Yasser Metwally

My life…and the world

The Tutankhamun Collection: Basic Funeral Equipment, The Egyptian museum in Cairo

The author: Professor Yasser Metwally


  1. Golden Death Mask  of Tutankhamun
  2. An Outer (second) Coffin
  3. Wood Shrine Overlaid with Gold Sheet
  4. Canopic Chest
  5. Goddess Selket, Protecting Tutankhamun’s Shrine
  6. Goddess Isis Protecting Tutankhamun’s Shrine
  7. Sarcophagus of Brown Quartzite
  8. Canopic Chest
  9. Innermost Golden Coffin
  10. Miniature Canopic Coffin
  11. Painted Casket.

Slide show 1. The Tutankhamun Collection: Basic Funeral Equipment

  • Gold Death Mask of Tutankhamun

This mask of solid gold, beaten and burnished, was placed over the head and shoulders of Tutankhamun’s mummy, outside the linen bandages in which the whole body was wrapped. It weighs about twenty – four pounds. Although it is difficult to judge how closely the face represents a true likeness of the king, it is at least an approximation. The rather narrow eyes, the shape of the nose, the fleshy lips, and the cast of the chin are all in agreement with the features visible in his mummy, and the whole countenance is unmistakably youthful. Perhaps it is slightly idealized, but essentially it seems to be a faithful portrait.

The stripes of the nemes headdress are made of blue glass in imitation of lapis lazuli, and the same material has been used for the inlay of the plaited false beard. The vulture’s head upon the brow, symbolizing sovereignty over Upper Egypt, is also made of solid gold, apart from the beak, which is made of horn-colored glass, and the inlay of the eyes, which is missing. By its side is the cobra, symbolizing sovereignty over Lower Egypt, its body made of solid gold, its head of dark blue faience, its eyes of gold cloisonne inlaid with translucent quartz backed with a red pigment, and its hood inlaid with carnelian, lapis lazuli, turquoise-colored glass, and quartz. The eyebrows, eyelids, and kohl marks extending sideways from the eyes are made of lapis lazuli and the eyes of quartz and obsidian. Caruncles (small red patches) are shown on the inner and outer canthi of the eyes – a frequent mistake in Egyptian reproductions of the human eye, which in nature shows a caruncle on the inner canthus only. The lobes of the ears are pierced for earrings, but when the mask was found the holes were covered with disks of gold foil. A triple-string necklace of gold and faience disk beads has also been removed from the mask in order to reveal the neck. On the chest, extending from shoulder to shoulder, is a broad collar encrusted with segments of lapis lazuli, quartz, and green feldspar with a lotus-bud border of colored-glass cloisonne work. At each end of the collar is a terminal in the form of a falcon’s head of gold encrusted with obsidian and colored glass.

The inscription engraved on the shoulders and on the back of the mask is a spell that first appears on masks of the Middle Kingdom, some five hundred years before the time of Tutankhamun. It was later incorporated in the Book of the Dead (Chapter 151 B). Intended for the protection of the mask, it identifies its various parts with the corresponding physical members of different gods, addressing them individually:

"…Your right eye is the night bark [of the sun god], your left eye is the day bark, your eyebrows are [those of] the Ennead of the Gods, your forehead is [that of] Anubis, the nape of your neck is [that of] Horus, your locks of hair are [those of] Ptah-Soker. [You are] in front of the Osiris [Tutankhamun], he sees thanks to you, you guide him to the goodly ways, you smite for him the confederates of Seth so that he may overthrow your enemies before the Ennead of the Gods in the great Castle of the Prince, which is in Heliopolis…the Osiris, the king of Upper Egypt Nebkheperura, deceased, given life like Ra."

  • An Outer (second) Coffin of Wood Overlaid with Gold and Semiprecious Stones

It is hard to imagine the amount of work which must have been put into making this coffin. Carved in wood, it was first overlaid with sheet gold on a thin layer of plaster. Narrow strips of gold, placed on edge, were then soldered to the base to form cells in which small pieces of colored glass, fixed with cement, were laid. The technique is know as Egyptian cloisonne work, but it is not true cloisonne because the glass was already shape before being put in the cells (cloisons), and not put in the cells in powder form and fused by heating.

