King Tut question

Apparently a new King Tut exhibit opens this week in LA, which makes me feel old, as I remember seeing the last King Tut exhibit in the 70’s or 80’s. But what’s the significance of King Tut? I thought he was a relatively minor Egyptian ruler. So is the significance that his tomb was not looted centuries ago, so that it’s the only one that was left intact? And given the riches of his tomb, can I assume that one of the major kings (like Cheops) would have left a more fabulous tomb, but that it’s long since been looted?

Pretty much. Tut showed us just how much wealth these people had, and it in a very vivid fashion. And even though he personally wasn’t important, he was right in the middle of important going-son in the world.

Possibly. Of course, the mere fact that he was a minor and unimportant nobody from the perspective of history doesn’t mean he spent any less on himself.

What I find funny is that, given the available gold in the world, the Egyptian kings would have each had a substantial portion of wealth… which came from the previous king’s tomb. Heh.

The tomb was not completely intact. There are signs that it had been robbed soon after Tut was buried. Apparently, it was discovered, and resealed, but there’s no way of knowing how much was taken, and whether or not it was replaced.


My favorite part of the Tut’s Tomb story, and one that makes me feel a kinship with my fellows in the design and drafting field lo these many thousands of years of years ago, is that, though each piece of the inner tomb was annoted, showing which piece attached to which and where, the assemblers threw it together willy-nilly and when something didn’t fit because it didn’t belong there they took a BFH (Big Freakin’ Hammer) and MADE it fit, regardless of the damage they caused. (sigh) Nothing has changed except the names of the assemblers.

There was a big power struggle going on right before the time of Tut. There is speculation that Nefertiti changed her name and became Pharoah herself (note - this is not universally accepted by scholars). Regardless of the details, when Akhenaton and Nefertiti fell from power the political power shifted the other way and many people seem to have gone to great lengths to erase portions of the history around that time.

Tut was a short lived pharoah who came to power in the middle of all of this chaos. Because he was so short lived, he didn’t get a chance to amass a huge amount of wealth. There is some evidence to suggest that many of the treasures from Tut’s tomb actually belonged to Nefertiti and were robbed from her tomb to populate his. For example, the gold face that is so famously displayed for Tut is actually a replacement face attached to an older sarcophagus that some believe was Nefertiti’s. The great treasures of Tut were probably hastily assembled (and stolen from other tombs) and probably represented just enough treasure to get by for a pharoah so he wouldn’t be embarassed in the afterlife.

For those of you who appreciate 100 year anniversaries remember that:

[The Washington Post article is not paywalled as the link is a repost]

You’d never know he was born in Arizona.

Well, he was pretty young when he moved to Babylonia.

He actually came to the throne at a time of great religious upheaval in Egypt. His father, Akhenaten, had converted Egypt from its traditional Gods, to monetheistic one worshipping the sun god “Aten”. Indeed “Tuts” original name was Tutankhaten, which when he succeeded to the throne became Tutankhamun. The succession of Tutankhaten/ Tutankhamun saw Egypt quite decisively return to its old gods, whether due to Tutankhamun’s wish or more likely because the boy-King was guided by his advisors.

A millenium later, when Mantheo wrote his histories of Egypt he claimed Moses was actually a disaffectected former Priest of Aten.

Yes. Akhenaten replaced the existing theology with his own monotheistic Sun God religion. One theory is that this was to break the power of the temple priests. Much like Henry VIII with the monasteries, the religion had accumulated a vast amount of money and so power and influence. However, when he died, the old guard quickly re-established themselves. (Some debate who his successor was, but then a few years later his young son became the pharaoh, but Tut had medical issues and died fairly quickly)

As each pharaoh died, his funeral took a lot of money for the pomp and circumstance. Along with this was setting up a temple near his tomb to ensure he was cared for and worshipped in the afterlife. (Which with each pharaoh’s new bequest, caused more accumulation of lands and money in the hands of priesthood) Originally this was in front of their funeral pyramid, but they quickly learned during times of trouble, invasions, etc. thieves took advantage of the chaos to loot tombs. (There is, for example, nothing in the great pyramids except an empty sarcophagus.)

By Tut’s time, they had learned to build their tombs as tunnels deep into the ground in the Valley of the Kings. A deep tunnel was harder to break into, and with them all together, they could be watched more easily. Some are amazingly deep and elaborate. Tut’s is short and small, since he was still a boy when he died so they did not have time to dig anything long. Hence the speculation they repurposed other funerary objects.

Some of the outer tomb items were disturbed - it seems they were ransacked, but it looks like the thieves were disturbed in progress, so the priests tried to tidy things up and reset the bricks at the entrance. IIRC, the inner room was not touched. What saved the whole lot was that another tomb was build in the hill above his, so the debris from Ramses IV’s (?) tomb covered the entrance sufficiently that everyone forgot about it.

