Updated: Apr 5
Funerary Mask of Tutankhamun
The mask of Tutankhamun is a gold mask of the 18th-dynasty ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun (reigned 1332–1323 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. The mask is one of the best-known works of art in the world.
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 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." Since 2001, research has suggested that it may originally have been intended for Queen Neferneferuaten; her royal name (Ankhkheperure) was found in a partly erased cartouche on the inside of the mask.
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 by people 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."
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.
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). X-ray crystallography has revealed that the mask contains two 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.
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. He wears a nemes headcloth, topped by the royal insignia of a cobra (Wadjet) and vulture (Nekhbet), symbolizing 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.
It contains inlays of colored glass and gemstones, including lapis lazuli (the eye surrounds and eyebrows), quartz (the eyes), obsidian (the pupils), carnelian, feldspar, turquoise, amazonite, faience and other stones (as inlays of the broad collar).
When it was discovered in 1925, the 2.5 kg (5.5 lb) narrow gold beard, inlaid with blue lapis lazuli, giving it a plaited effect, had become separated from the mask, but it was reattached to the chin using a wooden dowel in 1944.
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.
In January 2016, it was announced that eight employees of the Egyptian Museum were to stand trial 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 prosecution. As of January 2016, the date of the trial remains unknown.
[Back of the mask]
A protective spell is inscribed with Egyptian hieroglyphs on the back and shoulders in ten vertical and two horizontal lines. 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.
"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."
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.
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.