The Tutankhamun Exhibit
Furniture and Boxes
Part of the Funerary Bed in the Form of a Cow
When Carter's team had cleared the entrance corridor of its debris, they stood before the sealed doorway to the first room (later called the Antechamber) of the tomb of Tutankhamun. Carter poked a hole through the three thousand year old plaster and extended a candle into the blackness to test for noxious gases. When he peered in, his eyes took a few moments to adjust to the darkness; eventually, he saw the outlines of objects and "everywhere, the glint of gold". Directly opposite the door was this funerary bed. It was the central one of three couches in animal form, each of which is made of gessoed wood, covered in gold. In front was the lion bed, while behind was a bed composed of elements of a hippopotamus, a crocodile and a leopard.
Colored glass inlays form parts of the eye and the spots on the skin. The head is rendered realistically, while the side and legs, conforming to the shape of the couch, are attenuated. Made of several independent parts, the bed was prepared most likely for funerary purposes only and set up in place in the tomb. The metal attachment holding the animal in place still remains intact.
The symbolism evoked by the form of the couch is complicated and encompasses the roles of several traditional deities. The cow may represent the goddess Hathor who is responsible for the resurrection of the deceased. The cow with a solar disk between the horns is a form often associated with the goddess Mehetweret, a celestial deity who plays an important part in the birth of the sun god, whose disk she bears. It is from her, the nocturnal sky, that the sun god is born each day. The sky goddess, Nut, is also represented in bovine form, and the sun god is pictured sailing across her back. An inscription on part of the frame, however, refers to a deity in the form of a lion. The identification may be an error, for the corresponding inscription on the lion bed refers to Mehetweret. In all likelihood the funerary couch in the form of a cow represented a conflation of the attributes of all these cow goddesses. They were to ensure the ascension of Tutankhamun to the next world.