King Tut's Leftover Bandages Yield New Clues

King Tut's leftover bandages yield new clues. Learn more about King Tut's leftover bandages yielding new clues in this article.

THE GIST

- An exhibit at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art reveals leftover bandages from King Tut's funeral.

- The mummy was wrapped in custom-made bandages, similar to modern first aid gauzes.

- The bandages on display at the museum are actually the best-preserved lot of Tutankhamun wrappings.

King Tutankhamun's mummy was wrapped in custom-made bandages similar to modern first aid gauzes, an exhibit at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art reveals.

Running in length from 4.70 meters to 39 cm (15.4 feet to 15.3 inches), the narrow bandages consist of 50 linen pieces especially woven for the boy king.

For a century, the narrow linen bandages were contained in a rather overlooked cache of large ceramic jars at the museum's Department of Egyptian Art. The collection was recovered from the Valley of the Kings between 1907-08, more than a decade before Howard Carter discovered King Tut's treasure-packed tomb.

Now on permanent display in the museum's Egyptian galleries and highlighted in the exhibit "Tutankhamun's Funeral," the objects provide important insights into King Tut's mummification.

"The linens on the actual mummy were so much decayed by excessive use of resins that the bandages on display at the museum are actually the best-preserved lot of Tutankhamun wrappings," Dorothea Arnold, curator of Egyptian art at the Metropolitan museum, told Discovery News.

"When the floor was swept after wrapping the body of a king, naturally, there were quantities of pieces of linen, some of them bandages and some wider bits, gathered up," wrote Herbert E. Winlock (1884-1950), the Metropolitan's curator, in a 1941 account of the embalming material.

Bearing inscriptions with dates -- the Egyptians used to write the date the linen was woven so that they knew how old it was -- the sheets provided Winlock with precise evidence for dating the cache's material.

One linen featured an inscription with "Year 8 of the Lord of Two Lands, Nebkheperure [Tutankhamun's throne name.]" Indeed, "Year 8" was the final year of Tutankhamun's life (1341 B.C. - 1323 B.C.).

"Usually bandages to be wound on a body were rolled up to make the wrapping easier," Winlock said. He identified the ends of some six bandages, still tightly rolled.

But the most "curious things among the bandages" were 50 pieces of modern-looking gauze -- narrow linen tape with finished edges on each side.

"I do not recall ever having seen any ready-made, 18th-Dynasty bandages like them before," Winlock said. "According to known later custom, they were used to fix the larger sheets around the body," Arnold said.

Especially woven for King Tut, some of these expensive linens still evoke the presence of the embalmers, as they show fingerprints indicating that someone had wiped his hands on them.

The large jars containing the linens were first discovered buried in a pit (subsequently called KV 54) just 110 meters (360.8 feet) away from the tomb of King Tut, which had yet to be discovered.

The jars also held what appeared to be an unexciting array of broken pieces of pottery, animal remains, collars of dried flowers, kerchiefs and embalming material.

Rather disappointed, its discoverer, the New York lawyer Theodore M. Davis, donated the materials to the Metropolitan museum.

"Mr. Davis seems to have felt that he had discovered a poor man's tomb," wrote Herbert E. Winlock ( 1884-1950), the Metropolitan's curator.

Indeed, Davis was used to much more impressive findings.

His archaeological team, which included well known Egyptologists such as Howard Carter, photographer Harry Burton and archaeologist Edward R. Ayrton, had uncovered about 30 tombs in the valley during excavations between 1902 and 1914.

Among Davis' most important findings are KV46, the tomb of Yuya and Tuya, King Tut's great-grandparents, and KV55, the burial equipment of the Amarna royal family, such as that of Queen Tiye. Tiye was probably Tutankhamun's grandmother.

The unassuming cache entered the Metropolitan museum as a mystery. Only several years later, after further studies and analysis, did Winlock identify the items as remains from King Tut's funeral.

"It was a perfectly undisturbed cache which Mr. Davis found ... a cache of materials which, according to Egyptian beliefs, were too impure to be buried in the tomb with the dead man, but which had to be safely put not far away from his body," Winlock wrote in a 1941 detailed account of the material found in the pit.

Leftover linens from the wrapping of King Tut's body bear an inscription including the date the linen was woven.

King Tut's Mask

"Tutankhamun: His Tomb and the Treasures" is a new exhibition now in Zurich that has meticulously reconstructed the tomb complex and its treasures. Specially trained craftspeople in Cairo built more than 1,000 exact replicas under scientific supervision. The work took over five years. Here is a replica of the famous mask of King Tut, weighing 24 lbs, which was pressed over the head of the king's bandaged mummy. The idealized portrait of the young king echoes the style of the late Amarna period. The life-like eyes are formed by bright quartz, with obsidian inlays for the pupils.

King Tut, With Wife

This scene, depicted on the backrest of King Tut's throne, shows how Tutankhamen used to lean back in a relaxed manner while his wife, Anchesenamun, stood beside him and rubbed ointment into his shoulder.

Tomb Discovery

This is how the tomb of the boy king Tutankhamun appeared to archaeologist Howard Carter when he discovered it in 1922.

King Tut's Tomb in 3-D

Tutankhamun's tomb and its contents, as viewed in a 3-D model. A corridor led to an antechamber and an annex filled with objects. The antechamber opened into the coffin chamber with King Tut's sarcophagus. The coffin chamber led to another small room filled with King Tut's treasures.

Treasures Galore

Two tiny mummified female fetuses were found in the tomb with the king. But they were not the only companions placed in the tomb for King Tut's journey to the afterlife. The boy king was buried with more than 5,000 priceless objects, including this treasure chest.

Boy Throne

The famous gold throne found in the tomb was ordered when Tutankhamen became king at the age of nine.

Lion Head

The dead king in the underworld was akin to the sun at night and, in the New Kingdom, this was identified with the god of death, Osiris. The heads of lions corresponded to the time the sun god spent in the body of the god of heaven in feline form. The facial details of the lion head –- the rims of the eyes, tip of the nose and tear ducts -- are given almost life-like properties through the use of glass.

Hired Help for the Afterlife

These figures were supposed to take the place of the king in performing the daily tasks that came up in the afterlife. A total of 413 of these figures, known as ushabtis, were found in Tutankhamun's tomb. Among the collection, 365 were responsible for carrying out day-to-day duties, 36 ushabtis served as overseers for groups of 10 workers each, and 12 acted as monthly supervisors