s glib attitude issued what he unhelpfully described as a “prophetic utterance”:
“I turned to the man next to me, and said: ‘If he goes down [into the tomb] in that spirit, I give him six weeks to live.’”
A perfect example of Weigall’s knowing slight of hand and taste for theatrical high drama, in another essay he evokes a sense of melancholy at the mummified monarch’s exhumation by all but suggesting he’s one of the living dead:
The opening of this tomb still presented itself to my mind as the disturbing of a sleeping man […] It was as though he were somebody who had been left behind by mistake […] someone who was alone in an alien age, and who was being wakened to face thousands of staring eyes not filled with reverence but curiosity.
Rex Engelbach, the Chief Inspector of Antiquities for Upper Egypt, maintained that Weigall “disinterred the old story about bad luck coming from Egyptian tombs […] when my wife and I protested to Weigall, he said ‘But see how the public will lap it up.'” Even without Weigall’s early input, a rogue’s roster of spiritualists, gossips and hucksters were all too eager to see the hand of the otherworldly – and their enablers in the press were only too happy to follow-up their sober obituaries with titillating nonsense.
Sherlock Holmes creator and constant companion to all manner of tommyrot Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, speaking to newsmen in New York (reported in the Western Daily Press of 6 April), blamed “an evil elemental” and the long reach of the Press Association gleefully distributed his claims across the globe. The author had long since squandered any respectability through his increased obsession with the supernatural, his defence a series of hoax photos showing storybook fairies, and bitter public spats with his BFF-turned-arch-debunker Harry Houdini, but Conan Doyle’s outlandish utterances made for good copy.
With the conviction of the true believer, Conan Doyle explained that this elemental was “a built up, artificial thing, an imbued force, which may be brought into being by spirit means or by nature.”
There was once a mummy in the British Museum […] which it was believed was guarded by one of those elementals, for everyone who came into contact with it came to grief. This was the mummy of a Queen, and even one of my dear friends, a journalist, who investigated the misfortunes that befell those who handled the mummy, was himself stricken with typhoid fever and died.
For their part The British Museum attempted a rebuttal quoted in the Hull Daily Mail (7 April):
None of the officials of the Egyptian department of the British Museum is aware of the existence of any such mummy. There is in the department, and has been for many years, the portion of a wooden mummy case about which various foolish stories have long been current, but to which the officials of the department attach no credence whatever.
By way of shoring up his authority on the matter noted that spiritualists were frequently in contact with spectres from Ancient Egypt and beyond, adding that “through my wife, who is a medium, I often get advice from one such [being] on spiritual matters. He lived 3,000 or 1,000 years ago in Arabia.”
As if the credulous Conan Doyle weren’t enough, Marie Corelli, wrote to the New York World to warn that:
I cannot but think some risks are run by breaking into the last resting place of a King of Egypt, whose tomb is specially and solemnly guarded, and robbing him of his possessions. According to a rare book I possess entitled The Egyptian History of the Pyramids, the most dire punishment follows and rash intruded into the sealed tomb. The book names ‘secret poisons enclosed in boxes in such wise that those who touch them shall not know how they come to suffer’. That is why I ask, Was it a mosquito bite that has so seriously infected Lord Carnarvon?
Corelli’s intervention carried as much weight as Conan Doyle’s. Although her name has been largely forgotten today, the novelist – a sort of softcore Stephanie Meyer – was a sensation who had counted amongst her fans Queen Victoria. That her “rare book” said nothing about Ancient Egyptian spiritual beliefs and everything about the superstitions of later Arabic chroniclers, was overlooked. Indeed, Conan Doyle’s “elemental” has more in common with the djinn of Arabic folklore than anything native to the time of the Pharaohs.
Soberly – and pointlessly given the plentiful spiritualists willing to churn out doom on demand – the Western Daily Press (6 April) observed:
Egyptologists not only discredit the idea of any supernatural factor in the death of Lord Carnarvon, but they regard the suggestion with impatience […] Sir Ernest A Wallis Budge, Keeper of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities at the British Museum in an interview yesterday described such theories as “bunkum”.
Budge concluded archly in the same report that if curses were real “there would not be any archaeologists left today.”