  • Golden Shrine

Tutankhamun’s small shrine is in the form of the sanctuary of Nekhbet mounted on a sledge. It is made of wood overlaid with a layer of gesso and covered with sheet gold. The wooden sledge is overlaid with silver. Carter was of the opinion that the gesso was first modeled in relief and the plain sheet gold was then pressed against it until it had registered the impression of the modeling, the outer face of the gold being finally chased. It seems doubtful, however, whether the gesso, even reinforced by gossamer-like linen, which a recent examination has shown to be present on both faces of the exposed gesso on the inside of one of the doors, would have had the strength to withstand the amount of pressure and friction involved in the process. If this doubt is valid, the scenes and inscriptions must have been worked on the gold itself; the gold sheets would then have been put face downward on a flat surface and covered with a piece of linen; the gesso in a liquid state would have been poured on the back of the linen so that it filled the depressions on the reverse side of the gold and, while it was still soft, the second piece of linen would have been applied to the outer surface. The purpose of the gesso would thus have been to give support to the decoration on the gold and to provide a flat surface for attachment to the wooden walls, roof, and door.

Every exposed surface of the shrine is covered with scenes, inscriptions, or some other kind of decoration, all in relief, of which the following are the principal:

Roof: Fourteen vultures of the goddess Nekhbet, with outstretched wings, are represented in relief on the top of the roof, seven on each side of a single column of inscription giving the names and titles of the king and queen. The vultures hold in their talons the hieroglyphic sign for "infinity" (shen). Cartouches bearing the names of either the king or the queen occupy the space at each side of the talons. On the front of the roof is the winged disk of Horus of Behdet, the place being named in the inscriptions at the tips of the wings. A winged uraeus with the "infinity" sign between its wings occupies the entire length of each of the vertical sides of the roof.

Front: Beneath the roof on all four sides and projecting outward at the top is a cavetto cornice with a torus molding at the base. The whole of the front of the shrine is in the form of a doorway, the lintel of which is decorated with the winged disk of Horus of Behdet and the jambs bear inscriptions describing the king as "the son of Ptah and Sekhmet", and as "the image of Ra who does what is beneficial to him who begat him". In each case he is proclaimed as "beloved of [the goddess] Uret Hekau", a name meaning "The Great Enchantress", who is called in another inscription on the shrine "Lady of the Palace".

Each of the two doors is provided at the top and bottom with pivots, which fit into sockets, one in the lintel and the other in the floor of the sledge, and with a silver bolt that slides through two gold staples into a third staple in the other door. Two additional staples, side by side in the middle of each door, were intended for a sealed tie. On the outer faces of the door are representations of incidents in the daily life of the king and queen, arranged in three panels on each door. The uppermost panel on the left had door shows the queen in a plumed headdress standing with hands upraised before the king, who hold in his right hand the crook and scepter and in his left a lapwing. In the corresponding panel on the right hand door and on both the middle panels, the queen holds out bunches of flowers toward the king and in the middle panel on the right she also holds a sistrum. The queen’s headdress in two of these scenes is surmounted by a cone of unguent, flanked in one instance by uraei with the sun’s disk. In the middle panels the king is seated on a stool and on a chair, both with thick cushions. He wears the blue crown on the left and the nemes headdress on the right. In the bottom panels, on the left side, the queen holds the king’s arm with both hands and, on the right, the king’s hand with her left hand, while extending a blue lotus and buds toward him in her right hand.

The gold overlay from the inner face of the left hand door is lost, but it is evident from the damaged impression on the surviving gesso that its decoration was very similar to that of the right hand door. Sandwiched between two panels that are entirely filled with the king’s cartouches and supporting uraei is another scene of the queen holding a bunch of flowers and a sistrum toward the king. In this case her headdress is surmounted by lyriform horns and the sun’s disk with two high plumes. At the bottom are two lapwings with outstretched human arms, both mounted on the hieroglyphic sign for "all" (neb) and having a five pointed star (dua) beneath the arms, thus forming a kind of monogram meaning "adoration of all people".

