Before the spectacular discovery of his almost intact
tomb in the Valley of the Kings (KV 62) in November 1922, Tutankhamun was a shadowy and
little known figure of the late 18th Dynasty. To a certain extent he still is, despite the
prominence he has acquired from the contents of his tomb.
Tutankhamun's name was known in the early years of this century from a few references, but
his exact place in the sequence of the 'Amarna kings' was uncertain. Like Akhenaten and
Ay, his name had been omitted from the classic king lists of Abydos and Karnak, which
simply jump from Amenhotep III to Horemheb. Indeed, Tutankhamun's exact identity - and his
parentage - is still a matter of some conjecture, although it is clear that the young
prince was brought up at Amarna, probably in the North Palace. A number of items found in
his tomb are relics of his life at the Aten court, notably the Aten's disc shown
protecting him and his young wife, Ankhesenamun, on the pictorial back panel of his
Towards the end of Akhenaten's reign the senior members of the court,
especially Ay and Horemheb, probably realized that things could not go on as they were.
Smenkhkare, Akhenaten's brother (or son?) and co-regent, must have come to the same
conclusion since he had left Akhetaten and moved back to the old secular capital, Memphis,
where he may have been in contact with the proscribed members of the priesthood of Amun
before his death and burial at Thebes. Soon after Akhenaten's death, Tutankhaten (as he
then was) was crowned at Memphis. Aged about nine when he succeeded, the young king would
have had no close female relatives left - his probable mother Kiya, his stepmother
Nefertiti and his eider step-sisters all being dead. He was probably under the direct care
and influence of Ay, the senior civil servant, and Horemheb, the military man.
Tutankhaten's wife, Ankhesenpaaten, was evidently older than he since she was already of
child-bearing age, seemingly having had a daughter by her father, Akhenaten.
As soon as the new king had been installed, a move was made back to the old religion. This
was signified radically in Year 2 when both king and queen changed the -aten ending of
their names to -amun. Tutankhamun probably had little to do with this or indeed many other
decisions - his 'advisors' were the ones who held the reins and manipulated the puppet
strings of the boy-king. A great 'Restoration' stele records the reinstallation of the old
religion of Amun and the reopening and rebuilding of the temples. The stele is known from
two copies, both of which were later usurped by Horemheb, as were many other monuments of
Tutankhamun. A large number of reliefs and statues have been identified as originally
belonging to Tutankhamun (the majority showing him either in the company of Amun or as the
god himself); for although the inscriptions have been changed, the king's boyish features
are clearly recognizable. Extensive building works were carried out at Karnak and Luxor in
Tutankhamun's name, especially the great colonnade and the relief scenes of the Festival
of Opet at Luxor, but all were subsequently taken over by Horemheb.
Apart from the pivotal return to Thebes and the cult of Amun, few events from
Tutankhamun's reign have been documented. Military campaigns were apparently mounted in
Nubia and Palestine/Syria, suggested by a brightly painted gesso box from Tutankhamun's
tomb which has four spirited scenes featuring the king. One shows him hunting lions in the
desert, another gazelles, whilst on the third and fourth he furiously attacks Nubians and
then Syrians, who fall to his arrows. Finely carved scenes of prisoners in the Memphite
tomb of the military commander.in-chief, Horemheb, lend some veracity to the scenes on the
gesso box, as does the painting in the tomb of Huy, Viceroy of Nubia, which shows
subservient Nubian princes and piles of tribute. It is doubtful, however, that Tutankhamun
actually took part in any of the campaigns.
In addition to the two premier figures of Ay and Horemheb, the names of other high
officials who served during Tutankhamun's reign are known to us. Two of them were accorded
the privilege of donating objects to the king's burial. One was Nakhtmin, a military
officer under Horemheb and a relative of Ay (possibly a son). He presented five large
wooden ushabtis, each inscribed with his name under the feet. There is a fine portrait
head of Nakhtmin in Cairo, broken from a dyad statue with his beautiful but unnamed wife.
Another official was Maya, who was Tutankhamun's Treasurer and also Overseer of the Place
of Eternity (the royal cemetery), where his name is also known from a graffito in a fine
hand on a wall in the tomb of Tuthmosis IV recording restorations being carried out,
presumably the checking and rewrapping of the royal mummy. To Tutankhamun's tomb Maya
contributed a fine large wooden ushabti (again with his name recorded under its feet), and
a beautifully carved effigy of the mummified king on a lion-headed bier with two
delightful ka and ba birds watching over him. Maya's tomb was located at Saqqara in 1843
by Richard Lepsius when the splendid statues of him and his wife Meryt were removed to
Leiden. In 1986 the tomb was rediscovered by Professor Geoffrey Martin through a robbers'
tunnel from a nearby tomb.
