Amid all the furore over the centenary of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb scant attention was paid to the fact that Carter’s discovery in 1922 was only half the story. A burial comprises both the place where the body is interred, and the location where prayers are said and offerings left. In the case of a king, these would comprise a tomb and a mortuary/memorial temple, known as the ‘mansion of eternity’. So where is Tutankhamun’s mansion?
Mortuary temple of Ay and Horemheb
We know where Tutankhamun’s temple should be, because royal mortuary temples of the Eighteenth Dynasty ran in sequence along the edge of the desert, from Hatshepsut in the north, through Thutmose III, Amenhotep II, Thutmose IV, Amenhotep III, to that of Ay and Horemheb in the south. The remnants of the last of these were discovered by excavations conducted in 1931 for the Chicago Oriental Institute by Uvo Hölscher. A crucial discovery was of nine foundation deposits beneath the sacred core of the temple, containing items naming Ay, proving that he was responsible for the first building on the site. Indeed, he had raised a substantial structure in a reign about half the length of that of Tutankhamun, so it is not a valid argument to suggest that Tutankhamun did not have time to build a mortuary temple. Ay’s temple was subsequently usurped and extended by his successor, Horemheb, to include a columned court 40% larger than the Sun Court at Luxor Temple.
Two standing statues of golden quartzite discovered on the site by Hölscher are thought by some to resemble Tutankhamun, but neither show any name other than those of Ay overwritten by Horemheb.
Thutmose II and Amenhotep, son of Hapu
A few large fragments and column bases from Ay and Horemheb’s temple may be seen to the north of the great outer mud-brick walls of the Medinet Habu compound. Before reaching these, on the short walk south from the taftish (security)/ticket office, a few mounds, inscribed blocks, and areas of stone flooring are passed; and this, logically, is the area in which Tutankhamun’s mansion should have stood. The stone flooring belongs to a small and rather enigmatic temple of Thutmose II, made by his son Thutmose III. The inscriptions from this were first examined by Bernard Bruyère in the 1920s, and more extensive excavations by Robischon and Varille in the mid-1930s found that the Thutmose II temple was flanked by two small anonymous structures: Temple Nord (North) and Temple Sud (South). There were traces of some building works of Ramesses IV, but the largest structure in this area – lying nearer the ticket office – was the Mortuary Temple of Amenhotep son of Hapu. This extremely important and greatly favoured official of Amenhotep III was thus honoured with a temple close to that of his royal master. Ironically, Amenhotep son of Hapu became (like Imhotep from the Old Kingdom) revered as a sage in Classical times, and Greek and Roman visitors came to pay their respects to the ‘saint’ when the Colossi of Memnon were all that remained to be admired of the mansion of his master, Amenhotep III.
Stela of Userhat and Nefertari
When all these structures are plotted on a map, it is clear that there is little room remaining in which a temple of Tutankhamun could have stood – and that, if located in the vicinity, it must have vanished without trace. Indeed, it would be easy to conclude that Tutankhamun never had a mortuary temple – except that we know for certain that he did.
A stela found near the Mortuary Temple of Mentuhotep II at Deir el-Bahri was made for a certain Userhat and his wife Nefertari, whose costumes date to the turn of the Eighteenth/Nineteenth Dynasties. Userhat was responsible for the administration of the Mansions of Nebmaatra (Amenhotep III) and Nebkheperura (Tutankhamun). So what happened to the Mansion of Nebkheperura Tutankhamun?
Karnak block field
When you have visited the wonders of Karnak numerous times, one of the most rewarding pleasures is to walk the block fields on the southern side of the main temple. Here may be found blocks from lost monuments, many of them extracted from within pylons and laid out in rows on risers. Inevitably Ramesses II is encountered, but more obscure pharaohs such as Shoshenq I and Psamtek I are also to be found, with a highlight being some quite exquisitely carved scenes from a monument of Amenhotep I. One day, while seeking out such interesting finds, I found myself looking at a fine sandstone architrave bearing a clearly cut cartouche – with the colour surviving on the hieroglyphs – and saying, ‘Nebkheperura… that’s Tutankhamun!’ There were more blocks, some naming Tutankhamun alone, and some where his names ran parallel to those of Ay. In fact, the full five names of both kings could be found, though those of Ay had often been reduced to the merest ghosts by systematic erasure. There were also sections of square piers with the titles of one or the other king, but, in these cases, Tutankhamun had come in for some rather perfunctory defacement too. The monument was named as the ‘Mansion of Nebkheperura in Waset’ (Luxor).
