The Gilded Coffin of Tjuya: An Ornate Sarcophagus of King Tut’s Grandma Essay
The Gilded Coffin of Tjuya: An Ornate Sarcophagus of King Tut’s Grandma
Ancient Egyptian art are always beautiful in a magical sense. 3,000 or more years ago, their embalmers preserved a noble person or a king’s remains for safekeeping because they believed they would need them again in the afterlife. In keeping these remains, they needed ornate vessels where they would place these preserved organs and their bodies are wrapped in cloth and placed in an ornate sarcophagus. What purposes they would have in mind that time would be irrelevant because at present, they did not only preserved history itself but they had imparted their culture to ordinary people as well.
In the King Tutankhamun Exhibit, there were many ornate items on display that could generate the “oohs” and “ahhs” of all viewers. Often called the “Boy King”, two Englishmen Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon uncovered his tomb in 1924 and found gold-covered couches, statues, chariots, musical instruments, chests, a throne, and much more. The Egyptians buried King Tut in a tomb carved into rocky cliffs. The cliffs were in an area we now call the Valley of the Kings. Many pharaohs or Egyptian kings, during King Tut’s time chose to be buried in hidden tombs in this valley. They didn’t want thieves to rob their graves. Ancient Egyptians buried their pharaohs with everything from food and clothing to jewels and thrones. They believed these were all things the king would need in the afterlife, or life after death. Such treasures tempted thieves and often times been ravaged (National Geographic For Kids, 2006).
Zahi Hawass of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities and an international team of radiologists, pathologists, and anatomists completed a comprehensive CT scan of the mummy of King Tutankhamen (who ruled 1333–23 BC). Hawass stated that contrary to what had been previously thought, there was no evidence that King Tut had been murdered. Although Tut was only 19 when he died, the team found no evidence of either a blow to the back of the head, which many believed to have been the cause of his demise, or any disease. The researchers noted that he may have broken his left femur shortly before his death but that the injury would not have been enough to kill him (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2006).
But among the numerous ornaments, it is the Gilded Coffin of Tjuya that gained attention. Made of pure gold, the coffin appears to be mysterious because its eyes are supposed to ensure that no evil spirits would enter the pharaoh’s body. Some calling it a mask, this masterpiece is jeweler’s art, fitted closely over the head, shoulders and upper chest of the lady Tjuya—Tutankhamun’s supposed great-grandmother to preserve and echo her features for eternity. Tjuya wears a long wig and a broad collar of gold and glass. Her eyes are inlaid with obsidian and calcite and the cosmetic lines and eyebrows are inset in dark blue glass. Tjuya may have a special place in King Tut’s history that is why she was preserved through this gilded coffin, which is more that 7 feet tall.
But aside from its ancient history, the gilded coffin has also attained controversy at present. Allegedly, Exelon CEO John Rowe owned the 2,600-year-old Egyptian sarcophagus since 1998 and kept it on display in his office. Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities demanded that it be returned to Egypt or given to the museum. Because Rowe did not want to have a negative judgment from other people, he agreed to provide the coffin to the exhibit (Chicago Sun Times, 26 May 2006).
After flurry of events also opened the question of whether certain antiquities, especially those associated with funerals and religious rites, could be ethically owned by private individuals rather than museums. There is no commonly shared code of ethics on the issue, but at least one antiquities expert dismissed Hawass’ criticism of Rowe.
In an interview from the Chicago Sun Times, Rowe spoke about the coffin and the mythology of Osiris, god of the underworld, and Isis, whose images are painted on it.
“Osiris is generally thought of as a benevolent deity who was killed by his wicked brother, Seth, the god of discord. And then in order that he wouldn’t be properly resurrected, Seth cut his body into parts and distributed them around Egypt. Isis reassembled the pieces and got herself pregnant on the reassembled remains.”
Harlan Berk, the dealer who sold the Gilded Coffin of Tjuya said there are probably 10,000 to 20,000 of this type of sarcophagus in existence. They cost about $40,000 to $50,000 each, he said. The history of who Tjuya was is still unclear, Berk argued that she was a Middle class person, others argue that she was King Tut’s grandmother (Wisnieski & Nance, 26 May 2006).
But according to research, Yuya’s wife Tjuya was the mother of Queen Tiye, so Queen Tey, the spouse of King Ay, had previously been the nurse of Queen Nefertiti. The mummies of both Yuya and Tjuya, evidently very aged people, were discovered in their Theban tomb, it would be necessary to assume that Yuya or Ay, had before his death been forced to renounce his kingly tide, and to revert to the position of a commoner (Gardiner, 1964, p. 240).
This most likely controversial again because the suspect who killed King Tut is a man named Ay. He was one of the two men assigned to advise Tutankhamun when the boy became pharaoh. Ay became pharaoh himself shortly after King Tut’s death. Even 80 years after the discovery of King Tut’s tomb, we still don’t know for certain how the boy king died. We probably never will. But his tomb was the first pharaoh’s grave found in the Valley of the Kings that thieves hadn’t emptied. And the objects the Egyptians buried with their king after his death have helped us to understand what life in ancient Egypt was like.
As much as all the controversies about the ancient relationship of Tjuya and King Tut and apart from the modern controversies about the Gilded Coffin of Tjuya, my experience in seeing the exhibit and the coffin itself is remarkable. I have realized how ancient art should be shared to people at present and should be publicly displayed for everyone to see. Seeing a piece of history right before your eyes is both breath-taking and educational. I’m sure everyone who has seen this exhibit could say that as we spend years looking at photographs of such famous artifacts, but those photographs simply cannot compare to seeing the artifacts in person! There is a magical feeling as you get near these objects as you could imagine what it is like before. You could clearly see the details of the inscriptions in the artifacts.
With the Gilded Coffin of Tjuya, I had an idea how they valued women in ancient Egypt because they prepared a very special coffin for her, whether she is middle class or the grandmother of King Tut. Now, I have the idea of the wealth and splendor possessed by the royals and nobles of ancient Egypt. They indeed must have seemed godlike to everyday simple people. The gold and semiprecious stones and inlays are everywhere and everything was so expertly crafted. What I found very beautiful about this coffin was the reddish gold color. And I hope that Mr. Rowe of Exelon should leave this Gilded Coffin to the Exhibit because it is worth to be seen by ordinary people like me. Sharing the splendor to other people is a more benevolent mission than keeping it inside his office.
Anthropology and Archaeology. (2006). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved July 20, 2006, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://www.search.eb.com/eb/article-250302
Gardiner, A. (1964). Egypt of the Pharaohs An Introduction. London: Oxford University Press.
Wisnieski, M. ; Nance, K. (2006, May 26). Exelon CEO hands over Egyptian coffin to Field. Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved July 20, 2006, from http://www.suntimes.com/output/galleries/cst-nws-tut26.html
National Geographic For Kids. (2002). In search of the boy king – King Tutankhamun. 1.6 (April-May): 10-15.