On November 26, 1922 Howard Carter became the first person to enter Tutankhamun’s tomb in over 3000 years. It is still the only mostly intact tomb discovered in the Valley of the Kings, the place where the rulers and nobles of Egypt’s New Kingdom were buried.
After five years of methodical searching Howard Carter found steps cut into the rock of the valley under accumulated debris. Luck was on his side-it was the last season that his patron (George Herbert, Lord Carnarvon, the poor guy whose death by blood poisoning started whispers of a curse) was funding.
Tutankhamun’s father was Akhenaten, the pharaoh who banished the traditional multitude of Egyptian gods for a sun god called the Aten. He closed the old temples and created a new capital city to center on the worship if the new god.
Tutankhamun reversed his father’s religious upheaval and brought back the old gods. (He became king when he was only 9 years old and was dead by 19, so it’s hard to know how much of his reign was his and how much that of his advisors.)
There are a lot of theories that Tutankhamun was murdered, but most scientists agree that his death was accidental. X-rays of his mummy show a badly broken leg that had become infected. He also had malaria, and possibly some congenital defects (genetic study suggests that his parents were siblings, not an uncommon pairing in Egyptian rulers). The infection plus any of that could have been enough to kill him.
When he died he was embalmed and buried in his famous mask and sarcophagus in an unfinished tomb. With him were items to serve in the afterlife-everyday things like food and clothing and sandals as well as weapons, furniture, jewelry, musical instruments, model boats and statues of himself and of the gods. Also with him were the mummies of his two stillborn daughters and a lock of his grandmother’s hair.
Why was such a minor ruler buried with such treasure? Does this mean that the tombs of the truly great and long lived would have been that much more lavish? We don’t know.
The closest tomb in matters of treasure is that of Pasebakhaenniut, who lived 300 years later and wasn’t buried in the Valley of the Kings, so there isn’t enough data to work with. (He also lived in a chaotic transitory time, though he held on for much longer…)
I remember one of my professors saying that he suspected part of the reason Tutankhamun was buried with such an array of grave goods was because it was probably a good way to seal up the last of Akhenaten’s influence.
Though towing the old religion’s line, a lot of the art in the tomb still shows some of the same styling that Akhenaten used in the worship of the Aten. My professor’s view was that it was partly a matter of veneration of the dead and partly a matter of out of sight out of mind!
The political squabbling and backstabbing after Tutankhamun’s death (widow courts foreign prince, prince dies in transit, general seizes widow, general becomes pharaoh and ends up warring with father of foreign prince, widow vanishes, pharaoh dies childless…then another one…) eventually led to the start of a new dynasty- the famous Ramessides.
(Sorry, I realized that I’m pretty much incapable of keeping anything about ancient Egypt short. Trust me, this is much shorter than I’d like. It’s all fascinating in my book. And long, they’ve a lot of history to cover!)