The tomb of the Eighteenth Dynasty king Tutankhamun (c.1336–1327 BC) is world-famous because it is the only royal tomb from the Valley of the Kings that was discovered relatively intact. Its discovery in 1922 by Howard Carter made headlines worldwide, and continued to do so as the golden artifacts and other luxurious objects discovered in this tomb were being brought out. The tomb and its treasures are iconic of Egypt, and the discovery of the tomb is still considered one of the most important archaeological discoveries to date.
Despite the riches it contained, the tomb of Tutankhamun, number 62 in the Valley of the Kings, is in fact quite modest compared to the other tombs on this site, in both size and decoration. This is most likely due to Tutankhamun having come to the throne very young, and even then ruling for only around nine years in total. One can wonder at what riches the much larger tombs of the most powerful kings of the New Kingdom, such as Hatshepsut, Thutmose III, Amenhotep III, and Ramesses II once contained.
Only the walls of the burial chamber bear any decoration. Unlike most previous and later royal tombs, which are richly decorated with funerary texts like the Amduat or Book of Gates, which helped the deceased king reach the afterlife, only a single scene from the Amduat is represented in the tomb of Tutankhamun. The rest of the decoration of the tomb depicts either the funeral, or Tutankhamun in the company of various deities.
This small size of the tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62) has led to much speculation. When his successor, the high official Ay, died, he was buried in a tomb (KV23), which may have been originally intended for Tutankhamun, but which had not yet been completed at the time of the death of the young king. The same argument has been made in turn for the tomb of Ay’s successor, Horemheb (KV57). If so, it is unclear for whom the eventual tomb of Tutankhamun, KV62, was carved, but it has been argued that it existed already, either as a private tomb or as a storage area, that was subsequently enlarged to receive the king.
Whatever the reason, the small size of the tomb meant that the approximately 5000 artefacts that were discovered inside were stacked very tightly. These reflect the lifestyle of the royal palace, and included objects that Tutankhamun would have used in his daily life, such as clothes, jewelry, cosmetics, incense, furniture, chairs, toys, vessels made of a variety of materials, chariots, and weapons.
It is one of history’s great ironies that Tutankhamun, a relatively minor king who was erased from history because he was related to the unpopular King Akhenaten, has come to surpass many of Egypt’s greatest rulers in fame.