Out of nowhere, claims of a foreboding warning inscription – “Death shall come on swift wings to him that toucheth the tomb of a Pharaoh” – adorning the burial chamber began to appear in the newspapers, a spontaneously manifesting smoking gun that Howard Carter insisted did not exist and no first hand accounts recall. That this inscription can’t be found at the site, then or now, has done nothing to dislodge it from the mythology of of ‘the Curse of the Pharaohs’.
Soon every death with even the thinnest connection to the dig (up to and including the sinking of the Titanic) was being blamed on the curse, while ignoring those at the heart of the excavation who lived to a ripe old age. Among the “victims’ was the tabloid-pleasing fate of Captain Richard Bethell and his father, Lord Westbury, as dreary case study in hysteria, rumour and outright fabrication as there ever was.
Bethell was Howard Carter’s secretary at the time of the dig and had even named his daughter Nefertari after Tutankhamen’s queen. He had been found dead in his bedroom at the Bath Club in Mayfair, suddenly and suspiciously, causing the likes of the Nottingham Evening Post (16 November 1929) to re-examine his recent history with their flimflam goggles on:
The suggestion that the Hon. Richard Bethell had come under the ‘curse’ was raised last year, when there was a series of mysterious fires at it home, where some of the priceless finds from Tutankhamen’s tomb were stored.
The same article admits that a footman – rather than a long dead king of Egypt – was charged with arson, but not every account was so honest. Three months later the orgy of mysticism continued as his father flung himself from the window of his seventh-floor flat, leaving a suicide note on black-edged which – as so enthusiastically reported by the usual suspects – began ominously: “I really cannot stand any more horrors.”
The newspapers referenced vague claims that “Lord Westbury was frequently heard to mutter ‘the curse of the pharaohs’, as though this preyed on his mind” and kept in his room a relic of dig conveniently inscribed with that familiar fabricated warning: “Death shall come on swift wings to him that toucheth the tomb of a Pharaoh.”
It would be stuff of gothic fiction, were it not for the accounts of the Coroner’s inquest. Placed back into context, Westbury’s suicide note paints an altogether less enigmatic portrait of a man whose ailing health had been met with deep despair at the death of his son. The nearest to full account of his suicide note, according to the Yorkshire Evening Post of 21 February 1930, reads:
“I really cannot stand any more horrors. I hardly see what good I am going to do here, so I am going to make my exit. Goodbye, and if you are right all will be well.” […] the rest of the letter, the Coroner said, was difficult to make out, but his lordship wrote something about Sister Catherine, a nurse, having a hundred pounds, and thanking his housekeeper for her overwhelming kindness. The letter ended up with: “I am off.”
Not the words of a man haunted by ancient curses, but a sick man haunted by grief as the Coroner concluded:
No doubt this poor Lord Westbury had been suffering very much and had great difficulty in sleeping. He also was old and depressed, and lost his son not very long ago. He appears to have kept his feelings very much to himself, as one would have expected.
Sobriety and sympathy, however, wasn’t on the menu. To add to the froth, Westbury’s hearse hit two young boys en route to the cemetary, killing one, which further fed the mania. Though how this blameless eight-year-old was somehow a fitting target for Tutankhamen’s revenge was never fully explained.
In January 1934 the curse claimed its patient zero as Daily Mail stringer Arthur Weigall’s passed away, with the press rushing to remind its readers that “the death of Mr Weigall recalls the story of a curse on the violators of the tomb of King Tutankhamen…” A bitter irony for the man whose desperation for good copy gave wings to the myth in the first place, but to see the sum total of the proud Egyptologist’s life reduced to a few paragraphs of breathless pulp fiction distressed his family then and galls the reader still.
Weigall was certainly known to Herbert Eustice Wicklock, curator of the Egyptology department of the Metropolitan Museum in New York and close friend of Howard Carter, who weeks after the death examined the ‘curse’ in detail. Winlock noted in the New York Times that of the 26 people present at the opening of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber, six had died within ten years while 20 were still alive. Of the 22 people present for the opening of his sarcophagus, only two had died, and of the 10 present at the unwrapping of the mummy… all we still alive.
Winlock scrupulously logged falsehoods and hearsay, debunking the more outrageous claims and issuing corrections to the newspapers. Ultimately it was all in vain. The stories kept coming and with them silver screen shockers like Boris Karloff’s The Mummy (1932) – inspired in no small part by the Curse – burying the details under the shifting sands of gothic romance, and ensuring fiction’s footfalls would be forever heard in truth’s shadow.