The current consensus is that Ay supervised the construction of a monument for Tutankhamun (on which he appeared as a senior official), and that he added to this when he acceded following the death of his young predecessor; and that Horemheb first aimed to take the place of Ay, then decided to erase/replace Tutankhamun as well, before quickly abandoning the effort and consigning all the blocks to act as packing in his new pylons (numbers II, IX, and X). It was during the reconstruction of these pylons in the modern era that these blocks – and those of various other monuments – came to light.
The question, of course, is: are these blocks pieces from Tutankhamun’s missing mortuary temple? Answering this question is by no means simple, not least because we have so little evidence for the decorative form of Eighteenth Dynasty mortuary temples – most of which survive as little more than foundations. Tutankhamun’s temple featured scenes of chariot and naval warfare (with gruesome treatment of the defeated enemy) that are not unlike those seen on the walls of both cult temples, such as Luxor and Karnak, and mortuary temples, such as the Ramesseum and Medinet Habu, dating from the succeeding Ramesside period. Similarly, depictions of the ‘Driving the Four Calves’ ritual can be found in both mortuary and non-mortuary temples. There were scenes from a statue cult too, paralleled only in the enigmatic temple made by Thutmose III for his father, Thutmose II (mentioned above). Similarly inconclusive is the fact that some blocks refer to: ‘Amun foremost of Ipet Isut (Karnak)’, or to Tutankhamun as ‘Ruler of Ipet Isut’. However, Hatshepsut is ‘Lord of Ipet Isut’ at Deir el-Bahri on the West Bank! Even the description of the temple as a ‘Mansion of Millions of Years’ does not confirm that it was a mortuary structure, as this may be seen for instance in Luxor Temple.
Considering that the blocks mostly ended up in Pylons II and IX at Karnak, a case may be made for Tutankhamun’s temple (whether mortuary or otherwise) having been located somewhere close to the southern axis of Karnak temple. One possibility is that it stood close to scenes of Tutankhamun surviving today close to the Sacred Lake. Alternatively, the work Tutankhamun undertook on the sphinx avenue leading from Pylon X to the Mut Temple might suggest that the missing temple faced on to this.
Perhaps the most diagnostic inscriptions refer to the Beautiful Feast of the Valley, an annual ceremony in which the barque of Amun of Ipet Isut left Karnak, and crossed the Nile, where the god was greeted in turn by the barque of each deceased monarch as it progressed along the mortuary temples on the West Bank. Tutankhamun’s fragments might thus comprise the surviving remnants of the mortuary temple overseen by Userhat, in which case his stela dates either to the reign of Ay, or to the earlier part of that of Horemheb (before the latter had it dismantled and shipped across the river, where the blocks were used to pack the interior of his Karnak pylons). It has been pointed out that Tutankhamun’s temple reused some blocks from Akhenaten’s Gempaaten temple, and that these would therefore have made the trip to the West Bank and back again! However, there is nothing in principle implausible about West Bank temples being plundered for building projects at Karnak, and the vanished temple of Ay and Horemheb was used in the construction of the Khonsu temple there. Demolition of that monument may already have been in progress in Year 29 of Ramesses III, when Scribe Amennakhte was issued with 46 sacks of emmer wheat by the Mansion of Djeserkheperura Meryamun (Horemheb) for the Deir el-Medina workforce, who were protesting over lack of pay. There is, of course, a certain ironical symmetry in Horemheb’s own monument receiving the same treatment as he had inflicted on that of Tutankhamun.
Some surprising supportive evidence for Tutankhamun’s temple having occupied a location on the West Bank comes from the excavations of Boyo Ockinga at the northern end of the necropolis of nobles on the hillslopes of Dra Abu el-Naga. There, at the Tomb of Amenemope, a Third Prophet of Amun (TT148), builders in the reigns of Ramesses III and Ramesses V used large blocks from royal monuments to create foundations for a pylon and courtyard, and to build surrounding walls and a portico. Included among pieces attributable to Hatshepsut, Thutmosid pharaohs, and Ramesses II were sandstone blocks deriving from a monument of Tutankhamun. The form of several of these pieces closely resembles the piers seen in the Karnak block field, and a estimate of size based on the drawings suggests a match, though this will need to be confirmed in the field. The piers in Tutankhamun’s temple are of an inferior, more friable, quality stone than the architraves, so it is not improbable that pieces would have been broken and left behind when the monument was dismantled. Interestingly, another fragment found in TT148 preserved a scene of Aten rays and a hand, which would accord with Tutankhamun’s reuse of fragments from the Gempaaten temple.
