Mask of Tutankhamun

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Mask of Tutankhamun
CairoEgMuseumTaaMaskMostlyPhotographed.jpg
MaterialGold, lapis lazuli, carnelian, obsidian, turquoise and glass paste[1]
Size54 × 39.3 × 49 cm
WritingAncient Egyptian hieroglyphs
Createdc. 1323 BC
Discovered28 October 1925[2]
Present locationEgyptian Museum, Cairo
IdentificationCarter no. 256a; Journal d'Entrée no. 60672; Exhibition no. 220[3]

The mask of Tutankhamun is a gold mask of the 18th-dynasty ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun (reigned 1334–1325 BC). It was discovered by Howard Carter in 1925 in tomb KV62 in the Valley of the Kings, and is now housed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.[4] The death mask is one of the best-known works of art in the world and a prominent symbol of ancient Egypt.[5]

Bearing the likeness of Osiris, Egyptian god of the afterlife, it is 54 centimetres (1.8 ft) tall, weighs over 10 kilograms (22 lb) or 321.5 troy ounces, and is decorated with semi-precious stones. An ancient spell from the Book of the Dead is inscribed in hieroglyphs on the mask's shoulders. The mask had to be restored in 2015 after its 2.5-kilogram (5.5 lb) plaited beard fell off and was hastily glued back on by museum workers.

According to the Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves, the mask is "not only the quintessential image from Tutankhamun's tomb, it is perhaps the best-known object from ancient Egypt itself."[5] Since 2001, some Egyptologists have suggested that it may originally have been intended for Queen Neferneferuaten.[6]

Discovery[edit]

Tutankhamun's burial chamber was found at the Theban Necropolis in the Valley of the Kings in 1922 and opened in 1923. It would be another two years before the excavation team, led by the English archaeologist Howard Carter, was able to open the heavy sarcophagus containing Tutankhamun's mummy. On 28 October 1925, they opened the innermost of three coffins to reveal the gold mask, seen for the first time in approximately 3,250 years. Carter wrote in his diary:

The pins removed, the lid was raised. The penultimate scene was disclosed – a very neatly wrapped mummy of the young king, with golden mask of sad but tranquil expression, symbolizing Osiris … the mask bears that god's attributes, but the likeness is that of Tut.Ankh.Amen – placid and beautiful, with the same features as we find upon his statues and coffins. The mask has fallen slightly back, thus its gaze is straight up to the heavens.[7]

In December 1925, the mask was removed from the tomb, placed in a crate and transported 635 kilometres (395 mi) to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, where it remains on public display.

Description[edit]

The mask is 54 cm (21 in) tall, 39.3 cm (15.5 in) wide and 49 cm (19 in) deep. It is fashioned from two layers of high-karat gold, varying from 1.5–3 mm (0.059–0.118 in) in thickness, and weighing 10.23 kg (22.6 lb).[8] X-ray crystallography conducted in 2007 revealed that the mask is primarily made of copper-alloyed 23 karat gold to facilitate the cold working used to shape the mask. The surface of the mask is covered in a very thin layer (approximately 30 nanometres) of two different alloys of gold: a lighter 18.4 karat shade for the face and neck, and 22.5 karat gold for the rest of the mask.[9]

The face represents the pharaoh's standard image, and the same image was found by excavators elsewhere in the tomb, in particular in the guardian statues.[10] He wears a nemes headcloth, topped by the royal insignia of a cobra (Wadjet) and vulture (Nekhbet), symbolising Tutankhamun's rule of both Lower Egypt and Upper Egypt respectively. The ears are pierced to hold earrings, a feature that appears to have been reserved for queens and children in almost all surviving ancient Egyptian works of art.[11] The Egyptologist Zahi Hawass, a former Egyptian Minister of Antiquities, told Al-Monitor that the "theory about the ear piercing is unfounded because all the 18th Dynasty's rulers wore earrings during their period of rule."[12]

The mask is inlaid with coloured glass and gemstones, including lapis lazuli (the eye surrounds and eyebrows), quartz (the eyes), obsidian (the pupils), carnelian, amazonite, turquoise, and faience.[3][13][9]

Beard[edit]

When it was discovered in 1925, the 2.5 kg (5.5 lb)[14] narrow gold beard, inlaid with blue glass,[9] giving it a plaited effect, had become separated from the mask, but it was reattached to the chin using a wooden dowel in 1944.[15]

External video
video icon News report on the 2015 restoration work (in English)

In August 2014, the beard fell off when the mask was taken out of its display case for cleaning. The museum workers responsible used quick-drying epoxy in an attempt to fix it, leaving the beard off-center. The damage was noticed in January 2015 and has been repaired by a German-Egyptian team who reattached it using beeswax, a natural material used by the ancient Egyptians.[16]

In January 2016, it was announced that eight employees of the Egyptian Museum were fined and faced discipline for allegedly ignoring scientific and professional methods of restoration and causing permanent damage to the mask. A former director of the museum and a former director of restoration were among those facing discipline.[17]

Inscription[edit]

Back of the mask

A protective spell is inscribed with Egyptian hieroglyphs on the back and shoulders in ten vertical and two horizontal lines.[10] The spell first appeared on masks in the Middle Kingdom, 500 years before Tutankhamun, and was used in Chapter 151 of the Book of the Dead.[18]

