Object Type: Sarcophagus shrine (second shrine, rear panel)
Date: c. 1336-1327 BC
Period: Dynasty 18, New Kingdom
Findspot: Tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62), Valley of the Kings, West Thebes
Material: Gilded cedar wood
Inventory number: Howard Carter number 237
Print Reference: DP92
Tutankhamun's Second Shrine
In the heart of the burial chamber of the tomb of Tutankhamun, a nested set of five gilded cedar wood shrines housed his sarcophagus. They were beautifully decorated with deities, scenes from the Book of the Dead, and protective spells, which were intended to aid Tutankhamun in his perilous journey to the afterlife. In this scene from the rear panel of the second shrine, the sister goddesses Isis and Nephthys stretch out their protective wings to encircle the dead king and recite spells that emphasise the rejuvenation and protection of Tutankhamun in the afterlife.
Isis stands on the right and Nephthys on the left. They both have protective wings outstretched to encircle the dead king and are shown in identical tight-fitting linen dresses, wigs, floral collars, and golden jewellery. They stand upon a representation of the Middle Egyptian hieroglyph ‘nebu’, a collar with beads hanging from it, meaning ‘gold’. In ancient Egyptian symbolism, gold was considered an indestructible metal of heavenly origin and the flesh of the gods and was therefore used to represent immortality. It is associated mostly with the sun god, Re, as its polished surface is often linked to the brilliance of the sun.
The hieroglyphs surrounding the goddesses are excerpts from the ancient Egyptian funerary texts, specifically related to the protection and resurrection of Tutankhamun, who is identified with the god Osiris. Both spells emphasise the rejuvenation and protection of Tutankhamun in his journey through the afterlife, drawing upon the mythological narratives of the gods Isis and Nephthys in their roles as facilitators of resurrection.
The Words of Isis
Isis, the wife of Osiris and goddess of motherhood, appears on the right of the shrine surrounded by hieroglyphs recording her words of protection for the dead king. She is one of the oldest gods in the ancient Egyptian pantheon and heavily features in funerary art due to her part in the Osiris myth, in which she resurrects her slain husband, the divine king Osiris, and produces and protects his heir, Horus. She was believed to help the dead enter the afterlife as she had helped Osiris, and she was considered the divine mother of the pharaoh, who was likened to Horus.
Isis's prayer is a comprehensive plea for protection, resurrection, empowerment, and eternal well-being for her ‘son’ Tutankhamun in the afterlife, seeking the favour and blessings of the gods, particularly Osiris. She identifies herself as Tutankhamun's protector and promises to remove obstacles and negative influences that might hinder his journey to resurrection. Isis emphasises the restoration of his physical abilities in the afterlife by granting him the ability to stand on his feet, walk about, eat and drink, and move as he did when he was alive. The prayer ensures the eternal stability of Tutankhamun's heart and being so that he remains unharmed by the wicked forces in the city of the dead.
The Words of Nephthys
The prayer of Nephthys, the sister of Osiris and guardian of the dead, echoes the protective role her sister Isis provides and conveys similar themes of protection, restoration, and empowerment for Tutankhamun in the afterlife. It emphasises his divine status and connection to the major gods of Egyptian mythology, who are said to rejoice for Tutankhamun every day and promise their positive judgment and acceptance of him in the afterlife.
Nephthys positions herself as the protector of Tutankhamun, addressing him as her brother Osiris, and describes her actions to ensure that his body remains intact and free from the effects of decay. To do this she invokes the assistance of Anubis, the god of embalming, to perform the opening of the mouth ceremony, a symbolic ritual to restore the deceased's ability to speak and partake in the afterlife. She wishes for Tutankhamun to see with open eyes, walk with firm steps, and go about on earth as he did in his forms of life. These words were included on the shrine to ensure Tutankhamun had a successful transition to the afterlife and had all the facilities he would need to enjoy it.
Translations adapted from The shrines of Tut-Ankh-Amon (1955) by Alexandre Piankoff, pages 125-26.
Top horizontal register, read from centre to the right:
Live, Osiris, King, Lord of the Two Lands Nebkheperure, beloved of the Ennead of the Netherworld.
Top horizontal register, read from centre to the left:
Live, Osiris, King, Lord of appearances, Tutankhamun, ruler of Heliopolis of the South, beloved of the Ennead.
Main vertical registers, read from centre to the right:
Words spoken by Isis: I have come to be your protection, you are my son, my beloved Horus, I have taken away the veil over you, (made) by him who acted against you. May you lift your head to see Re, to stand on your feet, to walk about in the forms you like, to move as before. You have power over the bread, you have power over the water, you have power over the wind, you have power over all things beautiful and clean, Osiris, Lord of the Two Lands, Nebkheperure. You see with your eyes, you hear with your ears. Your heart is yours, of your real being, it is stable on its place forever and ever. It will not be ravished by the wicked who seize hearts, who ravish hearts in the Necropolis. You are a justified one before Unen-nefer [Osiris, "The eternally beautiful”].
Main vertical registers, read from centre to the left:
Words spoken by Nephthys: I have come to protect you from behind, my brother Osiris, King, Lord of the Two Lands Nebkheperure. I have established your head on your neck. Anubis has gathered for you your bones, he has made your members healthy, he has removed all evil, he has caused your sorrow to depart. You will not decay! Horus has opened your mouth with this chisel of copper with which the mouth of the gods is being opened. You speak before Horus, Lord of Mankind, in the Castle of the Prince, the Great One in Heliopolis. Horus has opened the mouth of Osiris, King Tutankhamun, ruler of Heliopolis of the South, with this (instrument) of Anubis, the adze of copper, and you speak before the Great Ennead of Gods. They rejoice for you every day as they rejoice for Osiris. Horus has opened your eyes that you may see with them, Horus has made your steps firm that you may go about on earth as you were in your forms of life, Osiris, King, Lord of the Two Lands Nebkheperure, the justified one.
Les Chapelles de Tout Ankh Amon (1951) by Alexandre Piankoff
The shrines of Tut-Ankh-Amon (1955) by Alexandre Piankoff
The third shrine (TAA i.3.26) archive held by the Griffith Institute