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What Tutankhamun’s Tomb Reveals about New Kingdom Egyptian Society Essay Sample

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What Tutankhamun’s Tomb Reveals about New Kingdom Egyptian Society Essay Sample

The discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb by Howard Carter in 1922 is considered the most important archaeological find of the century. As one of the most intact monuments of Ancient Egypt, Tutankhamen’s tomb reveals a great deal about the burial customs, role of the king, religious beliefs, leisurely pursuits and food of New Kingdom Egypt.

Being so intact when Carter made the discovery, the shrine of Tutankhamun gives us a strong indication of the burial practises of the New Kingdom Egyptians. The Canopic Shrine situated on the east wall of the Treasury holds Tutankhamun’s embalmed internal organs. A gold chest held four Canopic jars containing the dead pharaoh’s internal organs – lungs, stomach, intestines and liver – in each jar. Clearly, during the process of mummification, the embalmers must have removed the viscera and preserved them in the Canopic jars, perhaps to be taken with the pharaoh to the next world. The third and innermost of three mummiform coffins of Tutankhamun is made of solid gold and is inlaid with semiprecious stones and coloured glass.

It is covered with incised decorations and inscriptions inside and outside. It bears the names and epitaph of the deceased king and also protective texts. From this we learn how important the decoration of the mummy was, and the power the coffin was believed to hold. The coffin is shaped in the form of the god Osiris holding the sacred insignia, the heka sceptre and the flail. He wears a divine beard is made of gold inlaid with blue glass, and a vulture and cobra situated on his forehead are protecting him from evil and ensuring safe passage into the other world. All of these are royal symbols of the Pharaoh and signify once again his direct alignment with the gods.

The 35 model boats found in the Treasury Room of Tutankhamun’s tomb gives us an indication of the favoured transport of the New Kingdom Egyptians, and also reveals the wide variety in the form and design of actual boats and ships. The Nile river was the main way of travelling in Ancient Egypt, so boats and ships were very important means of transportation. The designs of the boats, made of painted wood and papyrus, seem to fit different functions such as fishing, cargo and transport. Some of the boats have masts and cabins, presumably for sheltering the king and his officials. Some of boats would allow the deceased to accompany Osiris and Re, others would allow him to travel and take part in hunting in the marshes. It is presumed that most of the models were connected with Tutankhamun’s pilgrimage to Abydos, or act symbolically to transport the king, as sun god, on his journey along the streams of the underworld to complete the cycle of resurrection.

It was important for the Pharaoh to be seen as a hunter, and hunting seems to have been an important aspect of New Kingdom life. This is demonstrated by the discovery of boomerangs in the antechamber, which give us an indication of the hunting techniques and beliefs of the New Kingdom Egyptians. The boomerangs bear the throne name of Tutankhamun, and are decorated with lotus flowers and an udjat eye. Made of ivory or wood and inlaid with gold, their lengths vary between 26 and 64 centimetres long. They are intricately crafted and the care taken over them shows how significant they were to the Egyptians. The New Kingdom emphasis on hunting is also demonstrated in a tomb painting found on the right-hand wall of the shrine. It confirms the importance of the king as a hunter by depicting Tutankhamun hunting in a swamp with a boomerang. From this we can gather that throwing sticks and boomerangs were used to hunt the marsh birds, which were regarded as hostile powers threatening world order in Egyptian mythology. Thus the boomerangs were particularly meaningful in New Kingdom religion as they allowed the owner to conquer chaos in the Netherworld. That is why it was integral for Tutankhamun to own several, so he would be sure to ascend into the heavens in the afterlife.

A funerary bed found in the antechamber also sheds light on the religious beliefs of the New Kingdom Egyptians. The bed is in the shape of a cow holding a solar disk between its horns. It has coloured glass inlays which form parts of eye and spots on skin, giving us an indication of the craftsmanship of the time and how valuable the cow and solar disk was. Its particular symbolism, however, is complicated and may encompass several traditional deities. It is possible that the cow represents the goddess Hathor, who is responsible for resurrection of the deceased. On the other hand, it is widely believed that the cow bed embodies the goddess Mehetweret.

Mehetweret plays an important role in the birth of the sun god, and it is from her, the nocturnal sky, that the sun god Ra is born each day. Because of this, her presence in the tomb is important because it will ensure that Tutankhamun will progress to the next world, to take his position as the sun. The confusion in analysing this artefact stems from the inscription in the frame, which refers to a deity in form of a lion. This may be a mistake, however, as there is a lion bed also found in the antechamber which refers to Mehetweret. It is also possible that the bed encompassed all attributes of all cow goddesses to ensure the ascension of Tutankhamun to the next world.

Artefacts found in Tutankhamun’s tomb also give us an indication of the leisurely pastimes of Ancient Egyptian royalty. Carter discovered a senet table, a type of board game, in the annex of the tomb. Senet is a box resting on a base of four legs, partly gilded and fixed to a sled. The upper surface is ivory and divided into thirty squares by strips of wood. Because the pharaoh’s names are on the side of the box, as are phrases in favour of him, one concludes that senet must have been significant to the young king. Although no pieces were found with board, it is safe to assume that they did exist since there are special compartments in the box designed for holding them. There is no information as to how to play the game, and archaeologists conjecture that two competing players must move their pieces after throwing a form of dice.

The drink and food found in the annexe gives us a good indication as to what some New Kingdom Egyptians were eating. Carter discovered 30 jars of wine of varying age and quality, and we can believe therefore that wine was part of the Pharaohs daily consumption. 116 baskets of food were discovered, containing grapes, melon, dried raisins, mandragora, leeks, ducks, nuts, pomegranate and wild honey. As we suppose that this food was everything that it was believed a dead king would need to eat in the afterlife, we can also suppose that it would have been what Tutankhamun would have eaten in day to day life.

Tutankhamun’s collection is the most complete royal treasure ever discovered, consisting of more than 3850 artefacts and was an exciting and revolutionary find. It helped archaeologists and Egyptologists piece together many theories of the New Kingdom and provided insight into the burial customs, religious beliefs, food and leisure of the time. However, although we learn many things from Carter’s discovery, because this is the tomb of a Pharaoh, it is not representative of the everyday life of the rest of New Kingdom Egypt. In fact, Tutankhamun’s tomb can only be taken as an example of royal life, and is by no means an indication of the daily habits of the majority of New Kingdom Egyptian society.


Bradley, Pamela, 1999, Ancient Egypt: Reconstructing the Past, Great Britain, Cambridge University Press.

Carter, Howard, 1972, The Tomb of Tutankhamen, Great Britain, E.P. Dutton. 26.

Frayling, Christopher, 1992, The Face of Tutankhamun, Boston, Faber and Faber.

Gardiner, Sir Alan, 1966, Egypt of the Pharaohs, Great Britain, Oxford University Press.

Lehner, Mark, 1977, The Complete Pyramids; Solving the Ancient Mysteries, Great Britain, Thames and Hudson.

Reeves, Nicholas, 1990, The Complete Tutankhamun: The King, the Tomb, the Royal Treasure, London, Thames and Hudson Ltd.


The Tomb of Tutankhamun, www.eternalegypt.org

Tutankhamun, http://members.tripod.com/~ib205/tut_amarna_2.html

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