Five facts about Tutankhamun’s mummy

Egyptian skill kept the dead protected for millennia, including the most famous mummy of them all.

Howard Carter (1873-1939) egyptologue anglais pres du sarcophage en or massif du pharaon Toutankhamon (momie) en Egypte (Vallee des Rois) en 1922 (photo Harry Burton)  ---  Howard Carter (1873-1939) english egyptologist near golden sarcophagus of Tutankhamon (mummy) in Egypt in 1922 (photo Harry Burton)

Ancient Egyptians believed that eternal life after death could be attained, but only if they had been properly prepared. So as early as the fourth millennium BC, the process of mummification transformed the dead into a vessel, which their ba (soul) could recognise.

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Yet in sending a body to the afterlife, the Egyptians succeeded in preserving them on Earth until their civilisation was long gone. Just look at the ‘Boy King’, Tutankhamun.

Here are 5 facts about mummification and Tut’s earthly remains…

1

TUT’S COFFINS

Inside his giant red stone sarcophagus, which measures nearly 3 metres long and weighs well over a tonne, the wrapped mummy of Tutankhamun was buried in three separate coffins. The innermost coffin was made of solid gold, weighing 110.4kg.

Although, it wasn’t all that impressive when discovered by Howard Carter, as the gold was covered by a black residue left over from anointing rituals.

2

THE MUMMY

After the 1922 discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, the mummy was first examined in 1925. The oils and resin had glued it to the coffin, so Howard Carter ordered the body to be cut into pieces and put back together.

The burial chamber of Tutankhamun, where his sarcophagus still sits, in the Valley of the Kings, near Luxor © Getty Images
The burial chamber of Tutankhamun, where his sarcophagus still sits, in the Valley of the Kings, near Luxor © Getty Images
3

THE ART OF WRAPPING

Once the body was embalmed, it needed to be wrapped, a process that took 15 days and use more than 150 metres of bandages. Long strips of linen wrapped the head and neck first, followed by the fingers and toes individually, then arms and legs.

After each layer, the bandages are painted with a resin-like substance, which acts as glue. To ward off evil spirits, amulets and a scroll with spells from the Book of the Dead are tied between the linen.

4

MAKING A MUMMY

To be done properly, embalming and mummification took a while – 70 days to be exact. The body was washed in wine or water from the Nile, before the embalmer pulled out the brain through the nose with a hook and the internal organs removed through an incision in the left side of the torso, except the heart.

The body was then covered with natron (natural salt) to dry out. After 40 days, oil was rubbed to smooth the skin, while the body was stuffed with linen or sawdust to make it more lifelike.

Tutankhamun's golden death mask in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo © Getty Images
Tutankhamun’s golden death mask in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo © Getty Images
5

THE DEATH MASK

Tutankhamun’s golden death mask, discovered in 1925, is perhaps the most famous piece of Ancient Egyptian art. It was also vitally important so that the spirit can recognise their body once in the afterlife.

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The vulture goddess Nekhbet and cobra Wadjet sit on top of the mask to symbolise Tutankhamun’s rule of both Upper and Lower Egypt. In 2014, the plaited beard fell off, leading to eight employees of the Egyptian Museum being charged.

This article was first published in the June 2016 issue of History Revealed.