As to where Tutankhamun’s temple originally stood, the fact that Userhat had responsibility for not only the Mansion of Nebkheperura but also that of Nebmaatra suggests that they were in close proximity, and it would make sense if Tutankhamun’s temple lay within the great memorial complex of Amenhotep III at Kom el-Hettan, where it would have shared in the arrival of the barque of Amun during the Beautiful Feast of the Valley.
QUESTIONING THE COLOSSI: TUTANKHAMUN OR AY?
When the exhibition of Tutankhamun’s treasures came to London in February 2020, the final room was given over to one colossal statue of a pharaoh fashioned in red/amber quartzite. It had been loaned by the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and was one of a pair of standing figures recovered from the Ay/Horemheb mortuary temple by the Chicago Oriental Institute in 1931. It was included in the exhibition because it was thought to bear the features of Tutankhamun, but the names incised in the back pillar and belt-buckle cartouche were those of Horemheb, overwritten on those of Ay.
There is no sign of Tutankhamun anywhere. It is extremely unlikely that (as some have suggested) Tutankhamun had the statues made but somehow failed to add his name before his death – the inscription of the royal name would have been the highest priority. The other statue from the pair was more severely damaged than the Cairo colossus, and was gifted to the Chicago Institute, where it was heavily restored to clearly resemble Tutankhamun, and labelled as such. The argument that King Ay was too old to have been the subject of the colossi has no substance because long-lived pharaohs, such as Thutmose III, Ramesses II, and Merenptah, were never depicted beyond healthy middle age. Two seated colossi in hard marble-like limestone had fronted the temple (one is on display in the Ägyptisches Museum in Berlin, and the other somewhere in the storerooms of the Egyptian Museum, Cairo), and the fact that these exhibit somewhat heavier, fleshier features has led some to attribute these to Ay, while maintaining that the more youthful standing colossi are of Tutankhamun. The problem with this argument is that the fleshy features of the seated statues quite closely resemble the outer coffin of Tutankhamun; and the young king is represented with a wide range of facial features on statuary. On balance, the quartz colossi are rare and attractive images of the idealised and eternally youthful Ay, guarding the core of the temple, while the seated limestone statues flanking the outer entrance represent the more mature king.
There are questions concerning the names on the quartz colossi, however, specifically the form of the belt-buckle cartouches.
The rim of the cartouche on the Cairo statue (J 59869) is a groove somewhat roughly sunk into the belt of the statue. The left part of the text within reads ‘Ra Lord of the Two Lands, Beloved of Amun-Ra’ and the hieroglyphs are clearly, neatly, and deeply cut, with every appearance of being original. Horemheb’s prenomen Djeserkheperura Setepenra on the right is, however, very crudely inscribed.
In the case of the Chicago statue (14088) the cartouche rim is of the same form as the upper and lower edges of the belt, and links smoothly with them. However, all the hieroglyphs within the cartouche (reading ‘Djeserkheperura Setepenra Beloved of Amun’) are crudely scratched in, and the ‘Lord of the Two Lands’ element is entirely absent.
It is hard to account for these differences, irrespective of the shockingly poor quality of Horemheb’s usurpations.
Dylan Bickerstaffe is a regular contributor to Ancient Egypt magazine, most recently with an article on Maiherpri in AE 132. He has written for a wide range of publications on the royal mummies and mummy caches, and is the author of An Ancient Egyptian Casebook.
Many thanks to Raymond Johnson and Emily Teeter of the Chicago Oriental Institute, and Boyo Ockinga of Macquarie University, Sydney, for permission to use images.
• A Dodson (2009) Amarna Sunset (Cairo: AUC).
• M Eaton-Krauss (2016) The Unknown Tutankhamun (London: Bloomsbury).
All images: by the author, unless otherwise stated