It's something that has puzzled me for years. This should have been the last thing the king would have wanted in his tomb.
Many ancient Egyptian pharaohs and their executives were depicted holding a tall staff as a sign of authority.
King Tutankhamun was among them. Discovered in his Valley of the Kings tomb were no less than 130 staffs and walking sticks. The large number led Howard Carter to speculate that "... the young Tutankhamun must have been an amateur collector of walking sticks and staves". Many of them were clearly for ritual purposes, while others were worn and showed clear signs of use.
However, it seems that Tutankhamun didn't just use a staff as a symbol of royal power. He needed a walking stick to get around.
DNA testing on Tutankhamun's mummy in 2010 showed that Tutankhamun was a frail young man whose father and mother were siblings. His father, Akhenaten, had conceived a son with his own sister, the so-called Younger Lady found in the tomb of Amenhotep II (KV35). Such marriages were a royal prerogative; it kept the noble pedigree pure and reduced the risk of ambitious in-laws making claims to the throne.
What they didn't count on were the health implications for their offspring.
Many images from his tomb artefacts show him leaning on tall staffs. CT scans have revealed that Tutankhamun's left foot was crippled with a bone necrosis which would have made walking painful and difficult. It helps us understand why, of all the pharaohs, only Tutankhamun is shown seated while engaging in physical activities such as hunting birds with bow and arrows, or using a throw stick. It also explains his tomb's large collection of staffs and sticks.
There's just one thing that puzzles me.
The pharaohs weren't averse to re-writing their reality to create a fabulous new vision of themselves to take to the afterlife. Regardless of their age and how they actually looked, pharaohs are usually shown in the prime of their life, standing tall, vigorous and proud.
Tomb paintings portraying endless bounty and flawless pharaohs cozying-up to the gods were designed to create that reality once the king had passed over. So why didn't Tutankhamun take the opportunity to forge a new version of himself for the afterlife? He could have been reborn a healthier, more robust Tutankhamun who was walking-stick free and could now stand and hunt like his esteemed forebears.
I would have thought that being buried with a bunch of walking sticks would have perpetuated in the afterlife the disability that afflicted him in this one. Tutankhamun's death was unexpected, so it is unlikely he had much of a say over the stocking of his tomb. However the next pharaoh, Ay, had the chance to give his predecessor the gift of a stick-free eternity. I wonder why he didn't.
Any thoughts? Let me know in the comments section below or back on the Nile Magazine Facebook page.
This walking stick is one of six made in a similar style, found lying on a bed in the Antechamber of Tutankhamun's tomb. Each had a papyriform ferrule at one end, and at the other, a handle curved and decorated with representations of bound prisoners.
The prisoners bore the features of Egypt's traditional African and Asiatic enemies. When the king grasped this cane, the captives were turned upside down and magically rendered harmless, under the full subjugation of the all-conquering king.
Howard Carter labelled this one as: "Stick with crook composed of bound African prisoner". It is beautifully made. The Nubian’s face, hands and feet are made out of ebony and he is represented wearing a short curly hair wig and a pleated garment. Today the walking stick forms part of the Tutankhamun collection in Cairo's Egyptian Museum (JE 61735), and perhaps helps the young king hobble around in the afterlife.
Photo: Kenneth Garrett.
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