Anticipation was a murmur running beneath the mire of the afternoon sun. It was a weighty thing called forth out of cartooning tradition and penned in by stone pillars. It was in the sudden tweaks of necks snapping to, then forward. It was in the necessarily short, shallow, babble of amassing, Hello, how are yous‘: token salutations that would have to suffice, anything more would lose purchase when the pharaoh appeared. Yet the presentation porch was vacant save two sparsely clad sentinels, bare chested and baring spears. Anticipation simmered as the crowd waited to be awed.
From the shadows the scribe, Ay, looked on the ignorant and willingly beguiled. They flocked to see a God, the ever-living, presence, the immutable. They flocked to be uplifted, to be humbled, to be justified in their way of life by his physical incarnation. It was said that the great Pharaoh’s face radiated the golden beams of the desert sun. It was said that it pained the naked eye to gaze upon his countenance for long – just long enough to perceive his lapis-blue locks. Imperious in his stance, he need not speak, his presence was enough. That’s all they wanted. That’s all Khemet needed.
Did it matter that in truth the Pharaoh was only a feeble, nine year old boy who sought his mother when the night terrors set in? Ay would shelter the truth for and from them. He had his tools. He would give the people what they needed to see. He ensured order. He ensured maat. They didn’t need to see a debilitated, child-God as they didn’t need to see a female masquerading as a male God just a few generations ago, nor the 2 year old infant before her. No, The Pharaoh-Godman was an empirical constant, like maat. Anything other was chaos.
No. Let the mask work its magic once again, while the child played indoors.
After two lack-lustre attempts at recreating the nemes crown I decided that it was not made out of linen. Forget what egyptologists, historians, even archaeologists, or anyone who has made Ancient Egypt the focus of their lifetime’s research are saying. Listen to the housewife: it was made out of gold. Tut wore a golden crown, not a linen one! Whoever heard of a king ruling with the weight of cloth on his shoulders? Unheard of! And besides, I failed at making it, twice. (It’s all about me ;D). Continuing along this vein. . .
Tutankhamen wore a gold crown. He inherited it from his predecessors. He passed it onto his successor. That’s what happens with monarchs and the chief symbols of their power and majesty. Except . . . it was found on his mummy. So chances are that his predecessors’ and successors’ crowns could have been found with their mummies had their burials remained intact. And then there is that snake and vulture sticking out of it. Tut seems to have been the only pharaoh to have been depicted with this wadjet-nehkbet combination sticking out of his head. No, this crown was definitely made for Tut but was it made during his lifetime or specifically for his afterlife?
Egyptologist, Nicholas Reeves, wrote a paper, Tutankhamun’s Mask Reconsidered focusing on the burial bust. He found that it was probably made reusing other monarch’s jewels. He believes that the face is Nefertiti’s (Tutankhamen’s possible step mother or aunt (1)). If this is the case the mask had to be made before the crown. By looking at the way that the crown and mask were made we can determine which part was made first or whether they were made at the same time. Due to the preferred habits of jeweller-metalsmiths and the immutable facts of science – the melting point of gold, the burning point of lapis, the shock resistance of faience – a close look at its joins and surface can reveal much.
As a former lapidary jeweller I would like to take a guess at what the burial bust could tell us. I’m using Nicholas Reeves article as a reference for what I can’t infer from just looking at photos of it. I have never seen the bust itself.
Reeves tells us that there were at least 8 components of the burial bust (the combined face, nemes crown and necklace.) It was assembled using a number of enduring techniques: cold hammering from sheet metal, riveting, casting, soldering and pressure setting. He singles out, “a series of rivets at the base of the throat together with visible lines of solder around the edges of the face and neck,” and ” a line of thickening around the brow band,” to “indicate that the face had been fashioned not as one with the front of the headpiece but as a wholly separate unit.” His 8 distinct parts of the bust are:
- the front panel (of the nemes Crown)
- the back panel
- the uraeus and vulture
- the face
- an ear
- the other ear
- the beard
- and the collar panel (necklace)(2).
