The Tutankhamun Exhibit
Jewelry and Ornamentation
When the predynastic kingdom of Upper Egypt conquered the Lower Egyptian kingdom and the two crowns were unified, it was natural that the principal deities of the conquerors should accompany them and extend their realms accordingly. One of these deities was the vulture-goddess Nekhbet, whose sanctuary lay at Nekheb (Elkhab) on the east bank of the Nile, across from Nekhen (Hierakonpolis), the capital of the Upper Egyptian kings, whose patron god was Horus. Very probably it was the geographical proximity of Nekheb to the capital that first made it desirable for the local rulers to recognize the goddess; in return for their recognition they received her protection. In her capacity as royal protectress, she could hardly fail to gain kudos from the successful conquest of her protg, Menes. Her position as a tutelary goddess of the kings of united Egypt was firmly established at the beginning of the dynastic period and remained unaffected by political and religious changes, except in the Amarna period, throughout Egyptian history.
The flexible gold collar, which represents the vulture-goddess Nekhbet, was placed on the thorax of the king's mummy so that it covered the whole of the chest and extended upwards to the shoulders. The elongated wings, set in a circular fashion, are divided into districts that are composed of 250 segments, with feathers engraved on the back and inlaid on the front with polychrome glass in imitation of turquoise, jasper, and lapis lazuli. The segments were held together by thread that passed through small golden eyelets projecting from their upper and lower edges. On one side of each segment, except in the district known as the lesser coverts - at the top of the wing, close to the body - there is a border of minute gold beads that divides its feathers from those of its neighbor. The body of the bird is inlaid in the same manner as the lesser coverts, while the tail feathers resemble the primary and the secondary districts of the wings. Both the beak and the eye in the delicately chased head are made of obsidian. In each of the talons the bird grasps the hieroglyphic shen sign, inlaid with read and blue glass. A floral-shaped mankhet counterpoise, which was attached by gold wires to eyelets at the back of the wings, hung down the back of the mummy.
Collars and necklaces were placed on Egyptian mummies not as objects of adornment but to provide magical protection. They were also represented on the cartonnage covers of mummies and on the lids of anthropoid coffins. Among the many collar amulets painted on the walls of rectangular wooden coffins dating from the Middle Kingdom (c. 2000 B.C.) are four made of gold and inlaid on the outer surface, shaped to represent a falcon, vulture, winged cobra, and combined vulture and cobra. Tutankhamun's mummy, which was more than half a millennium later in date than these coffins, was equipped with all these inlaid collars except the cobra collar, in addition to all four collars in sheet gold without inlay. They were purely funerary in character and very different from the bead or gold collars worn in life.