15 Pharaonic Objects Buried in Tut's Tomb

Tut's outer coffin. Malavoda via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

He may be the most famous of pharaohs, but Tutankhamun was just a teenager when he died in 1323 B.C.E. after a brief nine-year rule. In Egypt's long history, he was a minor ruler (yet a demigod, like all pharaohs).

Tut looms large in the popular imagination thanks of a stroke of luck. For millennia, the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings were plundered as soon as anyone could get into them. But Tut's remained hidden beneath a workers camp built not too long after his death. And so its treasures stayed hidden until 1922, when Howard Carter dug into the ground and found a staircase leading to the unbroken seal on Tut's tomb.

Tut may have not have been a power player, but he was still a demigod during the New Kingdom, a golden age of Egypt, and his multi-room tomb reflected that. It was stuffed to the brim with thousands of objects meant to make his afterlife eternally posh. It took Carter eight years to remove and catalog everything within. Today a small fraction of them are on display in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Here are some of our favorites.

1. Tut's Burial Mask

Bjørn Christian Tørrissen via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

It's famous for a reason. Beautifully sculpted and inlaid, with sensuous lines and features, it represents an idealized version of the boy king. In early 2015, Tut's beard—standard on all pharaohs, even female ones—was reported to have been accidentally snapped off and hastily glued back on with epoxy, which damaged the surface. The director of the Egyptian Museum later denied the episode had ever happened.  

2. Statue of Anubis

The jackal-headed god Anubis—here depicted in full canine form—ushered souls to the afterworld. He was also associated with mummification, and was thought to protect graves.

3. Headrest

In an age of memory foam pillows, this headrest doesn't look very comfortable. But perhaps stone seems cozier when Shu, the god of air and wind, gives your head a lift. These headrests were long popular in Egyptian tombs as an essential accessory for the "sleeping" inhabitants.

4. Canopic Jars

In this alabaster chest, four Tuts seem to sit in an intimate face off. These are canopic jars containing Tut's organs, which would have been removed before mummification. The Egyptians believed he needed those innards in the afterlife. Tut's face is the stopper on each jar.

5. Tut's Fan

Dmitry Denisenkov via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

Egypt is hotIf you're a demigod, your fan is extra special—gilded and inlaid, with your name in a royal cartouche.      

6. Game of Senet

Dmitry Denisenkov via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Who says a pharaoh can't enjoy a good board game? By the time Senet, or "passing," was buried with Tut, it had been played in Egypt for some 1800 years and had come to be associated with passing from life to death. The game was popular at all levels of society. Its rules have been lost to time, but we've made some educated guesses about gameplay.

7. Leopard Head

Dmitry Denisenkov via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Adorable here but fierce in real life, the leopard was much admired by Egyptian royalty and imported from southern Africa. The hieroglyph of a leopard head is used in association with words related to strength.

8. Throwing Sticks

Günter Bechly via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

The throwing sticks (seen here as reproductions in an exhibit in Germany) found in Tut's tomb would have been used for hunting birds in the afterlife.

9. Statue of Ptah, the Creator God

Image Credit: Getty Images

Known as "the beautiful face," "the lord of truth," the master of justice," and "the lord of eternity," blue-capped Ptah was a creator god and the patron of craftsmen and architects—basically, the people who built Tut's tomb and everything in it.   

10. Solar scarab pendant

There's no creature as associated with ancient Egypt as the scarab. These beetles were hugely popular among all Egyptians, and they left behind countless thousands of examples. Here the scarab is associated with the sun god Ra—in his rising-sun form, the scarab-headed Khepri—and the wings of Horus, the sky god.

11. Royal Chariot

Maladova via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Tut's chariot had been dismantled before being placed in the tomb, but it's been reconstructed for display in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. (This image is of a reproduction from an exhibit in Germany.) Recently, some researchers theorized that Tut died after a fall from his chariot, but it's more likely that an accident or disease caused his death.  

12. Kid Tut

Tut's features in this childhood depiction are unusual due to both aesthetics and genetics. Tut's father was Akenaten, who scandalized polytheistic Egypt by trying to force the monotheistic worship of Aten. He also nurtured a more naturalistic approach to royal art—and in the process documented his own family's genetic anomalies, including oddly shaped skulls, which persisted in the family due to close interbreeding. Tut's mom and dad were also brother and sister. 

