Pectoral of Tutankhamun with Osiris, Isis and Nephthys

The pectoral of Tutankhamun looks at first glance to be presenting the goddesses Wadjet and Nekhbet, the symbols of Upper and Lower Egypt, standing on either side of Osiris. However, the hieroglyphic inscriptions beside them state that they are in fact Isis (next to the vulture) and Nephthys (next to the cobra).

Goddess Isis wears the White Hedjet Crown of Upper Egypt, here associated with two feathers, making it reminiscent of the atef crown, while Goddess Nephthys wears the Red Deshret Crown of Lower Egypt. Between their wings can be seen the shen symbol of infinity.

Tutankhamun Pectoral of Osiris, Isis and Nephthys
Tutankhamun Pectoral of Osiris, Isis and Nephthys

A cavetto cornice is at the top of the pectoral, with a long row of uraei or rearing cobras below. The use of pectorals was associated with the wish for the resurrection of the dead.

“Gold and silver, the precious metals of Old World antiquity, appear in Egypt at least as early as the Predynastic Period, and remained in use thereafter for the manufacture of ritual and funerary objects and personal possessions.

Gold has been particularly associated with ancient Egypt in the minds of the public and Egyptologists alike, even before the spectacular discoveries in the tomb of Tutankhamun in the 1920s.

Our culture, like most others that have preceded it, pays more attention to gold than to silver, but certainly the relative scarcity of large or complex silver objects from ancient Egypt, particularly those dating before the Eighteenth Dynasty, has shaped our perceptions of the significance and value of silver to the Egyptians of ancient times.Early sources of gold in Egypt and Nubia are well known from contemporary texts and from evidence of exploitation in antiquity.

Gold was available from alluvial deposits in dry river beds in the desert, known as wadis, or mined from veins occurring in quartz formations.Many texts attest to royal expeditions to mine gold, while others mention the gold received as foreign tribute and booty and through trade.

By way of contrast, silver was not readily available in Egypt, and this is reflected in both the archaeological record and in ancient texts.

Availability and value, however, did not have a consistent inverse relationship, and gold took precedence over silver in terms of economic value beginning in the Middle Kingdom, while silver was still the less common metal.

The ancient Egyptians had no true coinage until the fourth century [BCE], and our understanding of the relative values of the two metals is based on the order in which they appear on offering lists in temples of pharaonic date.”

Precious Metal Polychromy in Egypt in the Time of Tutankhamun, by Deborah Schorsch

New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, reign of Tutankhamun, ca. 1332-1323 BC. From the Tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62). Valley of the Kings, West Thebes. Made of gold and inlaid with lapis lazuli, carnelian and colored glass. Now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 61946