King Tutankhamun ascended the throne at nine and was dead at 18. This left insufficient time to plan and start building (let alone finish) a proper tomb for The Boy King. Instead, the tomb of an aristocrat in The Valley of the Kings was appropriated and adapted—very quickly!—for the burial of King Tutankhamun. Embalming and mummification took about 70 days, which did not leave much time for an elaborate tomb to be built, decorated and furnished.
Howard Carter was a British archaeologist working in Egypt whose exploration was funded by Lord Carnarvon (of Highclere Castle of "Downton Abbey" fame). He began working in the Valley of the Kings in 1906 and is credited with discovering the Tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamun in 1922.
Although Tutankhamun's grave was small and lightly decorated, it was found fairly well-preserved—one of the most intact tombs to be opened. And his beautiful burial possessions (now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo) have become iconic symbols of Egyptian Aesthetics and Pharaonic Bling.
Shown above, a detail of the paintings on the walls of Tutankhamun's burial chamber which surround his giant stone sarcophagus. Here Tutankhamun's successor, King Ay, performs the "Opening of the Mouth" funerary rite on the deceased king's mummy. Usually the oldest son (and heir) would perform this task, however, the teenaged Tutankhamun had no children—thus, the new King Ay dressed-up as a priest and performed the ceremony.
On the wall at the head of Tutankhamun's burial sarcophagus is this detail of a painting of twelve baboons. The twelve baboons represent each hour of the night—during which the deceased must pass into the afterlife. One can also see a scarab beetle (the symbol of renewal and resurrection) passing into the afterlife on a boat.
In this detail image, Tutankhamun is depicted alive (wearing his well-known blue and gold striped death mask), being welcomed to the afterlife by Osiris, God of the Underworld. Behind Tutankhamun is his "Ka" or the spirit form of the deceased. In this image, Osiris appears as a mummy while his green hands and face (like the green zone on either side of the Nile) reference Osiris's role as god of fertility and rebirth. At the far right stands Nut, Goddess of the Night.
Shown above are the earthly remains of King Tutankhamun. He would have been buried in his famous gold death mask, placed in a solid gold inner casket, nested into two more wooden caskets (highly-decorated), and placed into a heavy, covered stone sarcophagus. Often these enormous stone sarcophagi had to be assembled inside the tomb—for they were to big and heavy to pass through the narrow tunnels leading to the burial chamber.
While I feel lucky to have been able to visit this famous tomb—discovered 101 years ago—I must confess to having complicated feelings about disturbing someone else's private, final resting place. Perhaps it helps to remember that the Ancient Egyptian's undertook these enormous (and costly) burial preparations in order to ensure immortality. Today, King Tutankhamun is the most famous of Egyptian kings. He will live forever in the imaginations of people the world over.
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