Wood Box in the Form of Tutankhamun's Cartouche

Wood Box in the Form of Tutankhamun's Cartouche or Royal Name

Cartouche, a French word meaning an ornamental table for an inscription, is the name that was given by early scholars to the oval rings in which a king's throne name and personal name and the names of other members of the royal family were usually written. The personal name of the king might be followed by an epithet, which would also be included in the cartouche. A cartouche actually represents a length of rope formed into a loop by tying the two ends together. The ancient Egyptians called the cartouche shenu, a noun derived from a verb meaning "to encircle," the underlying idea being to represent the king as ruler of all that the sun encircled. Many objects from Tutankhamun's tomb - the knobs of this box among them - bear a circular form of the cartouche (usually but not invariably without an inscription) the sense of which is "infinity" or "universality".

Wood Box in the Form of Tutankhamun's Cartouche or Royal Name

On the top of the lid of this box, rising slightly above the gilded background, are applied ebony and painted ivory hieroglyphs that render the king's personal name and his usual epithet: "Amun", "Tut", "ankh" and "ruler", "of On", "of Upper Egypt". The name of the god Amun was written first for honorific reasons, but it was read after "Tut" and "ankh". Like other Egyptian names Tutankhamun has a meaning, although it is uncertain whether it should be translated "Perfect is the life of Amun" or "Living image of Amun". On, better known by its Greek name Heliopolis, was the ancient center of the cult of the sun god Ra that is mentioned in the Old Testament. When Amun, the god of Thebes, as identified with the sun god, "On of Upper Egypt" was adopted as a name for Thebes.

Wood Box in the Form of Tutankhamun's Cartouche or Royal Name Wood Box in the Form of Tutankhamun's Cartouche or Royal Name

On the rectangular panel, which represents the downward extension of the tied ends of the rope, are incised the king's personal name, his throne name (both in cartouches), and his Horus name, each with its appropriate title. Beneath the cartouches are written the words "Given life like Ra for ever." The ebony knobs on the lid and on the panel bear images of Heh, the god of eternity, kneeling on the hieroglyphic sing that signifies "gold" and holding in each had a palm rib, the hieroglyph for "year". Attached to the base of each palm rib are a tadpole and the shen sign to convey the sense of an infinite number of hundreds of thousands of years; the sign for "life" is looped over the right arm at the elbow. On the god's head is the sun's disk.

Wood Box in the Form of Tutankhamun's Cartouche or Royal Name

Although the reddish-brown wood has not been scientifically identified, it is believed to be of a coniferous kind. All the edges of the box and the cartouche on the lid are veneered with strips of ebony. The bands of inscription, which give the king's names and titles and some of his many epithets, are inlaid with a golden pigment on the lid and with blue frit on the box.

Most of the contents of this box, like the chests in its vicinity, had been plundered by the ancient robbers and other things had been hastily substituted by the necropolis staff. Included, however, were some scepters that Carter considered to be part of the original equipment, and if so the box was probably used on ceremonial occasions, possibly even at the king's coronation, when changes in regalia were required.

Tutankhamun Menet Bird

 Menet Bird of Tutankhamun

This carnelian bird supporting the sun's disk is mounted on the swivel joint bracelet. Carter noticed that the bird corresponded in form with one that figures as an illustration to Chapter 86 of the Book of the Dead and is called menet in the text. The word is believed to mean a swallow, but Carter identified this bird as an Egyptian swift (Cypsellus pallidus), the two birds being sometimes confused in religious texts.

The title of the chapter is "Spell for assuming the form of a menet bird" and it ends with the words "Whoever knows this spell can go forth by day without hindrance at any door in the kingdom of the dead and he can assume the form of a menet bird. It has indeed been efficacious millions of times." Tutankhamun, by the possession of the bracelet, may have hoped to enjoy this freedom. Swifts, according to Carter, live in large colonies in the cliffs bordering the Nile valley and fly daily to the river, returning in the evening.

 Menet Bird of Tutankhamun

 It was this habit, he thought, that the ancient Egyptians regarded as analogous to the daily emergence of the dead from their tombs and their return at sunset. With the aid of magic they could assume the form of the bird and adopt its mode of life.

Apart from providing the dead with an image into which they could be metamorphosed, the menet bird symbolized a minor deity who was associated with the region of the Theban necropolis and to whom artisans and people of the middle classes sometimes looked for help and offered their prayers.