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Tutankhamen's tomb

Today Tutankhamen is probably the best known of all the Pharaohs to be buried in the Valley of the Kings. To read about the Valley of the Kings please click here scarab

Tutankhamen was about nine years old when he became King of Egypt in about 1333, and died when he was about eighteen, in about 1323. There are a lot of abouts about Tutankhamen! - we actually know far less about him than many people suggest; we cannot even be certain who his mother and father were. All dates in Ancient Egypt are BCE so we do not usually need to say so; for more about this and the reason why all dates in ancient Egypt are approximate please click here scarab

He died very suddenly and unexpectedly, and because of this some people have suggested that he was murdered. But there is no archaeological evidence to support this and no one stood to gain by his death. In any case to seek to harm a Pharaoh was a crime against Ma'at and to an Ancient Egyptian this was unthinkable. What is certain is that his tomb was finished in a hurry, and many of the things put in it were originally intended for the tombs of other people. Even the second of his coffins had the face of someone else on it.

Tutankhamen was Pharaoh for only about nine years and within a few years of his death was completely forgotten - to read about why he was forgotten so quickly please click here scarab
If it had not been for one thing, today his name would be known only to a few archaeologists as just a name written in hieroglyph on a few stones. This one thing depends upon what happened next.

What did happen next?

Within a few weeks or months Tutankhamen's tomb was visited (the Egyptian word for being broken into and robbed). The robbers were disturbed and the tomb resealed. We do not know if the robbers were caught, but the normal punishment for people visiting a Royal Tomb was to be impaled on a spear (being killed by having a spear stuck up your bottom!). It was visited at least once more, but each time the robbers were disturbed and the tomb resealed. Then within a few years Tutankhamen was completely forgotten and so was the location of his tomb.

The Egyptians wrote everything down and we even have an account of the trial of some men accused of visiting a Royal Tomb (not Tutankhamen's).

The robbers took at least two thirds of the smaller gold items, and most of the linens and perfumes. But they never broke open the shrine round the sarcophagus (the stone chest containing the coffins and the mummy) so never reached the gold coffin or the mummy. Ancient tomb robbers seldom bothered with papyri, the written documents which might have given us information about the owner of the tomb, but these were missing from the tomb of Tutankhamen.

By the time of Ramesses VI, who reigned from 1151 to 1143, the tomb had been forgotten for nearly two hundred years and Ramesses built his tomb so close to Tutankhamen's that the huts put up by his workmen were actually over the entrance to it!

The tomb then remained undisturbed and buried under the foundations of these huts for another three thousand years. When it was eventually opened, by Howard Carter in 1922, the sarcophagus, the three coffins, the gold mask and the mummy were all found exactly as they had been when the young king was buried, the only time the tomb of a Pharaoh had ever been found with the burial itself intact. It is this, and this alone, which has made Tutankhamen probably the best-known of all Pharaohs.

The finding of the tomb - the last part of this story

The first inkling that Tutankhamen might be buried in the Valley of the Kings came in 1906 (CE of course!) when a beautiful blue cup bearing the name Nebkheprure, Tutankhamen's Throne Name, was found under a rock in the Valley of the Kings. This was the sort of cup that would have been used at the funeral banquet after the tomb had been sealed.

Then only a few weeks later, in 1907, some jars again with the name Nebkheprure were found in the Valley. At the time many archaeologists believed that they were jars that had been removed from Tutankhamen's tomb by robbers and discarded only because the contents were of no value, and that this proved the tomb had been robbed. An archaeologist called Howard Carter however recognized them for what they really were: the jars containing the materials left over after the mummification (embalming) of a body. The site where they were found is now known as Tutankhamen's embalming cache. This convinced Carter that Tutankhamen was buried near and that his tomb was intact.

He did a thorough search of the likely area but found nothing except the ruins of some workmen's huts dating from the time when the tomb of Ramesses VI was built. Eventually he decided that, as Tutankhamen had lived two hundred years before Ramesses VI, Tutankhamen's tomb had to be under these huts. So in 1922 he dug them up.

And the rest, as they say, is history - modern history.

Well, that is the official story, but every year more and more doubt is cast on it. There is now no doubt whatever that Carter knew exactly where the tomb was a long time before he officially announced its discovery. to read more about this please click here Link to Tanis Kings

Tutankhamen was the first Pharaoh whose mummy was found in his own tomb, and for that reason the Egyptian authorities have decided that that is where it should remain. When you go into the tomb you can see the outside of his outermost coffin in its sarcophagus, but most visitors do not realise that the mummy is still inside. The tomb itself is small and not very interesting as everything except the sarcophagus, outer coffin and mummy has been removed.

The Curse of the mummy

No article on Tutankhamen and his tomb would be complete without something about The curse of the mummy.

The Ancient Egyptians believed in magic, and they certainly used magic to protect their tombs. Among other things, special Guardian Statues were usually put into the tomb to watch over it. Often the first thing the tomb robbers did when they entered a tomb was to chisel out the eyes of the Guardian Statues: then the statues would be blind and would not be able to see the robbers stealing from the tomb! Both the owner of the tomb and the robbers believed in magic, and the robbers used their own magic to protect themselves from the magic guarding the tomb.

Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamen on 3rd November 1922. He immediately sent for Lord Carnarvon who was financing Carter's excavations, and both of them were present when the tomb was first opened. Lord Carnarvon died five months later, on 5th April 1923, from a mosquito bite which had become infected. He was fifty nine years old and had not been a well man for several years, in fact, he had started coming to Egypt on the orders of his doctor who had advised him not to spend the winters in England but to go somewhere warmer!

Carter was a meticulous archaeologist and cleared the tomb far more carefully and methodically than any other archaeologist would have done, so at the time of Lord Carnarvon's death only a small part of the tomb had been cleared. In particular the burial chamber itself had not been entered.

Everyone knows the famous curse

Death shall come on swift wings to he who disturbs the Pharaoh's rest
Shortly before Lord Carnarvon died an American woman wrote to a newspaper quoting this curse which she claimed she had read in an old book, although she was unable to produce the book. This curse has never been found anywhere in any Egyptian tomb, or anywhere at all in Egypt.

At the time of Lord Carnarvon's death the mummy of Tutankhamen, its golden mask and its three coffins, the sarcophagus, the wooden shrines round it and the chamber containing them all were all exactly as they had been when the King was buried. It was Carter, not Carnarvon, who opened this chamber, it was Carter who opened the shrines, the sarcophagus and the three coffins, it was Carter who removed the body from its coffins and unwrapped it and took out the gold amulets protecting it. If anyone should have had death brought to him on swift wings it was Carter - and he lived to a ripe old age and died in his bed. There simply was no curse. You must remember however that 1922 was only four years after the end of the First World War, the most devastating war the world had ever known, and everyone needed a good story - and The Curse of the Mummy made a really wonderful story!

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There are lots of other web sites on Tutankhamen and his tomb, some very good and some very bad. To see some pictures of some of the things found in his tomb, and to link to other sites, please click here scarab

© Barry Gray August 2001

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