To give the final word to Howard Carter himself, writing in the preface to The Tomb of Tut-Ankh-Amen (1923):
The sentiment of the Egyptologist, however, is not one of fear but of respect and awe. It is entirely opposed to the foolish superstitions which are far too prevalent among emotional people in search of “psychic” excitement […] yet mischievous people have attributed many deaths, illnesses, and disasters to alleged mysterious and noxious influences in the tomb.
Unpardonable and mendacious statements of this nature have been published and repeated in various quarters with the sort of malicious satisfaction. It is indeed difficult to speak of this form of ‘ghostly’ calumny with calm. If it be not actually libellous it points in that spiteful direction, and all sane people should dismiss such inventions with contempt.
For ancient history, pick up the All About History Book of Ancient Egypt or subscribe to All About History and save 25% off the cover price.
- The Mummy’s Curse: The True History of a Dark Fantasy by Roger Luckhurst
- A Passion for Egypt: Arthur Weigall, Tutankhamun and the ‘Curse of the Pharaohs’ by Julie Hankey
- Howard Carter: The Path to Tutankhamun by TGH. James
What does the tomb of tutankhamen and its contents show about the Egyptian concern for the afterlife?
Tutakhamen’s tomb, and the artifacts inside are an indication of the concern the Ancient Egyptians held for the after-life of their king. In 26th Nov. 1922, the English archaeologist Howard Carter opened the virtually intact tomb of a largely unknown pharaoh: Tutankhamen. This was the first, and to date the finest royal tomb found virtually intact in the history of Egyptology. It took almost a decade of meticulous and painstaking work to empty the tomb of Tutankhamen. Around 3500 individual items were recovered. When the Burial Chamber of Tutankhamen was officially opened, on 17 February 1923, the Antechamber had been emptied. It had taken near fifty days to empty the Antechamber; the time required to dismantle and restore the contents of the Burial Chamber including the gilded wooden and the sarcophagus was to be greater, and the work was not completed until November 1930, eight years after the original discovery. One must examine both the tomb itself, and its contents, to see the connection between the tombs and burial rituals and the doctrine of eternal life. The royal tombs were not merely homes in the hereafter for the kings, as are the private tombs of commoners and nobility. Instead the tombs are cosmological vehicles of rebirth and deification as much as “houses of eternity.” As the king is supposed to become Osiris in a far more intimate way than commoners, he is equipped with his very own Underworld. And as the king is supposed to become Rê in a way entirely unavailable to commoners, he is equipped with his very own passage of the sun, whether this is thought of as the way through the underworld or through the heavens.
Tutankhamon’s tomb, hurriedly prepared for the premature death of the king at the age of only about 18, is, as Romer says, a “hole in the ground,” compared to a proper royal tomb. The theme of fours is conspicuous in Egyptian religious practice. Tutankhamon’s tomb contains four chambers. The burial chamber, with a ritual if not an actual orientation towards the West, is the chamber of departure towards the funeral destinies. The internment of the body certainly is the beginning of the sojourn of the dead, and the Egyptians saw the dead as departing “into the West.” The room called the “Treasury” is then interpreted to have a ritual orientation towards the North as the “chamber of reconstitution of the body.” Since the most conspicuous object in the Treasury was a great gilt sledge holding the shrine containing the canopic chest, which holds the king’s viscera, this could well suggest the problem of reassembling the king’s living body.
That task, indeed, has a very important place in Egyptian mythology. After the goddess Isis had retrieved her husband Osiris’s murdered body from Byblos, their common brother, Seth, the original murderer, stole the body, cut it into pieces, and tossed them in the Nile. Isis then had to retrieve the parts of the body before Osiris could be restored to life. Her search through the Delta, which is in the North of Egypt, seems to parallel the “sacred pilgrimage” to cities of the Delta that Desroches-Noblecourt relates as one of ritual acts of the funeral, as many of the other objects in the Treasury seem to be accessories for that pilgrimage.
