Headrest of King Tutankhamun

This headrest of King Tutankhamun is similar in shape to a folding stool. Headrests were used in ancient Egypt and are still used in some African regions to protect the head of the sleeper and ease the circulation of air around the head in the hot summer nights.

Although it may seem uncomfortable, headrests are still widespread in some African cultures. As the name suggests, this object was used to rest the head while sleeping. The headrest is both practical and used for ritual reasons and it was connected to the world of darkness, perhaps the most dangerous moment for men, threatened by evil forces.

Headrest of King Tutankhamun
Headrest of King Tutankhamun

As symbol of protection, the headrest could be decorated with the gods who were often associated with sleep, such as the god Bes or the goddess shaped like a hippo, Taweret.

A soft pillow or cushion would have made it more comfortable for the sleeper. Spell 166 of the Book of the Dead ensured protection for the head of the deceased in the afterlife by warding off demons who might attack.

The pillow holder of the headrest is made of strands of ivory beads stained dark green, red-brown, and black. The two sides are decorated with the face of the god, Bes of Joy, on their outer surface and a lotus flower on the inner surface. The legs end in ducks’ heads.

The headrest has been part of the funerary equipment since the Old Kingdom and was intended to make the deceased sleep more comfortable and magically protect their heads. From the Third Intermediate Period onwards, the real object could be replaced by an amulet. In the spell 166 of the Book of the Dead, next to its representation, it is said that this object serves to prevent the decapitation of the deceased. It was called “ueres” in Egyptian.

From the Tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62), Valley of the Kings, West Thebes. Now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 62023