13. Ornate Painting of Warfare

A classic way rulers have gotten people to remember them is by killing a whole bunch of other people—if not in real life then at least on painted wood. Here Tut is shown on his chariot aiming his crossbow at enemy soldiers, perhaps Syrian. That decapitated head beneath his horse isn't an outlier. Another gruesome depiction shows Tut receiving the severed hands of his enemies.

14. Perfume Vessel

Frank Rytell via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Filled with expensive perfumed unguents, the alabaster vessels found in Tut's tomb were still marked with the "finger marks of thieves on their interior walls," according to Carter. This one depicts the pot-bellied, big-breasted, intersex fertility deity Hapi, shown in double form, who oversaw the annual flooding of the Nile. 

15. Tut Himself

Harold Carter and an anonymous worker study Tut.

In recent years, the analysis of Tut's mummy—along with many of his famous relatives—has provided many details of their lives. Tut appears to have been slight and sickly, with a club foot and malaria. He fathered two girls with his half-sister. Both were stillborn.

University of York
Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
UK Archaeologists Have Found One of the World’s Oldest 'Crayons'
University of York
University of York

A prehistoric chunk of pigment found near an ancient lake in England may be one of the world's oldest crayons, Colossal reports. The small object made of red ochre was discovered during an archaeological excavation near Lake Flixton, a prehistoric lake that has since become a peat wetland but was once occupied by Mesolithic hunter-gatherers. Though it’s hard to date the crayon itself, it was found in a layer of earth dating back to the 7th millennium BCE, according to a recent study by University of York archaeologists.

Measuring less than an inch long, the piece of pigment is sharpened at one end, and its shape indicates that it was modified by a person and used extensively as a tool, not shaped by nature. The piece "looks exactly like a crayon," study author Andy Needham of the University of York said in a press release.

A pebble of red ochre thought to be a prehistoric crayon
University of York

The fine grooves and striations on the crayon suggest that it was used as a drawing tool, and indicate that it might have been rubbed against a granular surface (like a rock). Other research has found that ochre was collected and used widely by prehistoric hunter-gatherers like the ones who lived near Lake Flixton, bolstering the theory that it was used as a tool.

The researchers also found another, pebble-shaped fragment of red ochre at a nearby site, which was scraped so heavily that it became concave, indicating that it might have been used to extract the pigment as a red powder.

"The pebble and crayon were located in an area already rich in art," Needham said. "It is possible there could have been an artistic use for these objects, perhaps for coloring animal skins or for use in decorative artwork."

[h/t Colossal]

ira_paradox Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
11 Inventions That Came Before the Wheel
ira_paradox Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
ira_paradox Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The wheel is the classic example of early human invention—a quintessential innovation that distinguishes Homo sapiens from all other animals. But in the scope of human history, the wheel is actually a rather young creation. Ancient Mesopotamians in modern-day Iraq became the first people to adopt the wheel only around 5500 years ago, and fairly recent cultures from other parts of the world have managed to make impressive technical accomplishments without wheels at all. (The wheel-less people of Easter Island, for example, transported and erected their towering moai statues less than 1000 years ago.) From booze to the bow and arrow, here are 11 innovations that predate the wheel.

1. BOOZE // 7000 BCE

variety of cocktails on a bar

Some archaeologists are starting to think that the world's first farmers domesticated grains to make beer, not bread. While the extent of alcohol's influence on human civilization is still debated, its antiquity is not. The oldest evidence for booze so far comes from 9000-year-old chemical traces of a fermented cocktail found on a drinking vessel in Jiahu, China.

2. CLOTHING // 150,000 BCE

A dress discovered in Egypt that is more than 5000 years old
UCL Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology

We're all born naked, but most of us are forced to wear clothes shortly afterwards. Since textiles, leathers, and furs tend to disintegrate over time, scientists have had to get creative in their quest to pinpoint the origin of clothing. The dress above, discovered in Egypt, is at least 5100 years old, but that makes it pretty recent. Clothes actually date back much further: A stone tool from a site in Germany has traces of tanned animal skin, which suggests that humans' Neanderthal cousins were wearing hides 100,000 years ago, and a study from 2011 proposed that the origin of clothes can be traced to the evolution of clothing lice, around 170,000 years ago.