For the sovereign to be reborn it was necessary that a symbolic pilgrimage be made to the holy cities of the delta. The principal halts of the journey corresponded almost exactly to the four cardinal points of the delta where these cities were situated. Sais, to the west, represented the necropolis where the body was buried; Buto to the north, with its famous canal, was an essential stage of the transformations within the aquatic world of the primordial abyss, evoking the water surrounding the unborn child; and Mendes to the east whose name could be written with the two pillars of Osiris, the djed pillars, evoking the concept of air. There, said the old texts, the gods Shu and Tefenet were reunited, or again, according to the 17th chapter of The Book of the Dead, that was where the souls of Osiris and Re had joined. Finally, the southern-most city which completed the cycle of Heliopolis, the city of the sun, symbolizing the fourth [sic] element, fire, where the heavenly body arose in youth glory between the two hills on the horizon. [Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt, 1963, p. 238-9]
As these four cities parallel the four rooms of the tomb itself, we seem to have a nice series of parallel symbols. If Sais, in the West, was significant for its necropolis, then Sais, like the burial chamber, can represent the departure into the West. Buto itself, the northernmost city, then represents the site of the actual “reconstitution of the body.” What followed Isis’s reassembly of Osiris’s body was its revivification. Mendes, in the East, where the sun rises, would then seem to be the locus for that, with the associations, especially with Osiris. In the tomb, the small “Annex” is then associated with this ritual stage, the “chamber of rebirth.” The ritual pilgrimage then ends at Heliopolis in the South, where the king, having been reborn, reassumes his throne, as Desroches-Noblecourt views the “Antechamber” of the tomb as the “chamber of eternal royalty.”
Overall, the tomb may be divided into three parts: The Inner Tomb, which means the burial chamber and its side rooms, however elaborate; the Middle Tomb; and the Outer Tomb. In the Outer Tomb, six parts may be distinguished: four passages, the “Well,” and the optional “well room.” The four passages originally consisted of two deep stairs and two sloping corridors. The outer stair might not now be considered part of the tomb proper, since it merely led up to the sealed entrance of the tomb; but the Egyptians saw it as already part of the tomb and named it the “god’s first passage,” or the “god’s first passage of the sun’s path.” All the corridors, indeed, were thought to represent the passage of the sun god Rê through the twelve caverns of the underworld in the hours of the night, prior to his rebirth at dawn–the precedent for the rebirth of the king. Consequently, when decorated, they at first held excerpts from the Amduat, the book of “That Which is in the Underworld,” or the later “Book of Gates.” As the emphasis slowly shifted with time from the association with the underworld to an association with Rê himself, another work, the “Litany of Rê” made its appearance.
The stair of the “god’s third passage” was thus originally a room with the stair in its floor. As the stairs later became ramps, and as the descent of the passages leveled out by the XX Dynasty, the “god’s third passage” was revealed as having a ritual as well as a practical meaning; for the flat spaces of the original room were preserved, even when they had been reduced to no more than long niches in part of the walls of the third passage. These were called the “sanctuaries in which the gods of East and West repose”. “East and West” refer to the ritual orientation of the passage, East on the Left when facing out of the tomb (as the Egyptians saw it), West on the Right.
The fourth passage eventually acquired two niches at the end, called the “doorkeepers'” niches.
The “Well” itself is a feature that has excited considerable interest. The Egyptians called the Well the hall of “waiting” or “hindering. The function of such a room, as symbolic of the whole tomb, provides a ritual locus for rebirth. The “Ba” soul in earlier representations flies up the shaft of the tomb and out into the world. All that is added in the royal tomb is the king’s trip through the underworld, the four entering or, as the Egyptians also saw them, exiting passages. The “Hall of Waiting,” with or without the well itself or the lower well room, typically shows scenes of the king meeting the gods–one of the motifs of the burial chamber in Tutankhamon’s tomb–and this is often shown when decoration has not been completed elsewhere in the tomb, as in that of Thutmose IV. This would indicate some importance to the function of such a part of the tomb.
This brings us, through the sealed door, to the Middle Tomb. As the “Chariot Hall” or “Hall of Repelling Rebels,” it contains the equipment needed for the king to live an ordinary life and perform his kingly duties once reborn, i.e. actual chariots, beds, clothing, etc. Some have labeled it the “chamber of eternal royalty.” One might call it the “living room” of the tomb, the opposite of the burial chamber with its uniquely funereal equipment. It then may be significant that the rest of the tomb is accessed through the stair or ramp dropped from the floor. If the spirit of the king comes up from the crypt, entering the Chariot Hall is like rising into the upper world. It is at that point that we might divide the whole tomb into the Upper Tomb and the Lower Tomb. The Lower Tomb is about death and rebirth; the Upper Tomb is about the new life and access to the world (the Chariot Hall and the Outer Tomb, both the shaft of the Well and the outer passages). Significantly, the wall of the Chariot Hall above the passage down (the “another god’s first passage”), often displays an “Osiris shrine,” which signal an emphasis on Osiris.
