A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
A Metropolitan Museum exhibition highlights remains from the burial of King Tut
Creating a burial as spectacular as that of the pharaoh Tutankhamun required a vast amount of preparation. The exhibition Tutankhamun’s Funeral at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art shows dozens of artifacts that include leftover materials from Tut’s mummification and provide unique insights into the days leading up to his interment.
Beginning in 1902, retired American lawyer Theodore Davis sponsored excavations in the Valley of the Kings directed, successively, by Howard Carter, Arthur Weigall, and Edward Ayrton. Davis and his crew had a remarkable series of discoveries: the tomb of Thutmose IV (KV43), the tomb of Yuya and Tujya (Tutankhamun’s great grandparents), 19th Dynasty jewelry in KV56, and KV55 (an enigmatic royal burial from the end of the 18th Dynasty).
Of great interest is the discovery by Davis (Ayrton doing the real work) in late December 1907 of a deposit of funerary goods in KV54, a tomb that was started but never completed. It included seal impressions with the name Tutankhamun, linen bundles of natron, floral collars, and a miniature gilded cartonnage face mask. It was initially interpreted as a deposit of funerary meal debris and ritually unclean mummification leftovers. Now, however, it is interpreted as a deposit of funerary goods, including some from the preparation of the burial, as well as objects re-buried after an attempted plundering of Tutankhamun’s tomb.
Among the artifacts found there and now on display is an intriguing piece is a linen strip that had been used in Tut’s household before it became a mummy wrapping. It is inscribed in ink with “Year 6,” meaning it was woven during the sixth year (ca. 1331 B.C.) of Tutankhamun’s reign. One sausage-shaped linen pouch filled with sawdust would have been used to plump up the pharaoh’s body after his organs had been removed. Such artifacts evoke the Tutankhamun’s humanity in a way his image on the magnificent coffins and funerary mask do not. “These are very humble things compared with the treasures from the tomb,” says exhibition curator Dorothea Arnold. “But on the other hand, people don’t just want to look and say ‘ooh.’ They want to think, and that’s what this exhibition is for” (see our full interview with Arnold: "To Bury a Pharaoh"). Tutankhamun’s Funeral is on view through September 6.
Eti Bonn-Muller is the AIA online senior editor.