Thy right eye is the night bark (of the sun-god), thy left eye is the day-bark, thy eyebrows are (those of) the Ennead of the Gods, thy forehead is (that of) Anubis, the nape of thy neck is (that of) Horus, thy locks of hair are (those of) Ptah-Sokar. (Thou art) in front of the Osiris (Tutankhamun). He sees thanks to thee, thou guidest him to the goodly ways, thou smitest for him the confederates of Seth so that he may overthrow thine enemies before the Ennead of the Gods in the great Castle of the Prince, which is in Heliopolis … the Osiris, the King of Upper Egypt Nebkheperure [Tutankhamun's throne-name], deceased, given life by Re.[19]

Osiris was the Egyptian god of the afterlife. Ancient Egyptians believed that kings preserved in the likeness of Osiris would rule the Kingdom of the Dead. It never totally replaced the older cult of the sun, in which dead kings were thought to be reanimated as the sun-god Re, whose body was made of gold and lapis lazuli. This confluence of old and new beliefs resulted in a mixture of emblems inside Tutankhamun's sarcophagus and tomb.[19]

Bead necklace[edit]

Although it is usually removed when the mask is on display, it has a triple-string necklace of gold and blue faience disc-beads with lotus flower terminals and uraeus clasps.[20]

Possible alteration and reuse[edit]

Several of the objects in Tutankhamun's tomb are thought to have been adapted for Tutankhamun's use after originally being made for either of two pharaohs whose short reigns preceded his: Neferneferuaten, who was probably Nefertiti, and Smenkhkare. Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves argues that the mask was one of these objects. He says that the pierced ears indicate that the mask was intended for a female pharaoh, which Neferneferuaten was; that the slightly different composition of the underlying alloy of the face (23.2 karats) suggests it was made independently from the rest of the mask (23.5 karat alloy); and that the cartouches on the mask show signs of being altered from Neferneferuaten's name to Tutankhamun's. Reeves argues that the nemes-headcloth, collar, and ears of the mask were made for Neferneferuaten but that the face, which was made as a separate piece of metal and matches other portrayals of Tutankhamun, was added later, replacing an original face that presumably represented Neferneferuaten.[11][21] However, Christian Eckmann, the metal conservation expert who carried out the restoration in 2015, says there are no signs that the face is composed of a different gold than the rest of the mask or that the cartouches have been altered.[22]

Gallery[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Gâdiuță, Corina (2005). Egyptian Museum Cairo. Editura Adevărul holding. p. 106. ISBN 978-606-539-203-8.
  2. ^ Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt (1965). Tutankhamen: Life and Death of a Pharaoh. Doubleday. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-1400-2351-0.
  3. ^ a b "Tutankhamun: Anatomy of an excavation, the Howard Carter archives". The Griffith Institute. University of Oxford. Retrieved 28 November 2015.
  4. ^ Reeves 2015, p. 511.
  5. ^ a b Reeves 2015, p. 522.
  6. ^ Marianne Eaton-Krauss (2015). The Unknown Tutankhamun. Bloomsbury Academic. p. 111. ISBN 978-1-4725-7561-6.
  7. ^ "Howard Carter's excavation diaries (transcripts and scans)". The Griffith Institute. University of Oxford. Retrieved 10 April 2016.
  8. ^ Reeves 2015, p. 512.
  9. ^ a b c Uda, M.; Ishizaki, A.; Baba, M. (2014). "Tutankhamun's Golden Mask and Throne". In Kondo, Jiro (ed.). Quest for the Dreams of the Pharaohs: Studies in Honour of Sakuji Yoshimura. Cairo: Ministry of State for Antiquities. pp. 149–177. Retrieved 12 October 2021.
  10. ^ a b Reeves 2015, p. 513.
  11. ^ a b James Seidel (26 November 2015). "Tutankhamun's mask: Evidence of an erased name points to the fate of heretic Queen Nefertiti". News.com.au. News Corp Australia. Retrieved 28 November 2015.
  12. ^ Hagar Hosny (28 July 2021). "Egyptologists refute British theory doubting King Tut's mask". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 November 2021.
  13. ^ Alessandro Bongioanni; Maria Sole Croce (2003). The Treasures of Ancient Egypt from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Rizzoli. p. 310. ISBN 978-0-7893-0986-0.
  14. ^ Nevine El-Aref (22 October 2015). "Interview with German conservator Christian Eckmann". Ahram Online. Retrieved 18 December 2015.
  15. ^ "Does King Tut have a new barber?". Dr Zahi Hawass. Laboratoriorosso. 22 February 2015. Archived from the original on 7 October 2016. Retrieved 18 December 2015.
  16. ^ Liam Stack (16 December 2015). "Repaired King Tut mask back on display in Egypt". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 December 2015.
  17. ^ "8 employees referred to trial over damage to Tutankhamun mask". Daily News Egypt. 23 January 2016. Retrieved 24 January 2016.
  18. ^ "Tut exhibit: Gold death mask of Tutankhamun". Tour Egypt. Retrieved 19 December 2015.
  19. ^ a b Trustees of the British Museum (1972). Treasures of Tutankhamun. Thames & Hudson. pp. 154–156. ISBN 978-0-7230-0070-9.
  20. ^ Reeves 2015, p. 514.
  21. ^ Reeves 2015, pp. 519–523.
  22. ^ Forbes, Dennis C. Tombs, Treasures, Mummies, Book Four: The Tomb of Tutankhamen (KV62), Revised Edition. KMT Communications, 2018. p. 363

Sources[edit]

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