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What does the tomb of tutankhamen and its contents show about the Egyptian concern for the afterlife? Tutakhamen's tomb, and the artifacts inside are an indication of the concern the Ancient Egyptians held for the after-life of their king. In 26th Nov. 1922, the English archaeologist Howard Carter opened the virtually intact tomb of a largely unknown pharaoh: Tutankhamen. This was the first, and to date the finest royal tomb found virtually intact in the history of Egyptology. It took almost a decade of meticulous and painstaking work to empty the tomb of Tutankhamen. Around 3500 individual items were recovered.
When the Burial Chamber of Tutankhamen was officially opened, on 17 February 1923, the Antechamber had been emptied. It had taken near fifty days to empty the Antechamber; the time required to dismantle and restore the contents of the Burial Chamber including the gilded wooden and the sarcophagus was to be greater, and the work was not completed until November 1930, eight years after the original discovery. One must examine both the tomb itself, and its contents, to see the connection between the tombs and burial rituals and the doctrine of eternal life. The royal tombs were not merely homes in the hereafter for the kings, as are the private tombs of commoners and nobility. Instead the tombs are cosmological vehicles of rebirth and deification as much as "houses of eternity." As the king is supposed to become Osiris in a far more intimate way than commoners, he is equipped with his very own Underworld. And as the king is supposed to become R in a way entirely unavailable to commoners, he is equipped with his very own passage of the sun, whether this is thought of as the way through the underworld or through the heavens. Tutankhamon's tomb, hurriedly prepared for the premature death of the king at the age of only about 18, is, as Romer says, a "hole in the ground," compared to a proper royal tomb.
The theme of fours is conspicuous in Egyptian religious practice. Tutankhamon's tomb contains four chambers. The burial chamber, with a ritual if not an actual orientation towards the West, is the chamber of departure towards the funeral destinies. The internment of the body certainly is the beginning of the sojourn of the dead, and the Egyptians saw the dead as departing "into the West." The room called the "Treasury" is then interpreted to have a ritual orientation towards the North as the "chamber of reconstitution of the body." Since the most conspicuous object in the Treasury was a great gilt sledge holding the shrine containing the canopic chest, which holds the king's viscera, this could well suggest the problem of reassembling the king's living body. That task, indeed, has a very important place in Egyptian mythology. After the goddess Isis had retrieved her husband Osiris's murdered body from Byblos, their common brother, Seth, the original murderer, stole the body, cut it into pieces, and tossed them in the Nile.
Isis then had to retrieve the parts of the body before Osiris could be restored to life. Her search through the Delta, which is in the North of Egypt, seems to parallel the "sacred pilgrimage" to cities of the Delta that Desroches-Noblecourt relates as one of ritual acts of the funeral, as many of the other objects in the Treasury seem to be accessories for that pilgrimage. For the sovereign to be reborn it was necessary that a symbolic pilgrimage be made to the holy cities of the delta. The principal halts of the journey corresponded almost exactly to the four cardinal points of the delta where these cities were situated. Sais, to the west, represented the necropolis where the body was buried; Buto to the north, with its famous canal, was an essential stage of the transformations within the aquatic world of the primordial abyss, evoking the water surrounding the unborn child; and Mendes to the east whose name could be written with the two pillars of Osiris, the djed pillars, evoking the concept of air. There, said the old texts, the gods Shu and Tefenet were reunited, or again, according to the 17th chapter of The Book of the Dead, that was where the souls of Osiris and Re had joined.
Finally, the southern-most city which completed the cycle of Heliopolis, the city of the sun, symbolizing the fourth [sic] element, fire, where the heavenly body arose in youth glory between the two hills on the horizon. [Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt, 1963, p. 238-9] As these four cities parallel the four rooms of the tomb itself, we seem to have a nice series of parallel symbols. If Sais, in the West, was significant for its necropolis, then Sais, like the burial chamber, can represent the departure into the West. Buto itself, the northernmost city, then represents the site of the actual "reconstitution of the body." What followed Isis's reassembly of Osiris's body was its revivification. Mendes, in the East, where the sun rises, would then seem to be the locus for that, with the associations, especially with Osiris.
