The Tutankhamun Exhibit
Furniture and Boxes
Ornate Acacia Stool
Egyptian stools fall into two main classes, folding and rigid. Within each class there is a wide variety of patterns, ranging from the simple to the elaborate, many of which are represented in the furniture found in the tomb of Tutankhamun. Although no actual example of the folding stool is included in this exhibition, two illustrations of the king seated on such a stool with a cushion may be seen on the sides of the gold shrine. In a third scene on the left hand door of the same shrine he is shown seated on a rigid stool which is also provided with a cushion. A fine distinction cannot be drawn between the different uses of stools and chairs in ancient Egypt, but in the time of Tutankhamun chairs are more common in representations of formal occasions and stools in scenes of the ordinary activities of daily life.
The wood of which this stool is made has not been identified with certainty, but it is believed to be acacia, one of the very few kinds of timber grown in Egypt which were suitable for furniture. It is painted white apart from the grille, stretchers, feet and cartilaginous protuberances on the legs, all of which are gilded. Under the feet, the ringed drums are capped with metal, either copper or bronze. The double cove seat is bordered on the outer edges by a narrow cornice which contributes to the lightness and elegance of the piece. It is the gilded grille, however, which is the most distinctive feature of the stool. On all four sides it consists of the hieroglyphic sign for 'unification' (sma), to which are tied the stems of the lotus and papyrus flowers. It is a motif which is regularly found on the sides of the seats in royal monuments, sometimes with figures of two deities, representing Upper and Lower Egypt, holding the ends of the stems. As a symbol it commemorated the unification of the Two Lands (i.e. Upper and Lower Egypt) under Menes, the first king of the First Dynasty. In ancient times the papyrus plant flourished in the marshes of the Delta and the artist has suggested this natural setting by showing the stems of the flowers emerging from a row of leaves at the base. The corresponding feature at the base of the lotus stems represents a plot of land divided by irrigation channels, the canals being the natural habitat of the lotus in Upper Egypt. As a hieroglyphic sign it is sometimes used to indicate the general sense of the Egyptian word for Upper Egypt (shem). The stretchers under the grille are decorated with a striated design.
In one respect this stool, apart from being a seat, resembles a chair: the front and the back are easily distinguishable, the front being the face which corresponds with the direction in which the feline feet are pointed. In decoration there is no difference between the two faces except that the lotus and papyrus flowers are on opposite sides of the sma sign and therefore back to back. This arrangement shows that the stool was intended to be placed facing eastwards so that the papyrus would be on the northern side and the lotus on the southern side.
Although it is solidly built, with mortise and tenon joints strengthened by metal pegs capped with gold, it has suffered some distortion from the strain of being tightly wedged between a bedstead and the wall of the Annex where it had been thrown by the ancient robbers in their hurried operations in the tomb.