The Tutankhamun Exhibit
Jewelry and Ornamentation
Human-headed Winged Cobra
This figure of a winged cobra with human head was placed over the neck of the king's mummy, in the fifth group of amulets. It is made of sheet gold, embossed and chased. At the back is an eyelet so that it could be suspended from a linen-thread necklace.
A number of Egyptian goddesses, such as Wadjet, Meretseger, Werethekau, and Renenutet, were sometimes represented as winged serpents, but only Meretseger seems to be shown with a human head. She was the tutelary deity of the Theban necropolis, where Tutankhamun's tomb lay. Her presence among the other head and neck amulets in the group would, however, be hard to understand. Furthermore, she was a late creation, whereas the other deities, whose figures were used as amulets on the king's mummy, had belonged to the Egyptian pantheon since ancient times. Carter, in his slip catalogue of the objects found in the tomb, was unable to suggest any identification and merely wrote "significance unknown."
Although the precise identification of the figure remains problematical, some evidence of its associations seems to be offered by the other amulets in its group. These amulets consist of five vultures, an erect cobra, or uraeus, and a pair of similar cobras joined together. The Middle Kingdom coffins generally depict, on the wall opposite the head of the deceased occupant, five vultures and five cobras, the latter usually represented erect, but one or more may be represented in repose. The correspondence in the number of vultures suggests that there should also have been five cobras on the neck of the mummy. The human-headed winged cobra could be the fourth cobra, and the cobra in repose might be the fifth, assuming that it was misplaced by the embalmers. The texts on the coffins say that these vultures and cobras are to be put on the head of the dead person, but they do not mention their purpose. Perhaps they were intended to be protectors of the five royal names.
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