Concept & Direction: Jaromir
Transcript: Cat Warsi
Scanning: Jenni Navratil
Editing: Jaromir Malek
Coordination: Elizabeth Fleming
For lecture - Madrid, May, 1928.
If my memory does not fail me, when last I had the honour of addressing you upon the subject of the tomb of Tut.ankh.Amun and its contents, I was then only able to show you as far as the great quartzite sarcophagus, the raising of its lid, and the rolling back of the covering linen shrouds which revealed the outermost coffin of the king.
In fact, I was then only able to show you the entrance stairway, the steep descending passage, the Antechamber and its contents, the Burial Chamber, its golden shrines that shielded the sarcophagus, and when our eyes were turned towards its contents - the gold encased outer coffin, in form a recumbent figure of the young King, symbolizing Osiris or, as it would seem, by its fearless gaze, man's ancient trust in immortality.
I therefore propose to begin this address from that very moment, and, with my utmost endeavour, to convey to you what was disclosed during the subsequent déblaiement of that magnificent burial.
On resuming the work, our task was, in scientific sequence, first to raise the nest of coffins within the sarcophagus, to open and examine them, and then to investigate the King's mummy - an undertaking which took nearly eight months to carry out; that is, until the end of May 1926.
The nest of coffins which enclosed the King's mummy, proved to be three in number - each enclosed within the other. They comprised: firstly an outermost coffin made of oaken wood and covered with thin sheet gold; then a second coffin also of oak wood, but encrusted with a rich polychrome glass feather design and lastly a third coffin made of solid gold richly chased and ornamented.
Now with archaeological work the reverse to that which is anticipated almost always occurs. The raising and the opening of the elaborate coffins, without causing them harm, proved an intricate undertaking, and the condition
in which we found the King's mummy was not nearly so good as we had anticipated.
Judging from the external appearance of Tut.ankh.Amun's outer coffin, and from the preservation of the royal mummies formerly discovered, we were led to expect that this untouched king would be in almost perfect condition. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Although he was enclosed in three tightly fitting coffins - the innermost of solid gold; although there was every indication that great care had been taken in his mummification; he was swathed in masses of the finest gossamer-like linen winding sheets; he was literally smothered with every kind of ornament and amulet; but, unhappily, the very custom of the last burial rites caused almost his destruction.
During the last burial rites, the mummy had been subjected to consecration unguents that had been poured over it in great quantity, obviously for some sacred purpose or pious significance. Egyptian ritual was full of symbolism. The anointing by the gods of the body of Osiris would give the ceremony all the weight of religious tradition.
But whatever the sacred intention, the result, so far as archaeology is concerned, has been unfortunate. There can be little doubt that the sacred liquids, sealed up for thousands of years within wooden and metal coffins, brought about an unfortunate condition of disintegration of the contents. Those sacred oils and resins did, no doubt, preserve the mummy for a considerable period, but in the course of some three thousand years, by their own decomposition, they became corrosives. The oils decomposed into fatty acids which acted destructively on both the fabric of wrappings, the tissues and even the bones of the mummy. Moreover, their consolidated residue formed a hard black pitch-like mass, which firmly cemented the mummy to the bottom of the coffin. Thus any clean systematic unwrapping of the King's mummy, for which
we had hoped, was rendered impossible. The disintegrated linen bandages, as if carbonised by heat, could not be unwound but had to be removed bit by bit.
Nevertheless, although the undertaking was not such a clean piece of work as we would have wished for, I am glad to say little, if any, data was lost, and the King's mummy was eventually preserved, and reburied in his tomb.
Another of our difficulties was due to the overflow of those unguents, which had consolidated in the space between the nested coffins, and caused them to stick fast together. We had to extricate them without damaging them. This last problem was eventually solved, and we now have these perfect and wonderful coffins yet discovered.
Naturally a question arises as to whether all the royal mummies of the Egyptian New Empire were subjected to similar treatment in respect to anointing with unguents. We have, I think, sufficient evidence to prove that such a ceremony was common to all. But, by those mummies having been robbed and denuded of their coverings at an early date, they were freed from the destructive elements from which Tut.ankh.Amun's mummy suffered. We have here a grim example of irony which sometimes awaits research. The tomb robbers who dragged the other Pharaohs from their coverings for plunder, at least protected these royal remains against the chemical action of the sacred unguents before there was time for erosion.
(March 14, 2009)
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