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Ancient Egypt

The Tomb of Tutankhamun

by Peter Kessler, 1 April 1999. Updated 28 October 2007

On 4 November 1922, the tomb of Egypt's boy-king Tutankhamun was discovered by the English archaeologist, Howard Carter. Tutankhamun became pharaoh at the tender age of nine and he died in 1324 BC, when he was just nineteen years old.

Until recently, he was usually thought to be the son-in-law of Sakere, his predecessor, but there is a possibility that the mysterious Sakere may in fact have been Queen Nefertiti, perhaps using a different name to avoid the persecution visited upon her late husband. If that's correct then Tutankhamun was the son of Nefertiti and Akhenaton.

The last male pharaoh of the eighteenth dynasty, he is now regarded as one of the most famous rulers of Egypt. Oddly, the reason is more for the fact that he died and was buried rather than anything he may have done when he was alive. The discovery of his remarkable tomb is one of the great archaeological events of the twentieth century.

The find of the century

In 1917, Howard Carter was a monuments inspector who also supervised excavations begun by Theodore Davies. Theodore Davies was a rich American patron of archaeology and it was he who held the concession to excavate in the Valley of the Kings where Tutankhamun's tomb was eventually found.

That tomb had managed to stay hidden for 3,300 years. Theodore Davies relinquished the concession to excavate in the Valley of the Kings in 1914. Lord Carnarvon, who was already working with Carter, took it over and immediately sponsored an expedition for him to find the tomb of the boy pharaoh.

Tutankhamun's tomb had not been finished, so his chief advisor and former regent, Ai, had his own tomb hastily prepared with paintings and a sarcophagus fit for a royal burial.

All the goods which the boy would need in the next life, including a boat, were crammed into the tomb, as were the miscarried children of his young wife, Ankhesenamen. Then the tomb was sealed and the site covered over with rocks and rubble to hide it from prying eyes, where it remained undisturbed for millennia.

Evidence suggests that Ai now proclaimed himself pharaoh, and may even have married Ankhesenamen to secure his position. Incestuous relationships were nothing new in ancient Egypt, where keeping the royal bloodline pure was more important than the problems such relationships could cause the royal baby production line. It seems likely that Ai may even have upheld tradition, being the grandfather of Ankhesenamen as well as her husband.



Text copyright © P L Kessler. An original feature for the History Files.