Tutankhamun, the pharaoh and the discovery of the tomb

Tutankhamun, the pharaoh and the discovery of the tomb

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Tutankhamun (1345-1327 BC) was a Pharaoh of the XVIIIth dynasty, son of Akhenaton, to whom he succeeded. He came to the throne around the age of eight and reigned until his death at the age of eighteen. During his reign, peace settled in Egypt while the worship of Amun, abandoned by Akhenaton, was reestablished and Thebes, the sacred city of Amun, again became the capital of Egypt. Little is known about his reign and it is the discovery of his tomb in the Valley of the Kings that will make him the most famous of the pharaohs. It was found almost intact, as well as its magnificent treasures, in 1922 by Howard carter.

Tutankhamun "child of the sun"

When Tutankhamun ascended to the throne around 1336 BC. BC, Egypt was in the grip of religious unrest triggered by the reform initiated by his father Amenhotep IV Akhenaton, which aimed to replace the worship of ancient deities for the benefit of a single god: Aten, the solar disk. Calfeuché in his new capital located in Amarna, the “heretical” pharaoh lives cut off from his people, and has a hard time convincing the Egyptians to convert to this new monotheistic solar religion. At the end of his reign, Akhenaton becomes radicalized and the persecutions against the priests and the representations of the old gods multiply. Not having had a son by Nefertiti, he married his sister by whom he probably had Tutankhamun.

The end of Akhenaton’s reign is marked by a strange epidemic that grieves the royal family. These are successively three daughters of Akhenaton, his mother Tiyi then his wife Nefertiti who die in a few years, then the pharaoh himself who disappears in still obscure circumstances. One of Tutankhamun's sisters, Merytaton, Akhenaton's short-lived wife, wielded power for a few years before being brutally carried away in her turn. The latter's husband, a possible Hittite prince and who would have taken the name of Smenkharê, is eliminated, probably by the royal entourage, may be enthusiastic at the idea of ​​seeing a foreigner become pharaoh.

Restoring the old order

It is therefore under dire omens and a precarious internal situation that the one who still calls himself Tutankhaton finally accedes to the throne of the land of the two lands. Given the pharaoh's young age, it is his two main ministers (and successors) Aÿ and Horemheb, two characters already in office under Akhenaton, who exercise the reality of power. By this time, the court and the administration had already deserted the new city of Akhenaton to regain Thebes, the former capital of the pharaohs and the seat since the Middle Kingdom of the dynastic god Amun. The religion of Aten, intimately linked with the personality of its forerunner, did not survive him.

To establish the legitimacy of the young pharaoh, his entourage hastens to marry him to one of his surviving sisters, and proclaims the return to the polytheistic religion. Amon and his clergy are restored to their prerogatives, much to the relief of the population mainly hostile to the Atonian reform. Toutânkhaton becomes Tutânkhamon, and his title multiplies the references to the ancient cult (He who wears the crowns, who rejoices the gods, Living Image of Amon, He whose laws are perfect, who pacifies the Two Lands and satisfies all the gods ). The old order is clearly restored and in the interests of appeasement, the new ruler and his entourage have the monuments battered by Akhenaton restored.

The heir to a ... genetically weakened dynasty

As evidenced by an unusual number of walking sticks and a first aid kit found in his tomb, the young Pharaoh's health must have been faltering. We now know thanks to a recent scientific discovery, it is a malaria crisis combined with a disease of the bones, both of genetic origin, which took Tutankhamun at the age of eighteen years, without the sovereign 'has probably had time to exercise the reality of power.

This same study, which made it possible to formalize the so far supposed kinship of Tutankhamun, confirmed the serious genetic weakening of the line of Thutmosides. Under the 18th Dynasty, consanguineous marriages had become commonplace, and a form of divine legitimation for the pharaohs. By dint of incestuous relationships, the monarch had inherited all the genetic defects accumulated by his ancestors. A failure which no doubt also explains why he had no posterity (evidenced by the two fetuses discovered in his tomb) and which also perhaps explains the curious massacre which affected the royal family at the end of the reign of 'Akhenaton.