He continues, “In its fully assembled state, the mask’s metal surfaces had been smoothed, inlaid, chased, treated, and provided with the finishing burnish which, externally at least, conceals so convincingly today details of the construction process.” Reeves doesn’t specify which part was subjected to which technique but I’d like to take an educated guess.
1). and 2). The Front and Back Panels of the Nemes Crown
The general shape of these panels would have been hammered from sheet and fitted and resized as the metal was pushed and hammered into shape; first one panel and then the other, before they were soldered together. Channels for the inlaid blue faience (glass/enamel) would have been traced, scorped out, hammered, heated and quenched, re-scorped, re-hammered and re-quenched to imbue the otherwise malleable metal with strength. Additionally, the use of this technique would result in a pure gold veneer rising to the surface of the metal allowing the faience to bond evenly with the metal. Once the viscose fluid faience was applied to the channels it would quite likely have been fired in a kiln. A blow-pipe (predecessor of the blow-torch) may have been used to set the faience but I’m preferring a kiln due to the large area to be set and the possible risk of damaging lines of faience already set as the jeweller progressed.
Of the lappets represented by the front panel, Reeves has this to say:
“A second group of very different injuries is visible to both the front and the outer edge of the mask’s right lappet: two crudely punched holes made in antiquity to receive a wire to hold the royal flail firmly in position.”
From the death of Akhenaten to the death of Tutenkhamen not a lot of time passed. The same workshop could have catered for all four successive burials. If the Nemes Crown of the bust served a separate purpose during the life of the Pharaoh and then was reused for his burial it may explain the crude damage to the lappet. The nemes crown would have been designed to have a flawless appearance while the living pharaoh wore it but when it was reemployed in the burial bust it was punctured to accommodate the needs of the flail. Doing this to the finished bust for the burial would indicate a badly designed burial piece – couldn’t the workshop get it right after preparing three other royal funerals in fairly quick succession? Or wasn’t the piece originally intended for the burial bust but the necessity of perhaps a rushed ceremony resulted in clumsy measures and used wares?
3). The Uraeus and Vulture
These animals would have been cast in gold and fired in a kiln, with channels for their ornamentation already part of their design. The wet faience would be applied and then they would be re-fired. The stones would be cut, polished and inlaid with glue. Possibly the second last step of assembling the mask, they would be riveted onto the front panel/forehead.
4). The Face
The face is stylised. The symmetry of the face belies that it’s not a true death mask. It’s a sculpture. It has no particular defining features, it could be anyone’s face really – Nefernefruaten? Smenkhare? Nefertiti? Tutankhamun? Could it have been cast directly from a statue via a mould, thus the official portrait of the pharaoh stayed constant and of Tut? Maybe not.
Reeves reports that the face is 3mm at the edges and 15mm elsewhere (3). This indicates that the mask was worked from a gold sheet, originally about 3mm thick. The features where the hammering and tracing were concentrated became thinner as the sheet was pushed and moulded under the pressure of a forming tool (today we use steel punches and a mallet.) The face, beginning as a gold sheet, would indicate that it was made to fit into the combined front and back panel, not the other way around. For ease of construction this would be done before the faience was set into the front and back panel and before the eyebrows were stone set on the mask. Logically the metal only face would be soldered to the gold-only nemes crown at this point – afterwards it would be almost impossible.
This is where the hard facts of science come in to play. The mask could not be soldered to an already finished gold, faience and stone set bust without damaging the faience and burning the stones (lapis, obsidian and white quartz). The heat required to gold solder a 3mm sheet of gold to another of comparable thickness would crack the faience and burn the lapis (inlaid in the eyebrows). To solder a gold mask to a completely finished gold and faience nemes crown would mean having to remove (destroy) the faience and stones, scorp clear the channels they were set in, clear them of any foreign impurities and then reapply fresh faience and refire the entire bust. This would expose it to the risk – very high – of running the solder joins and the mask dislodging or fully detaching. The stones would then have to be reset into the eyes and eyebrows.
