The Innermost Gold Coffin of Tutankhamun

The innermost coffin of Tutankhamun is made of a solid gold and covered with incised decorations and inscriptions inside and outside, with the names and epitaph of the deceased king and protective texts. It is inlaid with semiprecious stones and colored glass. The coffin’s shape is that of Osiris holding the sacred insignia, the heka scepter and the flail.

The vulture and the uraeus, or rearing cobra, protect his forehead. The divine beard is made of gold inlaid with blue glass. Deities of Upper and Lower Egypt protect the body of the coffin with their wings. The coffin weighs 110.4 kilograms or 243.4 pounds. Inside it lay the king’s mummy whose head was covered with the iconic gold mask of the boy king.

The Innermost Gold Coffin of Tutankhamun
The Innermost Gold Coffin of Tutankhamun

Deities of Upper and Lower Egypt protect the body of the coffin with their wings. The coffin weighs 110.4 kilograms or 243.4 pounds. This is the third and innermost of three mummiform coffins of Tutankhamun. The mummy itself now rests in the outermost mummiform coffin in the tomb at Thebes. Soon after the discovery of the tomb in 1922, both the inner and middle coffins were transferred to the Egyptian Museum Cairo; while, the outer gilded coffin was left inside the tomb.

“The story of the tomb of Tutankhamun has been told so many times that fact and fiction long ago agreed to share the burden. A series of events that took place over several weeks – in fact, several months and years – have collapsed into a single moment elided into one word and act, ‘discovery’.

Upper part of the third and innermost anthropoid coffin which contained the mummy of King Tutankhamun
Upper part of the third and innermost anthropoid coffin which contained the mummy of King Tutankhamun

It makes for a dramatic tale but misses out the dull yet telling details that archaeological work in occupied Egypt required, as well as the confusions, uncertainties, and adaptations that any work entails. It ignores the glaring oversights of Egyptian archaeology as well: ‘It was a thrilling moment for an excavator, quite alone save his native staff of workmen,’ was how Carter characterized his first view of that sealed doorway at the bottom of the steps. The ease with which he could dismiss Ra’is Ahmed and all other Egyptians as full participants in these events speaks as clearly of colonial banality as the advertisements in his [red-bound] Letts [Indian and Colonial] diary do.”

Treasured: How Tutankhamun Shaped a Century, by Christina Riggs, 2022

Howard Carter examining the third coffin of gold of Tutankhamun, 1923. Photo: Harry Burton
Howard Carter examining the third coffin of gold of Tutankhamun, 1923. Photo: Harry Burton

Tutankhamun, also known worldwide as the Golden Pharaoh, was an 18th Dynasty king of the New Kingdom. He is best known for his intact tomb and treasured funerary collection. The King’s mysterious death at a very young age has continued through the years to fascinate millions throughout the years.

He was buried within his tomb (KV62) located at the Valley of the Kings, on the west bank of Luxor and was discovered in November 1922 by the British archaeologist Howard Carter. The discovery at that time received worldwide press coverage, capturing public imagination.

The king’s burial chamber is 6m x 4m wide and housed the king’s outermost rectangular-shaped quartzite sarcophagus. Its four corners are decorated with figures of the four deities of protection whose outspread wings safeguard the sarcophagus and the mummy of the king. It contains three anthropoid coffins nested within each other depicting the king in the Osirian position.

Upper part of the third and innermost anthropoid coffin which contained the mummy of King Tutankhamun
Upper part of the third and innermost anthropoid coffin which contained the mummy of King Tutankhamun

From the Tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62), Valley of the Kings, West Thebes. Now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 60671