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Tut Exhibit - King Tutankhamun Exhibit, Collection: Basic Funeral Equipment - Canopic Chest


The Tutankhamun Exhibit

Basic Funeral Equipment

Canopic Chest

Canopic Chest

When the gilded outer casing of the canopic shrine was removed, the canopic chest itself stood revealed, draped with a dark linen sheet (1.5 by 4.5 meters) folded over 3 times. Although examples of such chests had been encountered before, the pristine beauty now exposed was something quite new. With the shroud removed, it could be seen that the chest had been carved from a single block of delicately veined and semi-translucent calcite, picked out in contrasting dark blue pigment and with a gilded dado of double djed and tyet symbols. It stood upon a second wooden sled, gessoed and gilded in the usual manner and fitted at its northern and southern sides with four huge staples of silver-sheet covered bronze intended to serve as handles. Its sloping lid, which separated from the box below the cavetto cornice, was decorated at the front with the winged solar disc of Horus-of-Behdet. It was attached to the chest by means of cords passing through four pairs of gold staples, two pairs to either side, sealed with the ubiquitous jackal and nine captives motif. The chest decorated at its four corners with images of Isis (southwest corner), Nephthys (northwest), Selkis (northeast), and Neith (southeast), sculpted in high relief to the traditional proportions, while the front was dominated by a second winged disc surmounting six vertical columns of text spoken by the goddesses positioned to either side; further invocations are present on either side and the rear of the chest.


With the lid of the canopic chest removed, four human-headed stoppers were exposed, arranged in pairs, those on the east facing west and the lids on the west facing east. Exquisitely modeled in calcite, each lid represents the king wearing the nemes-headcloth with separately modeled vulture head and uraeus. All four are hollowed out underneath and carry a symbol painted in black on the shoulder to identify the compartment for which they were intended. The facial features are carefully picked out with black, with dabs of red for the lips.

These detachable lids concealed four cylindrical hollows, the king's canopic 'jars', drilled into the matrix of the chest proper. Each hollow contained a single linen-wrapped and resin-smeared coffinette of beaten gold, all four closely similar in design to the second coffin, inlaid in rishi, or feathered-pattern with colored glass and carnelian; these coffinettes contained the embalmed and carefully wrapped viscera of the dead king. On each of these coffins, which are 39cm high, is inlaid the name of the appropriate protecting genius with whom the king's internal organs were identified - Imsety the liver, Hapy the lungs, Duamutef the stomach, and Qebhsenuef the intestines - the four 'sons of Horus'. Over them, perhaps before their introduction into the tomb since the canopic lids were displaced slightly, had been poured the black resin already encountered on the king's coffins and mummy.

The same lack of care noted in the arrangement of the large gilded shrines was evident in the canopic equipment also. The positions of the free-standing gilded deities Nephthys and Selkis had been transposed, and a similar mistake had been made in the placement of two of the inlaid coffinettes. A heap of wooden chips, detached during the fitting of the gilded wooden canopy, had been abandoned on the Treasury floor.

As with other objects from the king's burial furniture, there are indications that certain elements of the canopic assemblage had not originally been prepared for Tutankhamun, but were surplus items left over from the unused funerary equipment of a predecessor. In the case of the calcite canopic lids, the grounds for doubting the attribution are stylistic: quite simply, the portraits do not resemble those of the boy king, though such a resemblance has been claimed. In the case of the canopic coffinettes (the lid to at least one of which Carter believed differed in workmanship and offered a poor fit to the box), the evidence is more substantial: the inscriptions chased on the interior gold linings have had the owner's cartouches altered from those of Ankhkheprure - presumably Nefernefruaten, the enigmatic co-regent of Akhenaten, of whom the coffinette masks perhaps offer a likeness.

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