King Tut's Tomb

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In 1978, archeologists working in the Valley of the Kings accidently came across a single step. Digging further, they confirmed it was but one of many that led down to a previously undiscovered tomb.

Unlike any other tomb found (so far) in Egypt, this one was relatively intact. One reason for this is probably the small size of this tomb which was, after all, for a minor Pharaoh who died young.

The Pharaoh

We believe Tutankhamun ruled Egypt between 1334 and 1325 BC. He was probably the 12th ruler of Egypt's 18th Dynasty. Tutankamun was not given this name at birth, but rather Tutankhaten (meaning Living Image of the Aten), squarely placing him in the line of pharaohs following Akhenaten, the heretic pharaoh, who was most likely his father. His mother was probably Kiya, though this too is in question. He changed his name in year two of his rule to Tutankhamun (or heqa-iunu-shema, which means "Living Image of Amun, Ruler of Upper Egyptian Heliopolis") as he reverted to the old religion.

At age nine he was married to Ankhesenpaaten, his half sister, and later Ankhesenamun. It seems Tut did not succeed Akhenaten directly as ruler of Egypt, but either an older brother or his uncle, Smenkhkare (keeping in mind that there is much controversy surrounding this king and almost zero knowledge). We believe Tutankhamun probably had two daughters later, but no sons.

One reason why Tutankhamun was not listed on the classical king lists is probably because Horemheb, the last ruler of the 18th Dynasty, usurped most of the boy-king's work, including a restoration stele that records the reinstallation of the old religion of Amun and the reopening and rebuilding of the temples.

Precisely how the young king died is unknown but the fodder of many theories.

The Tomb

Tutankhamun's tomb is located in the Valley of the Kings between the tombs of Rameses II and Rameses IV. Although robbers probably entered the tomb at least twice in antiquity, its contents were virtually intact when it was discovered in 1978.

The design of Tutankhamun's tomb is typical of that of the kings of the eighteenth dynasty. At the entrance to the tomb there is a flight of stairs leading to a short corridor. The first room is the antechamber where many of the household items for Tutankhamun's voyage to eternity were found. Off this room is an annex, and at the far end is an opening that leads to the burial chamber. This chamber was guarded by two black sentry-statues that represent the royal ka (soul) and symbolize the hope of rebirth -- the qualities of Osiris, who was reborn after he died.

The burial chamber contains Tutankhamun's sarcophagus and coffin. Its walls are painted with scenes of Tutankhamun in the afterworld - the ritual of "opening the mouth" to give life to the deceased, the solar bark on which one travels to the afterworld, and Tutankhamun's ka in the presence of Osiris.

The Politics

In modern Egypt, archeology is a major point of contention between the so-called Royalists (actually Khedive Loyalists) and the Arabcentric Nationalist Republicans. The Grand Council of Antiquities has absolute authority over archeological finds yet is totally dependent on the elected legislature for its budget and must work hand-in-hand with various bureaucracies. Yet the prestige and income generated by the field gives the Council (whose members are selected by the Khedive) considerably more influence than is immediately obvious.

The treasures of King Tut's tomb have revitalized the entire field of Egyptology, and in the last quarter-century those requesting permits to dig in Egypt have tripled in number. Tours of selected artefacts from the tomb have generated income for the Royal Council and its museums as well as increasing its standing in world at large. The Nationalist Party has not tried to thwart this, but has done much to "get in on the action" by pushing its own sponsorship of archeologists. This has had some unexpected results, as one such team--relegated to an obscure oasis--in fact discovered a treasure trove of over three hundred mummies from the Ptolemaic Era.

Meanwhile, the fame and importance of the King Tut finds have sparked a local movement to declare them "treasures of the state" which would take them out of the jurisdiction of the Grand Council.

The Legacy

The tomb's discovery had impacted more areas than archeology or Egyptian politics. It captured the popular imagination in sometimes surprising ways. One was a theory put forth by Russian historian Dr. Oleg Dochenko that the Slavs were the original Egyptians, thus the founders of the world's first great civilization. This theory, given support but not quite official mandate by the SNOR, is not considered viable by the mainstream of scholars on the subject.

Another impact was the sympathy for a supposedly murdered young king viewed as a puppet by oligarchs and aristocrats by the Anti-Snorist Movement. Indeed, fascination with all-things-Egyptian (specifically ancient Egyptian) rose steadily in the 1980s. Several Egyptian-laden motion pictures were made at the height of this interest, including:

  • The Living Mummy (1988) an extremely successful motion picture based on a best-selling novel. It is in essence a horror story suggested (slightly) by a Brom Stoker short story, laden with curses and the suggestion that Ancient Egypt worshipped demons.
  • Le Garçon Roi ("The Boy King") (1986) was produced in Louisianne and was a costume epic tragedy, taking the view that Tut was a murder victim.
  • The First Pyramid (1989) was one of the last motion pictures produced by Russia's SNOR regime, a highly-fictionalized telling of Imhotep's building of Egypt's first pyramid. A blatant piece of propoganda, build around a pair of fictional Russian archeologists who discover Imhotep's tomb and proof of Slavic origins, it has become something of a cult hit.