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15 Pharaonic Objects Buried in Tut's Tomb

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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.

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Guy de la Bedoyere, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Archaeologists Unearth the Victims of a Mysterious Massacre 400 Years Ago on an Australian Island
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Beacon Island
Guy de la Bedoyere, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

The cargo ship Batavia set out from the Netherlands in October 1628, bound for the Dutch colony at present-day Jakarta, Indonesia, with more than 300 crew and passengers. For some still-unknown reason, the ship veered off course to the south and smashed into a coral atoll about 50 miles west of the Australian coast.

What happened over the next few months—culminating in a mysterious and brutal massacre that left at least 125 people dead—is Australia's oldest cold case.

In a story that aired on 60 Minutes Australia, correspondent Liam Bartlett traveled to this "island of horror" where a team of Australian and Dutch scientists is uncovering the nearly 400-year-old skeletons, well preserved in the sand of what is now Beacon Island. They hope to discover what led to the sudden mass slaughter of adults and children.

"We're dealing with a psychopath and some pretty horrible events," Alistair Paterson, an archaeologist at the University of Western Australia and the leader of the research team, tells Bartlett. "There's nothing like it in Dutch history or Australian history."

A screenshot of the Beacon Island dig site from 60 Minutes Australia
A scene from the 60 Minutes Australia report
Kat Long

The Batavia, the flagship of the Dutch East India Company, was on its maiden voyage. The commander, Francisco Pelsaert, and the captain, Ariaen Jacobsz, detested each other. Jacobsz conspired with Pelsaert's deputy, Jeronimus Cornelisz, to take control of the ship and its load of silver and valuable paintings. But before the mutiny could unfold, the ship crashed into the reef in the early morning of June 4, 1629.

About 100 people died in the wreck, while almost 200 made it to a cluster of islands in the Abrolhos chain—treeless, desert-like stretches of sand without water or food. Pelsaert and Jacobsz sailed for help, hoping to reach their original destination nearly 2000 miles away by boat.

The events of the next three months continue to puzzle and horrify modern researchers. Initially, Jeronimus Cornelisz organized food rations and shelter for the survivors on Beacon Island as a way to cement his leadership. But then, he hoarded the weapons and boats for his own use. He ordered his followers to execute the strong, able-bodied men who could pose a threat to his control over the group. Most of the women and children who would be a drain on supplies were also killed, though some women were kept alive as sexual slaves, Bartlett reports.

"Totally Lord of the Flies," Paterson says.

The Batavia massacre
An image from Pelsaert's journal of the voyage
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Cornelisz marooned several men on a nearby island to get them out of the way as the killing rampage continued. But those men, led by a sailor named Wiebbe Hayes, managed to find water and food, and made a primitive protective fort of stone slabs—which still exists as the first European-made structure on Australian soil. In early August, two months after the wreck, Cornelisz and his men attempted to storm Hayes' stronghold and eliminate his band of survivors.

At the last moment, a rescue ship helmed by Pelsaert and Jacobsz appeared on the horizon. Both Hayes and Cornelisz sent out boats to intercept the ship, hoping to establish their version of events as fact and save themselves from punishment. Fortunately, Hayes's men reached the ship first.

Only 80 to 90 survivors out of the Batavia's 300-plus passengers eventually arrived in present-day Jakarta. Cornelisz, who never showed a hint of remorse or offered an explanation for his brutality, was hanged along with his co-conspirators. The bones of his victims, preserved in the island's alkali coral sand for almost four centuries, are now revealing clues to the historical mystery. 

"Horrible things happened to these individuals. They clearly were victims," Paterson tells Bartlett. "But the archaeology allows us to get their story told." 

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Archaeologists Find Traces of What Could Be the Oldest Wine in the World
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iStock

Humankind has enjoyed wine for a long time—since the early Neolithic period, at least, judging from ancient residue on prehistoric pottery shards excavated from two sites in Georgia, in the South Caucasus. The fragments potentially date back to 6000 BCE, pushing back the earliest evidence of winemaking by about 600 to 1000 years, as The New York Times reports.

Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the findings pinpoint Georgia as one of the very first—if not the first—nations to have mastered winemaking. Before, Iran held the honor, although China can still lay claim to the world's oldest fermented beverage (a cocktail-like concoction of rice, honey, hawthorn fruit, and wild grapes that was enjoyed as early as 7000 BCE).

Leading the PNAS study was Patrick McGovern, a molecular archaeologist from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. He and his team excavated the remains of two Neolithic villages, located around 30 miles south of Georgia's capital city, Tbilisi. There, they found shards of clay jars—the likely remnants of large, rotund vats, which once could have accommodated as many as 400 bottles worth of today's wine.

Remains of ancient Georgian pottery vessels that may have once contained wine, photographed by Mindia Jalabadze.
(A) Representative early Neolithic jar from Khramis Didi-Gora (B) Jar base (C) Jar base (D) Jar base, interior
Mindia Jalabadze, courtesy of the National Museum of Georgia

These shards were collected for chemical analysis. Eight of them ended up containing tartaric, malic, succinic, and citric acids, all of which had leached into the clay long ago. The combination of these four acids is believed to be present only in grape wine. Researchers also noted traces of ancient grape pollen, starch from grape wine, and signs of prehistoric fruit flies.

Of course, there is the off chance that the jars might have been used to just make grape juice, but their decorations indicate that they weren't made to hold ordinary drinks, researchers argue.

Archaeological evidence dating back to the Bronze Age shows that Georgians have always held wine in great importance. But some experts thought this love of vino dated back even further—and now they believe they have pretty convincing proof.

[h/t The New York Times]

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