Sunday, October 27, 2013

Tutankhamun's tomb

The death of a king
Tutankhamun died young, probably during his ninth regnal year. Evidence for this is twofold. First, forensic analysis of his mummy has put his age at death at about 17. Secondly, clay seals on wine jars found in his tomb record not only the type of wine, the vineyard and the name of the chief vintner, but also the king's regnal year when each wine was laid down. The highest recorded date is Year 9, suggesting that Tutankhamun died in that year. 

There is no positive evidence on Tutankhamun's mummy as to how he met his death: he certainly did not die of consumption as was once thought. However, autopsies and Xrays have located a small sliver of bone within the upper cranial cavity. It may have arrived there as the result of a blow, but whether deliberately struck, to indicate murder, or the result of an accident, such as a fall from a chariot, it is not possible to say. 

The discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb
Several finds made in the Valley of the Kings over the years led Howard Carter to believe that the king was still somewhere in the Valley: a small faience cup bearing Tutankhamun's name (1905-6 season), the remnants of materials used in the king's embalming and of a funerary feast or wake (1907), followed two years later in 1909 by a cache of gold fragments from chariot and furniture fittings with the king's name and that of Ay as a commoner. The story of Carter's quest and his understanding patron, the Fifth Earl of Carnarvon, is well known.

Of the nest of three coffins in the sarcophagus, the innermost was of solid gold, the outer two of wood overlaid with gold. The king's mummy lay in the midst of all this splendour with its famous gold mask but, by comparison, the actual remains of the king himself were pitiful, the result of poor embalming. Beyond the painted burial chamber (the only decorated room in the tomb), through an open doorway guarded by a large recumbent wooden figure of the jackal Anubis, lay the Treasury. Here stood the great canopic wooden shrine enclosing the calcite canopic chest. The chest held four jars containing Tutankhamun's viscera, whose human-headed lids were modelled in the likeness of the king.

The succession in question Tutankhamun's early death left his wife Ankhesenamun a young widow in a very difficult situation. Obviously hemmed in on all sides by ambitious men much older than herself, she took an unprecedented step and wrote to Suppiluliumas I, king of the Hittites, explaining her plight. The evidence comes not from the Egyptian records but from excavations at Hattusas (Boghazkoy) in Turkey, the Hittite capital, where a copy was found in the archives. She told him her husband had died and she had no sons while he had many, so would he send one to marry her and continue the royal line. The Hittite king was highly suspicious and made enquiries; messengers were sent to check the details and reported back that such was the case. A Hittite prince, Zannanza, was therefore sent to Egypt to take up the queen's offer. It seems that he got no further than the border before he was murdered, and the deed can easily be laid at the door of Horemheb: he had the means as commander-in-chief of the army, the opportunity and certainly the motive.

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