Sides: The toprails and two stiles of both sides are inscribed with the names and titles of the king and queen, followed by the words "beloved of the Great Enchantress" with or without the epithet "Lady of the Palace".

On the left side, in the upper register, the king stands in a boat made of papyrus stems throwing a boomerang, but the quarry – wild fowl rising from the papyrus marshes – is not shown. The queen stands behind him as an onlooker; in her left hand she holds a flail or perhaps a fly whisk. The king, who wears a corselet on the upper part of his body and over it two representations of falcons, holds in his left hand four birds that may represent his "bag" or may be tame fowl used as decoys. In the clump of papyrus behind the prow of the boat can be seen a nest with two fledglings. The right hand portion of this register is occupied with a scene that, although different in detail, repeats the theme of the bottom panel on the outside of the left hand door. In the present setting it seems out of place.

A second fowling scene is represented in the lower register. The action is not conducted from a boat, but on the bank at the edge of a papyrus swamp. The king is seated on a stool with a thick cushion, his tame lion is by his side, and the queen squats on a cushion at his feet. Behind his head is the vulture of Nekhbet. He is in the act of shooting an arrow at birds rising from the swamp, one of which has already been hit. The string of his bow has been delineated by the artist as though it passed around the king’s neck. His quiver hands down behind him, suspended on a strap from his shoulder. The queen holds an arrow in her hand, ready to pass it to the king. With her other hand she seems to be pointing at the fledglings in the nest, perhaps urging the king to take care not to hurt them.

The other (right) side has four scenes, all of an unusual kind. In the left of the top register the queen extends toward the king a sistrum and a necklace with an elaborate counterpoise. At the front of the counterpoise are the head and shoulders of a goddess, surmounted by cow’s horns and the sun’s disk and having the uraeus on her brow. Human hands project from beneath her collar, each hand holding a sign for "life" (ankh) toward the king. The identity of the goddess is revealed as the Great Enchantress in the inscription beneath the necklace. Addressing the king, the queen says: "Adoration in peace, receive the Great Enchantress, O Ruler, beloved of Amun!"

In the second scene in the top register the king, seated on a cushioned chair, holds out a vessel containing flowers and the queen pours water into the vessel from a vase in her right hand. In her left hand she holds a lotus flower and bud and a poppy.

On the left of the lower register the king pours water from a vessel into the cupped right hand of the queen. Her left elbow rests on his knee. The king, holding a bouquet of lotus flowers and poppies, sits on a stool covered with a cushion and an animal skin. What appear to be balls under the claw feet are in reality the ends of rounded crossbars. In the right hand scene the queen is tying the king’s floral collar behind his neck while he sits in a chair festooned with flowers. Nekhbet’s vulture hovers over his head.

Back: Two scenes decorate the back. In the uppermost the queen stoops toward the king, her right hand touching his left arm. In her left hand she holds, in addition to a bunch of lotus flowers and buds hanging downward, an unguent-cone holder mounted on a stand and decorated with lotus flowers. A comparable scene on the back panel of the golden throne found in the tomb shows the queen anointing the king with unguent from a vessel; the scene on the shrine seems to represent an action of a very similar kind.

In the lower scene the king, seated on a throne and wearing the crown of Lower Egypt, raises his left hand to receive from the queen two notched palm ribs, the hieroglyphic signs for "years". Within these signs are the symbols for jubilee festivals and also amuletic signs in groups. They are attached at the bottom to single tadpoles – the sign for "one hundred thousand" – mounted on the sign for "infinity". The inscription behind the king reads: "The Son of Ra, Lord of crowns, Tutankhamun has appeared in glory on the throne of Horus like Ra".

In spite of the intimate nature of the scenes in general, at least three – the two on the back wall and the presentation of the necklace and counterpoise – depict episodes in the coronation of the king; they are, moreover, ceremonies for which there is some evidence that, in the late Eighteenth Dynasty, they were performed by the queen. It seems likely, therefore, that one of the purposes of the shrine was to commemorate the king’s coronation, and through the processes of magic to renew his coronation, and through the processes of magic to renew his coronation in the afterlife.