Another high official to have a tomb at Thebes (TT 40)
was Huy, Viceroy of Nubia. A vast wall painting, about 17 ft (c. 6 m) long, shows Huy in
the full finery of his office presenting the princes of north and south Nubia, together
with their families and retainers, to the king. Not least amongst the representations is
the entourage of a Nubian princess, she in her chariot, and the vast piles of tribute.
This may all be the result of Horemheb's military foray into Nubia.
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 Tutankhmnun died in
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.
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 enbalming and of a funerary feast or wake (1907), followed two years later in 1909
by a cache of gold frag~nents froth 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.
After many years of frustrating and meticulous working through the Valley, clearing
down to bedrock, the first of a flight of 16 descending steps was found on 4 November
1922, just in front and to the north side of the entrance to the tomb of Ramesses VI (KV
9). By the next day the stairs had been cleared, revealing the top of a blocked door,
sealed with the impression of the necropolis guards (the recumbent jackal over nine
captives); behind it was a sloping corridor filled with debris and, at the far end,
another blocked doorway. Beyond it and at right angles was a large chamber, dubbed the
Antechamber, and off it to the back left was a smaller room, the Annexe. To the right was
a blocked doorway in the end wall guarded by two larger-than-lifesize black wood statues
of the king. Beyond that was the burial chamber, almost completely filled with the huge
catafalque of four gold overlaid wooden shrines enclosing the red quartzite sarcophagus
with its cracked granite lid.
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
Hopes were high that amongst all the splendour there would be some important literary or
historical documentation, but nothing of that nature was found. Apart from the king's own
remains, the most moving aspect of the tomb must surely be the two stillborn mummified
fetuses of baby girls, aborted at five months and possibly eight or nine months, found in
the Treasury. They must have been daughters of Tutankhamun by Ankhesenamun. Had either
lived, she would have taken her mother's place in due course as the Great Royal Heiress,
carrying on the Amarna blood line - indeed, the whole later history of Egypt's 19th
Dynasty could have been changed.
The immediate availability of the gold coffin and mask as well as the large granite
sarcophagus box suggests that provision for Tutankhamun's eventual burial had been in hand
for some time. However, his actual death was obviously unexpected, for not only were a
number of the items provided for the burial 'from stock' and originally intended for
previous use, but even the tomb he was laid to rest in was not intended for him. Signs of
haste are evident everywhere, since the ritual required that all preparations and the
embalming be completed within a period of 70 days.
The tomb is far too small for a royal burial, and had almost certainly
been granted as a royal favour to the elderly Ay in recognition of his signal service over
the years. (There are other instances of high officials being granted a similar privilege
of burial in the Valley of the Kings.) Because of the king's sudden demise, and the fact
that this tomb was virtually ready, it was appropriated and steps immediately taken to
decorate the burial chamber.
Tutankhamun's intended tomb seems to be that found by Giovanni Belzoni in 1816 at the
far end of the western Valley of the Kings (KV 23) and later used by Ay. This conforms to
the pattern of 18th Dynasty royal tombs and was probably chosen with a propaganda motive
in view, that is to bury the king fairly close to his grandfather Amenhotep III, thereby
underlining the return to old ways and the old religion.
Amongst Tutankhamun's equipment there were a number of items that had obviously come from
a funerary store. At least one of the great wooden shrines had been made for Smenkhkare,
as had the four small gold coffinettes that held the king's viscera. It can be seen,
sometimes with difficulty, where the earlier name had been excised and Tutankhamun's added
over the top. It is also possible that the second coffin of the three had also been
intended for Smenkhkare, since its features are unlike the other two and the miniature
canopic coffinettes are copies of it.
Even the sarcophagus box was second-hand. Extensive recurring was undertaken, to the
extent of removing all the original texts (thus lowering the surface), and adding new
ones; wings were also added to alter the standing figures of the goddesses (possibly
because they were originally standing queens, as on Akhenaten's shattered sarcophagus? ).
The granite lid was made to fit the quartzite box - obviously a different material but,
again, time may have been of the essence and a suitable slab of granite was available at
Thebes. In the event there was an accident and the lid was split in two.
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 Hittires, explaining
her plight. The evidence comes not from the Egyptian records but from excavations at
Hattusas in Turkey, the Hittire 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 Hittire king was highly suspicious and nqade
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.