The Tutankhamun Exhibit
Furniture and Boxes
In the time of Tutankhamun a woman might sit on a chair, a rigid stool or even on a hassock, but, to judge from scenes painted on the walls of tombs, not on a folding stool; it seems to have been a male prerogative. Many examples of such stools have been found, two in the tomb of Tutankhamun with fragments of leather seats still adhering to their upper crossbars.
This stool, having an inflexible seat that is firmly joined to the legs, is in reality rigid, but is is an imitation of a folding stool with a leopard skin seat. Leopards were already extinct in Egypt in the New Kingdom, but skins of the beast were regularly included among the objects sent annually from Nubia as tribute to the reigning pharaoh. Organizing the collection and dispatch of this tribute was one of the duties of the Egyptian viceroy of Nubia. Tutankhamun's viceroy of Nubia was a person named Huy, and in his tomb at Thebes there is a scene of himself accompanied by Nubian princes presenting their tribute to Tutankhamun, one of the objects being a folding stool with a seat of leopard skin.
The African leopard's skin being buff color, it is perhaps strange that the seat of this stool should have been carved in ebony, a black material; the markings are made of ivory inlay and are therefore light in color, the result being a reversal of the contrast in nature. Nevertheless, the pattern of the markings, as a mixture of spots and hollow rosettes, is fairly true to nature, though somewhat stylized. The tail, hanging down from one end of a narrow strip of red wood running along the middle of the seat and probably representing the backbone, is disproportionately short in relation to the length of the skin; the ivory inlay at the tip, marked with longer hairs, is peculiar. Probably the four paws were represented on the overhang at the corners of the stool but were wrenched off by the robbers, leaving visible scars, because the claws were made of gold. Fortunately the handsome gold bands with decorated rings on the legs and at the ends of the bottom bars were left untouched, as were the two gold caps covering the ends of the pivotal pins.
If the four feet were placed at the corners of the seat, it would explain why the legs, which are also made of ebony with ivory inlay, are not those of a leopard but are in the form of ducks' necks and heads, holding the crossbars in their bills. The stool in Huy's tomb has legs representing a leopard's paws, which would seem more natural to us. Ducks' heads and necks were, however, so commonly reproduced in the design of folding stools that the ancient Egyptians would not have been conscious of any incongruity in this combination of bird and mammal elements. Indeed, it may be regarded as evidence that the stool was made in Egypt from materials (probably including the gold) brought from Nubia, rather than that it came ready-made with a delivery of tribute.