Ancient Egypt’s King Tut:
Understanding Our Obsession
Kara Cooney / UCLA
In 1922, Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon discovered a nearly intact tomb. The golden treasures inside—the inner coffin weighs in at 269 pounds of solid gold—have obsessed us ever since, firmly sealing the young King Tut as the most famous of Egyptian kings. But why is Tutankhamun always the first pharaoh to come to mind when we think of ancient Egypt? Is it really because of those golden objects, or also because his tomb brings up questions of our own connections to death, our understanding of race, and our deep fascination with celebrity? Tutankhamun’s place in our modern zeitgeist arguably says more about us than it does about the ancient Egyptians.
The Good Kings: Absolute Power in Ancient Egypt and the Modern World, by Kara Cooney
The Complete Tutankhamun: The King, The Tomb, The Royal Treasure, by Nicholas Reeves.
Reeves, C. N. (2016). Tutankhamun’s mask reconsidered. Valley of the Kings since Howard Carter: proceedings of the Luxor Symposium November 4, 2009. H. Elleithy. Cairo, Ministry of Antiquities: 117-134
1) Why are we so obsessed with Tutankhamun today?
2) What do you think about the display of the ancient Egyptian dead? Do you think it’s problematic?
3) If this was Tutankhamun’s tomb, and he was a little-known king, what do you think the tombs of kings like Ramses II contain?
Kara Cooney is a professor of Egyptology at UCLA and Chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures. Specializing in social history, gender studies, and economies in the ancient world, she received her Ph.D. in Egyptology from Johns Hopkins University. In 2005, she was co-curator of Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Cooney produced a comparative archaeology television series, titled Out of Egypt, which aired in 2009 on the Discovery Channel and is available online. Her popular books include The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt, When Women Ruled the World: Six Queens of Egypt, and The Good Kings: Absolute Power in Ancient Egypt and the Modern World. Her forthcoming books include Recycling for Death: A Social History of Ancient Egypt through Coffins of Dynasties Nineteen to Twenty-two and Ancient Egyptian Society: Challenging Assumptions, Exploring Approaches
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