  • Canopic Chest

When the gilded outer casing of the canopic shrine was removed, the canopic chest itself stood revealed, draped with a dark linen sheet (1.5 by 4.5 meters) folded over 3 times. Although examples of such chests had been encountered before, the pristine beauty now exposed was something quite new. With the shroud removed, it could be seen that the chest had been carved from a single block of delicately veined and semi-translucent calcite, picked out in contrasting dark blue pigment and with a gilded dado of double djed and tyet symbols. It stood upon a second wooden sled, gessoed and gilded in the usual manner and fitted at its northern and southern sides with four huge staples of silver-sheet covered bronze intended to serve as handles. Its sloping lid, which separated from the box below the cavetto cornice, was decorated at the front with the winged solar disc of Horus-of-Behdet. It was attached to the chest by means of cords passing through four pairs of gold staples, two pairs to either side, sealed with the ubiquitous jackal and nine captives motif. The chest decorated at its four corners with images of Isis (southwest corner), Nephthys (northwest), Selkis (northeast), and Neith (southeast), sculpted in high relief to the traditional proportions, while the front was dominated by a second winged disc surmounting six vertical columns of text spoken by the goddesses positioned to either side; further invocations are present on either side and the rear of the chest.

With the lid of the canopic chest removed, four human-headed stoppers were exposed, arranged in pairs, those on the east facing west and the lids on the west facing east. Exquisitely modeled in calcite, each lid represents the king wearing the nemes-headcloth with separately modeled vulture head and uraeus. All four are hollowed out underneath and carry a symbol painted in black on the shoulder to identify the compartment for which they were intended. The facial features are carefully picked out with black, with dabs of red for the lips.

These detachable lids concealed four cylindrical hollows, the king’s canopic ‘jars’, drilled into the matrix of the chest proper. Each hollow contained a single linen-wrapped and resin-smeared coffinette of beaten gold, all four closely similar in design to the second coffin, inlaid in rishi, or feathered-pattern with colored glass and carnelian; these coffinettes contained the embalmed and carefully wrapped viscera of the dead king. On each of these coffins, which are 39cm high, is inlaid the name of the appropriate protecting genius with whom the king’s internal organs were identified – Imsety the liver, Hapy the lungs, Duamutef the stomach, and Qebhsenuef the intestines – the four ‘sons of Horus’. Over them, perhaps before their introduction into the tomb since the canopic lids were displaced slightly, had been poured the black resin already encountered on the king’s coffins and mummy.

The same lack of care noted in the arrangement of the large gilded shrines was evident in the canopic equipment also. The positions of the free-standing gilded deities Nephthys and Selkis had been transposed, and a similar mistake had been made in the placement of two of the inlaid coffinettes. A heap of wooden chips, detached during the fitting of the gilded wooden canopy, had been abandoned on the Treasury floor.

As with other objects from the king’s burial furniture, there are indications that certain elements of the canopic assemblage had not originally been prepared for Tutankhamun, but were surplus items left over from the unused funerary equipment of a predecessor. In the case of the calcite canopic lids, the grounds for doubting the attribution are stylistic: quite simply, the portraits do not resemble those of the boy king, though such a resemblance has been claimed. In the case of the canopic coffinettes (the lid to at least one of which Carter believed differed in workmanship and offered a poor fit to the box), the evidence is more substantial: the inscriptions chased on the interior gold linings have had the owner’s cartouches altered from those of Ankhkheprure – presumably Nefernefruaten, the enigmatic co-regent of Akhenaten, of whom the coffinette masks perhaps offer a likeness.

  • Statue of Selket Protecting Tutankhamun’s Shrine  (Goddess Selket, Protecting Tutankhamun’s Shrine)

One of the four protective goddesses who stand at the sides of the canopic chest, Selket, like her companions Isis, Nepthys, and Neith, is made of carved wood coated with gesso and gilt. She was fitted into a slot on the sledge by means of a support below her feet. The only paint is that used to delineate her eyes and eyebrows. Upon her head is her emblem, the scorpion, whose sting she was reputed to be able to cure.