In the tomb, the small "Annex" is then associated with this ritual stage, the "chamber of rebirth." The ritual pilgrimage then ends at Heliopolis in the South, where the king, having been reborn, reassumes his throne, as Desroches-Noblecourt views the "Antechamber" of the tomb as the "chamber of eternal royalty." Overall, the tomb may be divided into three parts: The Inner Tomb, which means the burial chamber and its side rooms, however elaborate; the Middle Tomb; and the Outer Tomb. In the Outer Tomb, six parts may be distinguished: four passages, the "Well," and the optional "well room." The four passages originally consisted of two deep stairs and two sloping corridors. The outer stair might not now be considered part of the tomb proper, since it merely led up to the sealed entrance of the tomb; but the Egyptians saw it as already part of the tomb and named it the "god's first passage," or the "god's first passage of the sun's path." All the corridors, indeed, were thought to represent the passage of the sun god R through the twelve caverns of the underworld in the hours of the night, prior to his rebirth at dawn--the precedent for the rebirth of the king. Consequently, when decorated, they at first held excerpts from the Amduat, the book of "That Which is in the Underworld," or the later "Book of Gates." As the emphasis slowly shifted with time from the association with the underworld to an association with R himself, another work, the "Litany of R" made its appearance. The stair of the "god's third passage" was thus originally a room with the stair in its floor. As the stairs later became ramps, and as the descent of the passages leveled out by the XX Dynasty, the "god's third passage" was revealed as having a ritual as well as a practical meaning; for the flat spaces of the original room were preserved, even when they had been reduced to no more than long niches in part of the walls of the third passage. These were called the "sanctuaries in which the gods of East and West repose".
"East and West" refer to the ritual orientation of the passage, East on the Left when facing out of the tomb (as the Egyptians saw it), West on the Right. The fourth passage eventually acquired two niches at the end, called the "doorkeepers'" niches. The "Well" itself is a feature that has excited considerable interest. The Egyptians called the Well the hall of "waiting" or "hindering. The function of such a room, as symbolic of the whole tomb, provides a ritual locus for rebirth. The "Ba" soul in earlier representations flies up the shaft of the tomb and out into the world. All that is added in the royal tomb is the king's trip through the underworld, the four entering or, as the Egyptians also saw them, exiting passages.
The "Hall of Waiting," with or without the well itself or the lower well room, typically shows scenes of the king meeting the gods--one of the motifs of the burial chamber in Tutankhamon's tomb--and this is often shown when decoration has not been completed elsewhere in the tomb, as in that of Thutmose IV. This would indicate some importance to the function of such a part of the tomb. This brings us, through the sealed door, to the Middle Tomb. As the "Chariot Hall" or "Hall of Repelling Rebels," it contains the equipment needed for the king to live an ordinary life and perform his kingly duties once reborn, i.e. actual chariots, beds, clothing, etc. Some have labeled it the "chamber of eternal royalty." One might call it the "living room" of the tomb, the opposite of the burial chamber with its uniquely funereal equipment. It then may be significant that the rest of the tomb is accessed through the stair or ramp dropped from the floor. If the spirit of the king comes up from the crypt, entering the Chariot Hall is like rising into the upper world.
It is at that point that we might divide the whole tomb into the Upper Tomb and the Lower Tomb. The Lower Tomb is about death and rebirth; the Upper Tomb is about the new life and access to the world (the Chariot Hall and the Outer Tomb, both the shaft of the Well and the outer passages). Significantly, the wall of the Chariot Hall above the passage down (the "another god's first passage"), often displays an "Osiris shrine," which signal an emphasis on Osiris. Once freed of its contents, it became possible to examine the wall paintings in the only decorated room in the entire tomb, the burial chamber. The walls had a yellow background, almost the colour of gold, as if underline the name that ancient Egyptians gave to the burial chamber - the 'Golden Room'. The surface of the paintings was in an excellent state of preservation though it was speckled with innumerable tiny circular stains due to the development of ....
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