Object 1: The Death Mask 




Tutankhamun's golden death mask, the symbol of the immortal god-king, is arguably the most famous artefact of ancient Egypt. Indeed a beautiful work of craftsmanship, the gemstone inlays and gold detailing can truly take one's breath away. Or at least it would have caused respiratory issues, had it not been seen it three times before and four times after. For the idyllic image of the boyish king is repeated on the gilded, gold/glass and solid gold coffins that encase the Tutankhamun's mummy, as well as on the mini coffins which hold his organs inside alabaster canopic jars. After twelve copies, it kind of loses its luster.



But repetition seemed to be the norm in Egyptian funerary practice, for in addition to three coffins, the body was also protected by four gold shrines, a tent and a sarcophagus inside the burial chamber, as well as hundreds of amulets. They believed the dead person used up its energy during the day and had to return to its body at night to re-energize, just as the sun gained strength during the night and was born again each morning. It was unclear whether the elaborate shrines served merely a protective function or were believed to work like some magic microwave that recharged the body. What could not be mistaken, however, was the wealth and detail that went into it. The layer's of burial included the following: 

Tutankhamn, pearl cap, diadem, amulets, individual gold fingers & toes, sandals, dagger, gold detail, death mask, gold coffin, gold and glass coffin, gilded coffin, stone sarcophagus, gilded shrine 1, gilded shrine 2, gilded shrine 3, linen with bronze rosettes, gilded shrine 4, sealed burial chamber 


Each one a work of art in its own right, the similarly-designed coffins mimicked the colours of the sun at every turn. The innermost coffin is especially striking; more than 100 kg of precious metal form Tutankhamun's new, godly body, which covers the famous mask. Despite the beauty of the pieces, the image was repeated so often and opulently that it almost became common, leaving the shrine that held the innards seeming far more exciting than the famous image. Protected by lines of cobras from above, four goddesses with their arms outstretched, three mushroom-looking vases, a cow and a dog, the canopic shrine looked like something straight from an adventure film. The photos don't really do it justice. 




Though impressive in their artistic right, these mystical pieces seemed strangely juxtaposed against the sickly, boyish corpse they hid. Far more interesting, at least to me, were the everyday items that bridged the 3 000 year gap between then and now. What follows are a few of my favourites, some simple, some elaborate, each with a big story to tell.