In the Coffin Texts, Selket functions as a protectress of the canopic equipment and also as a guardian of the coffin. Her magic is referred to in religious texts, and it was she who would go against the evil serpent Apophis, the enemy of the sun god. Her role was later expanded to that of a protectress of the dead and her varied functions even included aiding during childbirth. She is usually depicted as a human female.

In the tomb of Tutankhamun it is Selket who will protect the intestines of the king. Placed in a miniature coffin, and according to inscriptional evidence, this organ was identified as one of the four sons of Horus, Kebehsenuef. The hieroglyph on the lid of the case states that Selket will put her arms upon what is inside her, an apparent reference to the representation of her on the underside of the lid and the three dimensional sculpture of her with outstretched arms.

  • Goddess Isis Protecting Tutankhamun’s Shrine

The goddess Isis extends her arms in a protective gesture across one of the outer walls of Tutankhamun’s canopic shrine. Three other guardian deities protected the shrine: Nephthys, Selket and Neith. Each of them was associated with one of the cardinal points of the compass. Within the canopic chest itself were four gold coffinettes, with the viscera of the pharaoh.

  • Sarcophagus of Brown Quartzite

The box of this fine sarcophagus is made of brown quartzite and the lid is made of pink granite tinted to the color of the box. Why two different stones should have been used is not obvious, unless the reason was that the intended quartzite lid was not ready in time for the funeral and a granite lid of indifferent quality, which happened to be available, was substituted for it. There was another puzzle too: the granite lid was broken in two and the fracture, which was concealed with cement and paint, must have occurred before the shrines were put in position. No explanation seems possible, except that the king’s premature death made it necessary to hurry the work and an accident happened.

Symbolism for magical purposes was an important feature of Egyptian funerary equipment. On the sarcophagus it is seen most clearly in the graceful figures of four goddesses, Isis, Nephthys, Neith, and Selket, carved in high relief on the corners, their wings outspread to protect the body within the sarcophagus.

  • Alabaster Canopic Chest

Inside the canopic shrine was a magnificent alabaster chest with gilded dado, placed on a gilded wooden sledge and covered by a linen pall. The detachable roof, which served as the lid of the chest, was fastened by cords to gold staples near the top of the walls. At each corner was a figure, carved in high relief, representing one of the four goddesses who guarded the outer shrine. In front of the goddesses were short inscriptions, one of which is the following: "Words spoken by Isis: ‘My arms hide what is in me, I protect Imsety who is within me, [the] Imsety of the Osiris, king Nebkheperura [i.e. Tutankhamun], true of voice’." Four cavities were hewn in the interior of the chest to hold the internal organs and on top of each cavity was an alabaster stopper, a finely sculptured likeness of the king. The features were picked out in black and red and the vulture’s head and cobra on the brow were inserted.

  • Innermost Golden Coffin

Like the internal organs of the king, his mummy was also within several series of containers. Three mummiform coffins, one inside the other, and weighing over three thousand pounds, were inside a carved quartzite sarcophagus, whose cracked lid was made of granite. The four goddesses, Isis, Selket, Neith and Nepthys, each carved on a corner, spread protective wings around the sides and utter words on behalf of the deceased king. A wooden canopy with a linen pall with golden rosettes covered the sarcophagus. Four gilt outer shrines, each one adorned with vignettes from funerary texts, were built one over the other; the outermost one of which almost reached the ceiling and was barely two feet from the wall.

When finally extricated from the almost glue-like unguents poured over each coffin, the golden coffin was found to weigh more than two thousand pounds. Slightly more than six feet in length and four feet in width, it is almost one eighth of an inch thick. Lying within the second mummiform coffin, the gold coffin was covered, except for the head, with reddish linen. A stiffened bead and floral collar adorned the neck.

