Tuesday,21 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1344, (11 - 17 May 2017)
Tuesday,21 May, 2019
Issue 1344, (11 - 17 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Conferring on Tutankhamun

The third annual conference on Tutankhamun will help Egyptologists to ensure the safe transportation of the ancient Egyptian boy king’s treasured collection to its new home, writes Nevine El-Aref

The bed of Tutankhamun

Archaeologists, conservators and curators from six European countries have been meeting in Cairo over the past three days to discuss the most efficient methods to restore and preserve the golden boy-king Tutankhamun’s treasured collection and ensure its safe transportation from its current place in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to its permanent display halls at the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) overlooking the Giza Plateau, which is planned to open in mid-2018.

Under the title “Tutankhamun: Human Remains and Furniture”, the third annual conference on the boy-king discussed topics including Tutankhamun’s throne, chests, folding and gilded beds, wooden boxes, and chariot, as well as the results of DNA tests on his family.

Tarek Tawfik, GEM supervisor-general, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the conference’s primary objective was to reach a “global consensus” on how to safely transport and display Tutankhamun’s artefacts in the GEM and the human remains discovered in his tomb, particularly those belonging to his two daughters, which are now stored in the Qasr Al-Aini Hospital in Cairo.

The chariot of Tutankhamun

“It’s a very big challenge to move a collection, particularly one of such importance,” German Egyptologist Gabrielle Pieke said, urging Egyptian antiquities officials not to rush the transfer process. “It’s a delicate issue, and we have to be very careful,” she cautioned.

No date has yet been set for the transfer of the priceless objects, which will be displayed at the GEM in a 7,000 square metre hall. But, as Tawfik told the Weekly, according to a joint Egyptian-Japanese project Tutankhamun’s ritual beds and chariot will be subjected to X-ray examination next week in a step towards ensuring their safe transportation to the GEM early next month.

Tawfik explained that the examination would show the exact condition of the beds and chariot, as well as identifying their manufacturing techniques as they are made out of a variety of materials.

The preliminary results, he pointed out, had revealed that combined techniques of wooden and metal joints had been used to fix the ritual beds, while some mechanical aspects of the chariot’s wheels and spokes and the materials chosen for the sleeve bearings had had a deep influence on the design.

The tomb of Tutankhamun discovered in 1922

Tawfik told the Weekly that Egyptian restorers had proven skillful in the work of conservation of some of the items that had been in a very bad condition. Some of these items had been stored in the Egyptian Museum’s storage area or put on show in an almost hidden location among its treasured collections.

Among these objects, he explained, was a hassock, or small pillow, made using unique beadwork in Tutankhamun’s tomb. This artefact is made of leather and tiny beads strung together into elements which were later combined. “The composition and technology of the hassock is the most complex of all the ancient Egyptian beadwork that has been found,” Tawfik said.

The hassock was kept in a storeroom after its transportation from Luxor to the museum in 1933. In 2014, it was transferred to the new GEM Conservation Centre.

Egyptian conservator Negmeddin Hamza said that photographs taken by discoverer Howard Carter during the excavation of the tomb had been used to identify the manufacturing methods of the decorative bead patterns. “We realised that the hassock had been degraded from its previous condition in the tomb, and the clearest signs of deterioration were the deformation in the shape, the falling bead layers, and the losses in some parts,” Hamza said.

He added that temporary consolidation using Japanese tissue paper had salvaged the hassock. From the identification of the manufacturing technique restorers had been able to rework the beads to complete the losses in the decoration using sometimes difficult and tiring procedures.

Final support using dyed Japanese tissue paper was applied to complete the missing parts of the hassock and fix the reworked beads on it. A new mounting was also made to be used as a physical support.

Tawfik said that among the restored objects were the king’s leather and golden sandals, which had been badly damaged. After conservation, the conservators had realised that some of the king’s footwear had a mixed design combining the shapes of a sandal and a shoe. This is open-type footwear, with two leather straps stretched over both sides of the foot. The leather straps are decorated with golden foil.

“This type of sandals was to a special design made for Tutankhamun,” Tawfik said, adding that it had not been known before his reign but was similar to Graeco-Roman sandals. Other objects that have been restored and transported to the GEM include clothes, weapons, shields, robes, and materials from daily life.

Among the important papers discussed in the conference was one submitted by Japanese Egyptologist Naoko Nishimoto on the construction techniques used for the king’s folding bed or camping bed which can be folded into a Z-shape.

 “It is our only example of a three-fold bed,” Nishimoto said, explaining that the complexity of the design had caused the artisans many problems and had resulted in an ingenious construction that folded into a Z-shape using four bronze hinges attached to the wooden frame. “No detailed study has been made of this bed since Carter sketched it almost 100 years ago,” Nishimoto said.

He added that the bed gave an insight into the aspirations of the young Tutankhamun. Even though the frail young king may never have participated in long-distance or strenuous expeditions, he nevertheless loved the idea of hunting and campaigning. He strove to rebuild the temples in his domain from the Mediterranean to Nubia, for example.

“Thus, his camping bed is inherently poetic,” Nishimoto said, adding that in addition it illustrated to a high degree the technological and aesthetic ingenuity of furniture makers during the New Kingdom.

Professor of Egyptology at Ain Shams University in Cairo Hassan Selim said the third round of the Tutankhamun conference had focused on the conservation and transportation of the king’s treasured collection. All the furniture had been comprehensively studied in detail in order to understand its importance, original meaning, and function.

“Scholars this year explored the hidden treasures inside Tutankhamun’s funerary collection,” Selim told the Weekly.

He added that German Egyptologist Christian Loeben had shown new aspects and uses of the king’s wooden boxes, previously thought of as storing Tutankhamun’s clothes. Loeben had highlighted that the boxes had had a ritual use as well as a particular place in the design of the intact tomb where the king’s funerary objects were inserted in a definite order to serve their aim in the rebirth and resurrection of the king for eternity.

The original design of the tomb at the moment of its discovery, Selim said, had given to the GEM designer the idea on which to base the exhibition design of the Tutankhamun halls. “The new exhibition scenario at the GEM aims at setting out Tutankhamun’s artefacts in a way that relates the resurrection story of the king to eternal life to the placement of the objects inside the tomb,” Selim asserted.

He added that two fetuses found in the tomb were to be put on show for the first time. Papers at the conference had discussed how this could be done, he said. “The conference was like a brain-storming exercise among scholars in order to design the Tutankhamun collection and display it in the GEM to the highest international standards,” Selim concluded.

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