3. JEWELRY // 110,000 BCE

K. Gavrilov in Antiquity Publications Ltd, 2018

Garments certainly helped humans to compensate for lost body fur and to move into colder climates, but clothes may have also been a cultural invention. As archaeological evidence of jewelry can attest, humans have also been adorning their bodies for decorative purposes for a very long time. Among the oldest surviving pieces of jewelry are 82,000-year-old pierced shells covered in red pigment from a cave in Morocco and a 130,000-year-old eagle-claw necklace found in a Neanderthal cave in Croatia. The above burial, found in Russia at a site called Sunghir, is younger, but still ancient: The man was buried more than 30,000 years ago with an elaborate array of mammoth ivory beads and arm bands, a headband of pierced fox teeth, and a pendant. (Some of the items may once have been sewn onto clothing.)

4. BOATS // 43,000–8000 BCE

Dugout boats at Kierikki Stone Age Centre

Before animal-drawn carts became a preferred mode of transport, there were rafts and boats. The 10,000-year-old Pesse canoe found in the Netherlands is thought to be the world's oldest surviving boat. But humans likely figured out how to navigate the seas for fishing and exploration even earlier. After all, people somehow crossed the seas to populate Australia, Indonesia, and islands in the Pacific at least 45,000 years ago.

5. CALENDARS // 8000 BCE

An illustration of how a 10,000-year-old
© Google Earth, Plan based on Murray et al. 2009, fig. 3, in Internet Archaeology // CC BY 3.0

Long before the gear-wheels of clocks were invented, humans used sophisticated methods to track the passage of time. One group of archaeologists has claimed that the oldest known calendar could be a 10,000-year-old series of 12 pits found in Scotland that appear to mimic the lunar cycle. You can see in the image above how the researchers imagine the system to have worked.


Utrilla et. all in Journal of Human Evolution

Just as they had to invent ways to track time, so, too, did humans have to figure out how to represent space so that they could navigate their world. Archaeologists still debate the meaning of the earliest rock art, but some of the oldest examples of possible prehistoric maps come from Abauntz Cave in Spain. The 14,000-year-old stone tablets are thought to depict mountains, rivers, and ponds, intersected with routes and hunting game-plans. You can see the top and bottom of one tablet above.

7. COOKING // 1.8 MILLION–500,000 BCE


Sometime after humans learned to control fire, they invented cooking. When you start breaking down meat and plants over an open flame, you don't have to expend as much energy chewing and digesting those foods. A conservative estimate for the rise of cooking would be 500,000 years ago, and according to a recent article in Scientific American, some researchers argue that cooking came about 1.8 million years ago by Homo erectus, a direct ancestor of Homo sapiens. They propose that this development in human evolution is what allowed our brain size to increase.


bone flute
Sascha Schuermann, AFP/Getty Images

The darkened passageways inside Germany's Hohle Fels cave get even spookier when you imagine the sounds of flutes echoing through the caverns. This is the archaeological site where the world's oldest musical instruments—43,000-year-old bone flutes made of vulture wing and mammoth tusk—have been found. Want to hear what they might have sounded like? One researcher made a replica of the vulture-wing flute, and NPR has the tune.

9. GLUE // 200,000 BCE

glue spilling from bottle onto wood table

The superglue in your toolbox and Elmer's in your kid's classroom have a long pedigree. About 200,000 years ago, Neanderthals roaming Europe used adhesive tar from birch bark to fix their stone spear tips to handles. Recent experiments suggest this type of glue was complex and difficult to make.

10. POTTERY // 18,000 BCE

archaeologist with ancient pottery
Marvin Recinos, AFP/Getty Images

Thousands of years before the invention of the wheel, people were making vessels for drinking, eating, and storage by pinching, rolling, or coiling clay into shape and baking it until hard. The oldest crude ceramic vessels come from China and date back 20,000 years. The invention of the wheel allowed for the rise of wheel-thrown pottery. Some even argue that the potter's wheel was probably the first type of wheel ever created.

11. BOW AND ARROW // 7000 BCE

rock art of hunters using bows and arrows

The remains of five bows crafted 9000 years ago were found at the Stone Age settlement of Holmegårds Mose in Denmark. But bows and arrows may have been invented far earlier by savvy hunters who wanted an efficient weapon to kill prey from a distance. Some archaeologists have argued that Sibudu Cave in South Africa contains evidence of 64,000-year-old stone-tipped arrows and bows.


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