Tutankhamun's reign might have been anecdotal had it not been for the end of the religious revolution initiated by Akhenaton. Although, given his young age, one may have doubts about the part taken personally by Tutankhamun in the chapter which closed the monotheistic adventure led by his father. In fact, his successors have taken great care to erase all representations and mentions of father and son, to be sure that there is no trace of the hated Pharaoh and his fragile heir. A meticulous company that has been successful for over three millennia.

The discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb

After ten years of research, British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered Pharaoh Tutankhamun's vault on November 4, 1922, near Luxor, in the Valley of the Kings. Miraculously, the tomb had escaped looters, although it was briefly visited shortly after the young Pharaoh's burial. It is an exceptional find and the general public is not mistaken, becoming very fond of the young Pharaoh and the tale of the unearthing of his precious tomb, filled with fabulous masterpieces.

More than two thousand objects are extracted from the four chambers, of inestimable historical value, and it will take Carter and his team many months to empty the tomb. Among the funerary furnishings were mixed up thrones, beds, fabrics, jewels, clothes, weapons, sculptures, food and wine jars, toys ... All that had accompanied the brief life Pharaoh and what he needed to complete his last journey to eternity. It should be noted that recent research suggests that the major part of the treasure would come from the recycling of that of his sister Mérytaton, who would have reigned a few years before Tutankhamun.

The pharaoh's hitherto inviolate sarcophagus alone is worth its weight in gold, it is the case to say it! The first two nested coffins which protect the Pharaoh are in gilded wood, richly decorated with precious stones. The third and last coffin is in solid gold, which when opened finally reveals the mummy of Tutankhamun, whose head is adorned with the famous death mask of Tutankhamun, the most prestigious piece in the Cairo museum. On the body, which has already suffered well from the ravages of time, has been laid a surprisingly well-preserved bouquet of flowers, moving and possibly the ultimate testimony of his widow's affection.

The mystery of Tutankhamun's death

About the mummy, that of the young pharon has been the subject of manyspeculations and ... autopsies. Tutankhamun's untimely death has long remained an unsolved mystery. The numerous fractures found on his skeleton have long fueled the possibility of unnatural death, with Egyptologists once again looking suspiciously in the direction of a potential instigator, the notorious Aÿ, Tutankhamun's successor. The murder hypothesis was ruled out in 2005 by scanner studies. In fact the mummy was the victim ... of Carter and his team, who at the time of the discovery had to heat it to more than 500 ° using kerosene lamps to free it from its coffin, thus damaging seriously the skeleton.

History of a usurped eternity dwelling

This tomb is probably not the one the young king intended for himself. Of an unusual size and layout for a ruler of the XVIIIth Dynasty, it looks more like that of an important personage, in this case probably the one that A fait, successor of Tutankhamun and the then its principal minister. A character represented elsewhere on the murals of the burial chamber, presiding over the ceremony of the opening of the mouth. of the deceased pharaoh It is quite possible that Aÿ, who became pharaoh at an advanced age and having little time to build his own vault, had his original tomb of notable person hastily recycled to have Tutankhamun buried there, stealing in the process his tomb, built not far from that of Amenhotep III, the grandfather of the young stripped king.

This unscrupulous character was not satisfied with aexchange of mansions of eternity. He is strongly suspected of having moved the contents of the tombs of the previous royal family, to fill that of Tutankhamun. Thus, pieces of the hastily piled up furniture in the tomb discovered by Carter were not originally intended for the young king. Thus the famous and magnificent throne, a vestige of the Amarna period, was more likely that of Akhenaton. Likewise, one of the sarcophagi that contained Tutankhamun's mummy seems to have been made ... for a queen. It is estimated that more than 80% of the contents of the young king's tomb were not intended for him.

Since the discovery of his tomb in 1922, part of the Tutankhamun mystery has been unveiled. But the young man with the golden mask and the keen smile continued to surprise us. And he has eternity ahead of him to tell us his story. A story that still fascinates the general public as much as ever, flocking to the exhibitions and to the Cairo msée to admire Tutankhamun's treasure.


- Toutankhamon by Christiane Desroches Noblecourt. 2004.

- The fabulous discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb, by Howard Carter. Libretto, 2019

- In the privacy of Tutankhamun - What the objects of his treasure reveal, by Florence Quentin. First Editions, 2019.

Video: The mystery of King Tuts tomb


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