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Tutankhamun's wardrobe

by Dr Gillian Bowen
Publish date
26 July 2011
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Dr Gillian Bowen is the Senior Lecturer in Archaeology and Ancient History, Monash University. Join her for "Tutankhamun’s wardrobe", an exploration of Ancient Egyptian attire, Tuesday 26 July 2011, as part of the Tutankhamun Tuesdays Public Lecture Program.

Dr Gillian Bowen Dr Gillian Bowen.
Source: Dr Gillian Bowen

In 1922, when Howard Carter first opened the virtually-intact tomb of Tutankhamun, he astounded the world with the vast array of treasure. Among the items, which received little attention from the public but were meticulously recorded by Carter, was the king’s wardrobe: his underwear, tunics, kilts, gloves, socks, shoes and sandals. This is the only substantial collection of items from a royal wardrobe to survive from ancient Egypt.

Many of the garments were poorly preserved as the cloth had disintegrated over the millennia and the elaborate beadwork had fallen off. To preserve these precious items, Carter employed Alfred Lucas, a chemist and specialist conservator. Surprisingly, other clothes were in perfect condition. The garments, along with the iconography such as that shown on the gilded throne, allow us to glimpse the wardrobe of Tutankhamun and his queen, Ankhenenamun. The items represent the height of fashion in the late 18th Dynasty.

Amongst the garments, Carter counted around 145 loincloths, which functioned as underwear, and 81 pieces of footwear. Some of the ceremonial clothes are made of the finest linen which resembles silk and the embroidery and beadwork on these garments and the shoes is exquisite. The marquetry sandals are made of wood, leather, bark, plaster and the decoration is in gold. The scenes show the traditional enemies of Egypt, the so-called “nine bows” on which the king tramples. These items were made by specialist craftsmen as well as the women in the king’s harem. Very few items from Tutankhamun’s wardrobe are on display in the Egyptian Museum and this talk offers one of the few opportunities to view images of the garments.

Egypt: a fascinating journey

by J. Patrick Greene
Publish date
27 June 2011
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At Christmas I read the biography of Howard Carter, who discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922. In January I followed in his footsteps to Egypt, visiting the pyramids on the Giza plateau, then Saqqara to see the Stepped Pyramid of Djoser, then Luxor and Karnak (ancient Thebes, centre of the worship of the god Amun) and finally, across the Nile to the Valley of the Kings.

  Karnak temple Ornately carved pillars at Karnak temple.
Image: Patrick Greene
Source: Museum Victoria

Excavation of Ptolemaic era baths outside the main entrance to Karnak temple. Excavation of Ptolemaic era baths outside the main entrance to Karnak temple.
Image: Patrick Greene
Source: Museum Victoria

To enter the tomb in which Tutankhamun was buried was an extraordinary experience. In 1922 there were over 5000 astonishing objects in the tomb, stacked one on top of the other, that took Carter and his team ten years to carefully remove, record, conserve and then pack for their journey to the Cairo Museum. As I stepped into the burial chamber I felt something of the excitement that Carter had felt as he peered through the sealed blocking wall for the first time. The beautiful sarcophagus is still there, carved with the protective deities with wings outstretched that guarded the young king as he began his journey to the afterlife. So too is Tutankhamun; his mummy has never left the tomb except for a short journey outside for a CT scan a few years ago.

I was lucky enough to have the tomb to myself for ten minutes or so, to absorb the atmosphere and marvel at the paintings on the walls of the burial chamber. Photographs are forbidden, quite rightly, not just to help preserve the pigments of the paintings but also the sense of awe. When some other visitors eventually entered they concluded that the sarcophagus and mummified body were replicas. I was able to reassure them that they were not!

My fascinating journey to Egypt included a visit to the Cairo Museum to see the objects that Howard Carter had so carefully sent down the Nile. Visitors clustered around one object in particular, the famous gold funerary mask that never leaves Egypt. Some of the cases had notes to say that the objects that they normally contained were part of an international exhibition. With pride I knew where they were heading—to Melbourne Museum to be displayed in the Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs exhibition that opened in April.

  Patrick Greene in front of the Cairo Museum Patrick Greene outside the famous Cairo Museum, where treasures from the tomb of Tutankhamun are housed.
Source: Museum Victoria

I couldn't take photographs in the tomb, or in the Cairo Museum for that matter, but elsewhere I was given access to sites and met with fellow archaeologists making exciting discoveries that I was able to photograph. A selection of my images has now been published by Museum Victoria in a book that is hot off the press. Its title? Egypt: a fascinating journey.


Egypt: a fascinating journey

Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs

Watch Dr Greene's lecture: 'An Archaeologist Visits Ancient Egypt'




We have a signed copy of Patrick's book to give away to a blog reader. To enter, leave a comment on this post by noon on Thursday 30 June with your answer to this question:

What fascinates you about Egypt?  


UPDATE: Thank you to all the entrants! Patrick has chosen JessB as the winner, saying:

“I was spoilt for choice in deciding the winner of my book.  I had no idea who had written the blog entries as they were shown to me without names attached.  I made a shortlist, and finally chose my winner, which expresses so eloquently the captivating beauty of the artists and crafts people whose creations still speak to us over the distance of time.”

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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.