Tombs were being robbed regularly, but in the chaos at the end of the middle kingdom, one general made a point of “mining” all the grave goods he could find to finance his army. there are other finds, where, for example, a huge stash of royal mummies were found - minus a lot of their grave goods, but collected and in some cases labelled. It appears the priests did their best to at least leave some dignity to royal burials. So certainly some of the grave goods were recycled, either deliberately or by thieves.

But the point is correct - Tut is famous for not having his tomb cleaned out by robbers, unlike almost every other major figure in early Egyptian history. It gives us the best window into what the art and wealth of the time was like. Note that with the Egyptian focus on providing for the afterlife, there is very little left of their day-to-day life. Their temples and monuments are stone, but much of their daily living was mud brick, which was not a good choice in a place that flooded every year. Plus, their riches were placed into tombs, rather than handed down from generation to generation.

It is worth saying that quite a few royal tombs had been discovered in the Valley of the Kings in the couple of decades before 1922, mostly by Theodore Davis. Davis even thought that one of them was Tutankhamun’s. Apart from Egyptologists, no one took much interest in any of them. But all had been raided. Had Tutankhamun’s actual tomb not been (relatively) intact, the reaction to its discovery would have been exactly the same.

Do you happen to have a citation for this? It’s a fun idea that I would really like to be true, but I’m having trouble confirming it! (I realize this comment was made in 2005, I hope dropzone is still around!)

Sadly, no. Dropzone has passed on .

Yes. The major excitement was “Look how elaborate the funeral preparations and goods were for even a minor ruler”. Plus, it was a large cache of relatively intact artifacts of the era, in very good condition. The uniqueness of this is what has made it notable.

Incidentally, there’s a new book detailing some of the actual objects besides the handful of most famous ones. Tutankhamun’s Trumpet: Ancient Egypt in 100 Objects from the Boy-King’s Tomb by Toby Wilkinson.
Apparently, they included a bunch of models of things that would normally have been depicted on the tomb walls, but they didn’t have space for it all.

Another interesting site: a survey of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings

Click on and on for details… exactly the sort of information presentation mode the internet can best provide.

How many Kings were there and for what percentage was a tomb found?

Lots. from the site-

There are 64* numbered royal and private tombs in KV, ranging from small, pit tombs (KV 54) to huge labyrinths with over 120 corridors and chambers (KV 5). A few tombs have been “discovered” only in the past hundred years or so (KV 62: , but most had been opened - and plundered - long ago, some in antiquity, shortly after they were first sealed, others in Graeco-Roman and Byzantine (Coptic) times. There also may still be more. Dr. Zahi Hawass and an Egyptian-led expedition recently made a discovery tentatively numbered KV 65 in the West Valley, and their work is ongoing.

This was the royal burial ground of the New Kingdom. They had learned that big fancy pyramids were an invitation to grave robbers, and thought that burying them deep in tunnels would be less easily robbed.

Unfortunately, what happened in in the time of chaos after the New Kingdom, the local general/self-declared pharaoh of the southern Nile area made grave-robbing a government project. There have been several stashes of mummies that were apparently taken from the royal tombs, stripped of any jewelry, and then the collections of royal mummies were re-wrapped and replaced in bulk in assorted tomb tunnels in the nearby nobles’ graveyard. DNA evidence has identified, for example, several of Tut’s ancestors and relatives, often confirmed by labelling (royal cartouche symbols) on the wrappings of the mummies themselves. All the grave goods appear to have been taken, and any jewels, gold or silver was likely used to pay for the armies.

You can visit these tombs - usually a half-dozen or so at a time are open to visitors in the Valley of the Kings. the giant granite sarcophagus is likely still in the main chamber of the tombs, and since they were closed up afterwards until modern times, the wall and ceiling paintings are still vivid. But anything of value was taken, and anything else has been taken by archaeologists.

Additional fun acts: Tut, who died about age 18, married his half-sister, and they had 2 children who died early; one was premature at 5-6 months, the other died at about birth. Both were mummified and were found in the tomb with Tut.

There was a US Tut exhibit in the 2000s, which I remember because it was at the Ft Lauderdale Museum Of Art for a bit, which I could have walked to and saw during my lunch break since I was working nearby at the time. But like a complete and utter moron I kept putting it off and missed it. Dammit.

Yeah, by some odd chance I happened to be a Member of the LA County Museum, and got nigh-VIP entry. (Now, being a member is common, but back then, with the museums being free or nearly so, it was not common).

What royal tombs are missing? There still could be one buried and lost.