On the 17th April 1940, the sarcophagus of King Amenemopet was opened in the presence of modern Egyptian King Farouk. Inside were the remains of a golden burial, 2,900 years old.
However this golden mask of Amenemopet's hides the fact that this king actually didn't have a lot of money.
Amenemope was buried in his own tomb, but as part of a royal burial complex containing the remains of no less than eight pharaohs of the 21st and 22nd Dynasties who ruled during what Egyptologists call Egypt's Third Intermediate Period, ca. 1069 B.C.
This period is often seen as a time of division, with two rival power bases. The kings ruled from the city of Tanis in the eastern Nile Delta, whilst a hereditary dynasty of powerful High Priests presided over much of Upper Egypt from the great Temple of Karnak at Thebes.
It was during the reign of the latter Ramesside kings, ruling from Memphis, that the Theban priesthood began quietly challenging royal authority and assuming control over Upper Egypt. It was Ramesses XI, the last of the line, who decided to bring Thebes back into line.
However the king's plan to take Thebes back by force backfired. On two occasions he sent in men to oust the rebellious priests. Both times these same men ended up adopting the same roles of the former priesthood. The second of these, General Herihor, was audacious enough to have his name enclosed within the royal cartouche. Nominally, Thebes was under the king's jurisdiction, but in reality Herihor ran the show.
When Ramesses XI died, it was his northern governor, Smendes, who became the new pharaoh in Tanis and founded a new dynasty: the 21st. He married a daughter of Ramesses to help legitimize his reign and so the royal line continued.
From this time on, diplomatic marriage between the royal princesses of Tanis and the Theban high priests meant that the future priestly elite were also descendants of the Tanite kings. Egypt settled into an amicable sharing of power between the two groups.
56 years later, King Amenemopet, took the throne in Tanis, having buried his father, Psusennes I. It was Psusennes' tomb complex at Tanis that was discovered in 1939 by French Egyptologist Pierre Montet. Amenemope was buried in a small chamber next to his father's tomb.
Although the king's authority was recognised throughout Egypt - including Thebes - the royal family had nowhere near the wealth that their ancestors enjoyed. Amenemopet's wooden coffins were covered with gold leaf instead of being of solid silver like his father's, and his mummy wore a gilt mask rather than one of solid gold.
Amenemopet's mummy-shaped wooden sarcophagus was decorated with this golden funerary mask, in the shape of the king wearing the 'nemes' Pharaonic headdress. The mask originally sported a curled divine beard, associating the king with Osiris, god of the Underworld.
Unfortunately the Tanis tombs were discovered just a month before the German invasion of France in World War II, and news of the find was overshadowed by Hitler's war machine. It is only in more recent years that Montet's great find, which added greatly to our understanding of the somewhat confusing Third Intermediate Period, has been celebrated properly.
Today Amenemopet's mask is in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (JE 86059).
Photo: George Johnson