Once freed of its contents, it became possible to examine the wall paintings in the only decorated room in the entire tomb, the burial chamber. The walls had a yellow background, almost the colour of gold, as if underline the name that ancient Egyptians gave to the burial chamber – the ‘Golden Room’. The surface of the paintings was in an excellent state of preservation though it was speckled with innumerable tiny circular stains due to the development of colonies of micro-organisms. The decoration quite simple and ordinary in style: the northern wall, seen on entering the room, features Tutankhamen in the centre, wearing the dress of living, holding the sceptre and the ritual mace, before the goddess Nut, depicted in the act of performing the nyny ritual. This central scene is flanked by two others: on the Tutankhamen’s is shown dressed Osiris in the presence of Pharaoh Ay, his successor. Ay, wearing the costume of the sem-priest and the distinctive skin of a panther, officiates at the rite of the ‘Opening of the Mouth’, through which the deceased is revived. Tutankhamen is shown with his head draped in the nemes, and, followed by his ka, standing before Osiris. On the adjacent western wall, are illustrations of passages taken from the Book of Amduat, showing the voyage of the sun barque through the 12 hours of the night, represented by 12 deities with the faces of baboons.
The eastern wall illustrates the transport of the royal sarcophagus, set inside a shrine mounted on a sledge, drawn by 12 characters, of whom two are dressed differently from the others, indicating a superior social standing. The south wall was painted last, and is a scene of Tutankhamen, accompanied by Anubis, in the presence of the goddess Hathor. The centre of the room is now occupied by the quartzite sarcophagus containing the outermost coffin. The last part of the tomb, the Annex, appears not to serve any ritual function.
The contents of tomb are also an indication of the importance the Egyptians placed on the afterlife.
It is not necessary to examine all the contents of the tomb, as this would be a painstakingly long and arduous task. To see the significance the Egyptian’s placed on the after-life, one need only examine a few of the articles found.
One of the two life-sized statues which stood guard at the sealed door of the Burial Chamber, on the north side of the Antechamber. The two statues, almost identical except for their headgear, are made of wood, painted with black resin and overlaid with gold in parts. They depict the pharaoh, or rather the pharaoh’s ka, in a striding pose and holding a mace in one hand and a long staff in the other. On the gilded triangular skirt, is written that this is the ‘royal ka of Harakhty’, the Osiris Nebkheprure, the Lord of the Two Lands, made just. Two life-sized wooden statues intended to protect the eternal rest of the Pharaoh.
Tutankhamen’s mask, made of solid gold, was placed directly upon the pharaoh’s mummy, and had the function of magically protecting him. This beautiful object weighs 10 kg and is decorated with semiprecious stones (turquoise, cornelian and lapis lazuli) and coloured glass paste. The pharaoh is portrayed in a classical manner, with a ceremonial beard, a broad collar formed of twelve concentric row consisting of inlays of turquoise, lapis lazuli, cornelian and amazonite. The traditional nemes headdress has yellow sripes of solid gold broken by bands of glass paste, coloured dark blue. On the forehead of the mask are a royal uraeus and a vulture’s head, symbols of the two tutelary deities of Lower and Upper Egypt: Wadjet and Nekhbet.
A very fine shabti of Tutankhamen, portrayed holding the heqa-sceptre and the nekhakha-flail, and inscribed with a text from Chapter 6 of the Book of the Dead. This passage specifies the functions of these mummiform statuettes, made of wood, terracotta, faience or metal, and in some cases left in the tomb in their hundreds. The shabtis (a name that means ‘answerers’) were intended to work in the Afterlife in place of the deceased, who could command them by reciting a special spell. In the New Kingdom especially the shabtis were considered as chattels, not unlike slaves. In Tutankhamen’s tomb, a staggering total of 413 shabtis was found, arranged in 26 coffers placed in the Annex and in the Treasury, but only 29 of them were inscribed with the text of the formula from the Book of the Dead.
