British historian and broadcaster Bettany Hughes is filming a television show on location in Egypt. She stands poised before an elegant chest with Egyptian antiquities expert Dr. Essa Zidan. But this is no ordinary box: it has come from the 3,300-year-old tomb of Tutankhamun – and has never been opened in front of a film crew. Turning to Zidan, Hughes then asks if she can remove the lid, and, astonishingly, the doctor agrees to let her. But what the curious pair find inside is entirely unexpected.
There is no doubt about the provenance of this chest; it can be seen quite clearly in Howard Carter’s photographs of the interior of Tutankhamun’s tomb. And it was Carter who had actually discovered the pharaoh’s last resting place in 1922. Yet although the chest was found inside Tutankhamun’s burial chamber, it seems that the box hadn’t really belonged to the ancient Egyptian.
In fact, researchers believe that the chest had been the property of Tutankhamun’s wife, Ankhesenamun. The evidence for this is the inscribed cartouche – or plaque – on one end of the box that identifies it as belonging to Tutankhamun’s queen. The pharaoh had married her not long after he’d ascended to the throne at the age of nine in 1332 B.C.
We know that Ankhesenamun outlived Tutankhamun, too. The latter in fact died when he was only 19 years old. So why would a chest belonging to Ankhesenamun be placed in her husband’s tomb? Perhaps it was as a keepsake of her memory for her husband to cherish in the afterlife? Yet whatever the reason, it’s the only thing belonging to her that experts have found. Also equally intriguing is this question: what does the chest contain?