The Tutankhamun Exhibit
Jewelry and Ornamentation
Many theories have been advanced in an endeavor to explain what the symbol known as the djed pillar represents. It has been regarded as a combination of the four pillars that the Egyptians believed supported the four corners of the earth, as a tree with lopped branches, and as a human spinal column. The view most generally held at present is that it depicts a bundle of stalks tied together. Its origin, however, was forgotten by later Egyptians and it was though to be the backbone of the god Osiris. This was the interpretation that seems to have been universally accepted in the time of Tutankhamun.
In remote antiquity the djed pillar was a fetish with a cult of its own. Priests of the cult still functioned in the Old Kingdom, or at least bore the appropriate titles. The center of the cult may at first have been situated at Busiris or at Mendes, in the Nile Delta, but by the Old Kingdom it had a sanctuary at Memphis where its independent existence was soon lost and it was absorbed by the powerful cult of the local god, Ptah, an event commemorated by the inclusion of the djed pillar among the emblems mounted at the head of that god's scepter.
A more important legacy of the ancient cult was a ceremony, known as Raising the Djed Pillar, which took place at Memphis on the eve of the coronation of Egyptian kings and at their jubilee festivals. In that ceremony the king, aided by a number of priests, raised a djed pillar from the ground with ropes and placed it in an erect position. The significance of the ceremony is partly explained by the meaning of the word djed, "stability" or "duration," the concept being that the king and his kingdom gained stability and duration from the performance of the ceremony. But it also symbolized the revival of the kingship after it had "died" with the demise of its previous holder.
Revival after death and the whole conception of resurrection were closely bound up with the cult of Osiris and it is not surprising that the emblem which represented that conception should have been adopted, not later than the beginning of the New Kingdom, by the adherents of the Osirian cult. The djed pillar soon became one of the most common amulets to be placed on mummies. A spell in the Book of the Dead (Chapter 155) was devoted to it and the words of the spell were engraved on one of two djed amulets found on the mummy of Tutankhamun. It reads "Thou hast thy backbone, O weary one of heart; thou shalt place thyself upon thy side so that I may give thee water beneath thee[?]. I have brought thee a djed pillar of gold; mayest thou be please with it."
According to the instruction that is appended to the spell in the Book of the Dead, the djed pillar should be made of gold and be placed on the neck of the deceased on the day of his funeral. Both of Tutankhamun's djed amulets, suspended on gold wire necklaces, lay over his throat. The inscribed amulet, which is illustrated here, is completely overlaid with gold, so that the material used for its core cannot be seen. In addition to the spell, it is inscribed on the front with his throne name written, as usual within a cartouche.