With the canopic chest, as seen in fig 1, the theme of fours in Egyptian thought and ritual is the most conspicuously manifest. While the embalmed heart was returned to the chest of the deceased, the liver, lungs, stomach, and intestines were separately packaged, coffined, and stored. Each of these was then under the protection of one of the Sons of Horus, Imset (or Amset) for the liver, Hapi for the lungs, Duamutef for the stomach, and Kebekhsenuf for the intestines. Stone canopic chests typically have four chambers for the four coffins, closed with four stoppers, which themselves are either in the form of four human or of one human and three animal heads. With Tutankhamon we are fortunate to have the further equipment of the gilt shrine and sledge for the canopic chest, and the four guardian goddesses who watch over the whole, each identified by a symbolic device on her head: Isis watching over the liver from the southwest, her sister Nephthys watching over the lungs from the northwest, Neith, the ancient goddess of Sais, watching over the stomach from the southeast, and finally Serket, a scorpion goddess, watching over the intestines from the northeast. The figures of these goddesses are masterpieces of art, now available in endless reproductions.
Tutankhamen’s royal Golden Throne was found in the Antechamber. The throne was made of wood covered with sheet gold, and adorned with semiprecious stones and coloured glass paste. His wife, Queen Ankhesenamun, whose head is adorned with two tall plumes and a sun disk, stands before the pharaoh, languidly seated on a throne; the queen places one hand on his shoulder while in her other she proffers a vase of scented unguents. The rays of the sun god Aten shine upon the royal couple and endow them with vital energy. The influence of Amarna art and religious conceptions can be clearly seen in the sensitivity and naturalism of this scene. There was also a wooden shrine covered with thick gold foil, set on a wooden sledge encased with silver leaf, found in the Antechamber of the tomb. Originally it must have contained a gold statuette of the pharaoh, stolen during one of the two episodes of tomb-robbery which took place in antiquity. The walls of the shrine are covered with scenes executed with exquisite craftsmanship depicting scenes of hunting and everyday life, featuring the pharaoh and his wife, Ankhesenamun.
A ivory headrest, depicting the god Shu, the god of air and breath, was found in the annex. It was there to ensure a supply of air for the sleeper (dead or alive). It was a symbol of resurrection, because it enabled the head to breath, by lifting it up from the prostrate position of death. There was also a pair of wooden sandals, overlaid with marquetry veneer of bark, green leather and gold foil stucco. The sole was decorated with figures of Asiatics and Negroes where the king could trample on them. These shoes, however are very uncomfortable to wear and it seems they were constructed for the king to wear in his next life.
A number of lamps were found in the burial chamber, placed there for the King to use as he made his journey to the underworld. They were amazing works of art, decorated with detailed paintings of the king and queen. This was also the resting place of the three coffins, and of course, the mummy. The mummy itself is an excellent example of the Egyptians belief in the after-life. The concept of mummification was practiced because of the belief that after death the soul would return to the body and give it life and breath. Household equipment and food were placed in the tomb to provide for a person’s needs in the afterworld. The ceremony “opening of the mouth” was carried out by priests on both the mummy and the mummy case in order to prepare the deceased for the journey to the afterworld. This was an elaborate ritual which involved purification, censing (burning incense), anointing and incantations, as well as touching the mummy with ritual objects to restore the senses. Inside the bandages that wrapped the mummy, lay a number of different objects the King was supplied with for use in his after-life. He was supplied with a gold dagger and sheath to protect him during his journey to the after-life, and 143 amulets and pieces of jewelry were scattered through the several layers of bandages that wrapped his corpse.
In conclusion it is possible to say that Tutankhamen’s tomb gave the modern world an excellent insight into the Egyptian’s belief in the after-life. Both the tomb itself, and its contents, show how much importance the Egyptians placed on the doctrine of Eternal life, and how strong their belief was that their King would be resurrected as a god. Thus, the tomb of Tutankhamen and its contents show that the Egyptian concern for the after-life, was very strong, and that they went to great lengths to ensure that the eternal life of their kings.
Gardiner, Sir Alan
1966 Eygpt of the Pharoahs. Great Britain: Oxford University Press.
1977 The Complete Pyramids, Solving the Ancient Mysteries. Great Britain: Thames and Hudson
Chronology of the New Kingdom
Tombs of the Valley of the Kings
Model tomb in the American Museum of Natural History
Manchester Metropolitan University’s site on the Tomb of Menna
Philosophy of History
Philosophy of Religion (Copyright (c) 1997 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved)
Filed Under: Ancient Egypt, History