As a fanatical gold lover, it would be completely wrong not to include The Gold Mask of King Tutankhamun.
He was laid to rest in the ultimate of funeral chambers and the amount and quality of golden treasures buried with him is the stuff of legends. So much so, that if you ask anyone today to name an Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh, King or Queen, more often than not, it is Tutankhamun who will come top of the list.
And rightly so, some of the treasure found by Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon is still as amazing to look at as it was when they first discovered it on the 25th of November 1922. It was certainly a world-wide sensation when it was first discovered, making the headlines of all of the world’s media, and resulting in an invasion of reporters and photographers to the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.
The pyramids were protective buildings, much like over-sized safes. They were meant to prevent robbers from entering the chamber of the royal mummies, disrupting their peace, and stealing the gold and gemstones within. For that reason, the passages inside the pyramids were blocked and the entrances disguised.
This system of multiple and dummy passages, coupled with sealed off ones to look like dead ends, certainly paid dividends in the case of Tutankhamun. Shortly after the boy king had been buried (circa. 1323 BC), his tomb was broken into by robbers. Fortunately only a few items were taken, with the majority of the treasures given to the young king, remained with him in his grave. The site of his tomb was then re-sealed and later covered over with excavated rubble from the Valley of the Kings to give his tomb extra protection from robbers. And so it remained for almost 3,500 years.
Tutankhamun had only ruled Egypt for almost ten years (1332 BC-1323 BC), his reign was of no great of historical significance, and he is believed to have died following a riding or chariot racing accident. After all, he was only 19 years old when he died, and much of this time he was only a child, surrounded by many Royal courtiers and ruthless would-be successors.
So what is the reason behind his incredible popularity during the 20th Century ?
Put simply, the discovery of his tomb and the fabulous treasures contained within it.
The Gold Mask of Tutankhamun is a work of genius by today’s standards with all of the technology that we have available. But this masterpiece is 3,500 years old, making it even more incredible that such a work of great quality and intricate detail was even possible in those days. The goldsmiths of Ancient Egypt truly were master craftsmen / women.
So what is the actual detail of Tutankhamun’s Gold Mask ?
The face of Tutankhamun is believed not to be an exact representation of what he actually looked like.
Certain features are hinted at, such as his prominent lips for example.
The face is surrounded by royal features and symbolism, such as the folded headscarf, a vulture and cobra above the forehead (symbolising Upper and Lower Egypt), and the ceremonial beard on his chin which was part of the ‘Royal Uniform’ required for public appearances.
The ceremonial beard is made of gold and glass.
The eyebrows and eyelid lines are made of blue glass.
The eyes are made of obsidian and quartz.
The colour blue : was associated with everything heavenly.
The colour gold : was considered the ‘Flesh of the Gods’ and symbolised eternity.
The structure of the mask is pure gold.
The detailing is inlaid semi-precious stones and coloured glass.
Height : 54 cm
Width : 39.3 cm
Weight : 11 kg.
If you wanted to see the mask for yourself, it might be difficult to track it down, as it keeps moving.
It is usually housed in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo (Museum of Egyptian Antiquities) (antiquities.gov.eg).
The Egyptian Government is currently building the new Grand Egyptian Museum (gem.org.eg), and the mask has also been loaned to other museums around the world in the past, including London.
So make sure you know where it is before you set off to visit it!!