The Tutankhamun Exhibit
Furniture and Boxes
Wooden Cartouche Shaped Box
Cartouche, a French word meaning an ornamental table for an inscription, is the name that was given by early scholars to the oval rings in which a king's throne name and personal name and the names of other members of the royal family were usually written. The personal name of the king might be followed by an epithet, which would also be included in the cartouche. A cartouche actually represents a length of rope formed into a loop by tying the two ends together. The ancient Egyptians called the cartouche shenu, a noun derived from a verb meaning "to encircle," the underlying idea being to represent the king as ruler of all that the sun encircled. Many objects from Tutankhamun's tomb - the knobs of this box among them - bear a circular form of the cartouche (usually but not invariably without an inscription) the sense of which is "infinity" or "universality".
On the top of the lid of this box, rising slightly above the gilded background, are applied ebony and painted ivory hieroglyphs that render the king's personal name and his usual epithet: "Amun", "Tut", "ankh" and "ruler", "of On", "of Upper Egypt". The name of the god Amun was written first for honorific reasons, but it was read after "Tut" and "ankh". Like other Egyptian names Tutankhamun has a meaning, although it is uncertain whether it should be translated "Perfect is the life of Amun" or "Living image of Amun". On, better known by its Greek name Heliopolis, was the ancient center of the cult of the sun god Ra that is mentioned in the Old Testament. When Amun, the god of Thebes, as identified with the sun god, "On of Upper Egypt" was adopted as a name for Thebes.
On the rectangular panel, which represents the downward extension of the tied ends of the rope, are incised the king's personal name, his throne name (both in cartouches), and his Horus name, each with its appropriate title. Beneath the cartouches are written the words "Given life like Ra for ever." The ebony knobs on the lid and on the panel bear images of Heh, the god of eternity, kneeling on the hieroglyphic sing that signifies "gold" and holding in each had a palm rib, the hieroglyph for "year". Attached to the base of each palm rib are a tadpole and the shen sign to convey the sense of an infinite number of hundreds of thousands of years; the sign for "life" is looped over the right arm at the elbow. On the god's head is the sun's disk.
Although the reddish-brown wood has not been scientifically identified, it is believed to be of a coniferous kind. All the edges of the box and the cartouche on the lid are veneered with strips of ebony. The bands of inscription, which give the king's names and titles and some of his many epithets, are inlaid with a golden pigment on the lid and with blue frit on the box.
Most of the contents of this box, like the chests in its vicinity, had been plundered by the ancient robbers and other things had been hastily substituted by the necropolis staff. Included, however, were some scepters that Carter considered to be part of the original equipment, and if so the box was probably used on ceremonial occasions, possibly even at the king's coronation, when changes in regalia were required.