Tutankhamun interred in second-hand sarcophagus: Researchers discover ornate stone 'coffin' was altered for boy king after Egypt turned against earlier pharaoh. David Keys reports

David Keys
Tuesday 13 July 1993 00:02 BST

TUTANKHAMUN, the Egyptian boy king buried in golden splendour, was interred in a second-hand 'coffin' intended for his predecessor, research has revealed.

A study of his last resting place - a four-ton sarcophagus - shows that the great stone box had been built 10 years before the boy king's death. Masons had amended its inscriptions and carvings for Tutankhamun's burial.

Archaeological investigations by Marianne Eaton-Krauss, an American egyptologist, suggest that the sarcophagus had originally been made for Neferneferuaten, Tutankhamun's older half-brother. The research also suggests that Neferneferuaten was never buried in it because of political and religious upheaval in Egypt in the 14th century BC.

Dr Eaton-Krauss concluded that Tutankhamun's sarcophagus was, in effect, a 'retread' after she discovered very faint remains of deliberately obliterated hieroglyphic inscriptions on its stone sides.

Further detailed examination also found that the beautiful figures at each corner of the box had originally been carved without wings. But in the 70 years since Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon discovered Tutankhamun's tomb, no one had noticed either the faint traces of the earlier inscriptions or the fact that the wings had been added.

In order to obliterate the hieroglyphic texts, Egyptian masons had removed about 3mm of stone from most of the sarcophagus exterior. The contents of these now long-vanished texts may have convinced the authorities at the time that their late pharaoh could not be buried in his own sarcophagus.

It appears that the great stone box was mothballed until Tutankhamun's death in 1322 BC - when he was aged between 15 and 20 - when it was redesigned for its new role. Neferneferuaten (often known as Smenkhkare) was an elder son of the so-called heretic pharaoh, Akhenaten.

Dr Eaton-Krauss's revelation, published by the Griffith Institute, which holds all the original photographs and records of the tomb, sheds new light on the events which followed the collapse of Akhenaten's heresy.

Akhenaten - who ruled Egypt in the 14th century BC - scrapped all but one of his country's pagan gods, and established what was probably the world's first monotheistic religion based on the worship of the sun.

After his death in 1336 BC, his new religion began to decline. But Dr Eaton-Krauss is now proposing that the final demise of Akhenaten's monotheistic experiment took place four years later - in 1332 BC - when Neferneferuaten died.

She believes that the final coup against Akhenaten's monotheistic heresy took place in the 70-day traditional period of mourning between Neferneferuaten's death and burial.

After his death, and ignoring his last wishes, the new authorities seem to have intervened to prevent him being buried in the sarcophagus and with the ritual funerary equipment he had commissioned.

The Sarcophagus in the Tomb of Tutankhamun; Dr Marianne Eaton- Krauss; Griffith Institute, Oxford; pounds 25.

(Photographs omitted)

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