Colored glass, faience and small pieces of semiprecious stones form the inlays that cover the upper portion of the coffin and include the eyes, eyebrows and false beard of the king. Strands of gold and faience beads, similar to the gold of honor, hang around the neck. An inlaid collar is over the upper part of the chest, while two vultures, one with the head of a serpent, adorn the arms, abdomen and sides of the figure and parallel the vulture and cobra goddesses upon his brow. A feather pattern and the protective goddesses, Isis and Nepthys, are engraved on the lower part. An inscription in two columns is found on the lower part of the coffin, and Isis, engraved on the foot, spreads out her protective wings and utters the statement, among others, that Tutankhamun will be strong and vigorous and that he will achieve a spiritual state in heaven.

Video 1. Tutankhamen golden treasury

  • Miniature Canopic Coffin

Each of the four compartments of the canopic chest held a miniature coffin. Covered in linen, they stood upright in their cylindrical compartments. Each was almost glued to the bottom owing to the hardening of the unguents that had been poured in as part of the ritual. It was the duty of the goddess Nepthys, whose name is inscribed on the front, to protect the lungs of Tutankhamun, which were placed inside, after first being preserved. The figure, fashioned of solid beaten gold, contains inlays of colored glass and semiprecious stones. It is very close in design to the second coffin in which Tutankhamun was buried; in fact, it is almost a miniature version.

The inscription written in the panel on the front are words spoken by the goddess Nepthys. She states that she will protect Hapy; Hapy means the lungs with which the god Hapy is associated. The figure is mummiform, and across the upper part are the protective wings of two vultures, one of which, however, has the head of a cobra. The two represent the goddesses of Upper and Lower Egypt.

The inside of the canopic coffin is completely engraved. The upper part, which corresponds to the lid of the coffin, shows Nepthys with outstretched wings. The remainder of the top and the entire bottom is inscribed with hieroglyphs. The cartouches show indications that the name of Tutankhamun was not original and that it has replaced the name of his elder brother, Smenkhkare. In fact, the face portrayed here is quite distinct from that shown on other pieces.

  • Painted Casket

When found, this alabaster casket was lying in the Antechamber with the lid removed, no doubt by the robbers. There was nothing to suggest that they had interfered with its contents, which consisted mainly of an ivory pomegranate, a layer of cloth, a mass of decayed (horse?) hair, and two balls of hair wrapped in linen, one 2 inches and the other 2-3/8 inches in diameter. Balls of dried Nile mud, sometimes with tufts of hair in the center and sometimes with fragments of papyrus or linen, have been found in Egyptian tombs and they are thought to have had a magical significance, the nature of which is still obscure, although there is evidence to suggest that they were associated with some form of contract. Since this casket bears the names of both the king and the queen, it is conceivable that each ball contains the hair of one of them. If some contract of importance was thereby signified, it may explain why such simple articles were placed in so elaborate a casket.

The box and lid of this casket are each carved from a single piece of alabaster (calcite) and the two knobs are made of obsidian (volcanic glass). The decoration throughout is incised and filled with colored pigments. On the lid it consists of formal bouquets in which the chief components are a papyrus flower, cornflowers, mandrakes and lily petals. Two identical horizontal bands of blue lily petals beneath friezes of a checker pattern decorate the box. At the head end the bands are broken by a rectangular frame within which are the cartouches of the king and of the queen. Above the cartouches are their titles "Good God, Lord of the Two Lands" and "Son of Ra, Lord of the Diadems" for the king, and "Great Royal Wife" for the queen. The cartouches of the king are followed by the wish that he may be "Given life for ever and ever" and beneath the cartouche of the queen is the wish that she may "be given life and be fruitful".

Video 2. The tomb of Tutankhamen, the Pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt, was discovered by Howard Carter in 1923. The tomb in the Valley of the Kings was nearly intact when it was found and the discovery sparked worldwide press attention. Thus, Tutankhamen is now one of the most popular and widely recognised of Pharaohs. King Tut ruled 1333 BC – 1324 BC. He began his reign at the age of nine.


  1. King Tutankhamen’s Tomb [Full text]
  2. Tutankhamen treasury [Full text]
  3. The story of king Tutankhamen [Full text]
  4. Tutankhamen, King of Egypt [full text]

November 30, 2009 - Posted by | Ancient Egyptian panorama

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