Today, lead solder is used to make repairs to costume jewellery and some finished jewellery set with ornamental stones. Lead solder melts at a much lower temperature than gold solder but doesn’t provide as secure a bond. We know from an inventory of goods brought back from the Levant during the reign of the 12th Dynasty king, Nebkaure Amenenhat II, (4) that lead was used by the Egyptians for something. In context of the rest of the items mentioned on the list: silver; bronze; copper (for alloying metals, making solders); emery (for polishing stones and metals); sand (for grinding stones); it seems highly likely that the importation of the white lead was for metalsmithing. Was it lead solder?
If the mask was going to be attached to an already finished and set gold nemes crown, lead solder may have been used. Reeves makes no mention of lead in the appearance nor the construction/composition of the bust.
Another possiblity is the use of heat sinks in collaboration with gold soldering to join the face to the crown. Dominic Perry of the Egyptian History Podcast (History of Egypt Podcast) tells us in his introduction to the podcast, Episode 39: The Wealth of Asia, that among the peoples that Egypt traded with were those of the Aegean Sea. It may follow that they obtained ochre (e.g., that mined since pre-historic times in the North Aegean on Thasos) which they could apply to their metalsmithing as a heat sink. By painting the surface of the metal with an ochre paste a jeweller can reduce its heat conductivity. Could the ancient egyptians have used a combination of gold soldering and heat draining to solder the golden face to an already finished and set nemes crown? Could the nemes crown of the burial bust be the nemes crown the young Pharaoh wore in life? Alternatively, could this technique have allowed the face of Nefertiti to be soldered onto the crown for a hasty burial?
The problem facing the jeweller when employing heat sinks is the risk of reticulation (wrinkling up and dulling down of the surface of the metal). Reeves tells us that the mask is burnished. This is where the surface of the metal is rubbed over until it is smooth and shiny by a hard, smooth metal tool. However, the undulations of the face preclude as perfect a finish as it appears to possess, if reticulation occurred, even with emery smoothing and burnishing techniques. Soldering a complete crown to a complete mask is getting harder with each supposition!
And there is the issue of two differing alloys. Reeves reports that the face has a bluish-silver appeareance in comparison to the crown which has a richer golden hue. This has been achieved by employing different alloys – mixes of gold. Could the face have been fashioned out of the highly reflective electrum? Electrum is a naturally occuring alloy of gold and silver. Like all alloys it would have its own working properties – ductility, malleability, tensile strength and melting point – that differ from a high carat gold alloy – very likely it would be harder. Most jewellers, although capable of working with all manner of metals and their alloys, tend to have a preference for one to streamline their processes. This indicates that the face was either made by a different jeweller from the crown, or in a different workshop, or at a different time. So how were they joined?
The technique that I would have expected them to use if they were to attach the smooth and shiny, stone-set, possibly electrum, face-mask to the golden, faience-set crown would be one that employed rivetting perhaps, but more-so, setting the mask in place from inside the bust. Reeves presents an image of the inside of the bust in his paper. (5) The join appears to have an abundance of metal supposedly depicting a very clumsy soldered line. Soldering lines are generally precise and chiefly contained in their join. This line is ostentatious and wasteful in its overabundance. More akin to a welding join – something achieved today with the pressurised liquid gas flame of an oxy-acetylene blow torch. Highly anachronistic! Could this clumsiness actually be evidence that it has been set from behind? This technique would require a greater amount of metal than soldering. The setting edge would have been rocked, pushed and burnished down to secure the face. Possible?
A further issue is the hole in the right lappet (see image above). If the lappet was punctured at the burial then the handler/jeweller was running the risk that the tension set face could dislodge and the faience around it cracking. A soldered face, of course was secure.
It would seem that this could be easily sorted out. The same techniques that were applied to determine the differing carats of gold used in the bust could be used to determine whether the join behind the face is a setting lip where it would be the same carat as the face or whether it is solder, whereby the carat of the solder would be markedly less than either the face or the panel it was soldered onto.
At this point I must say that on reading Reeves article I was surprised to see mention of differing carats of gold and soldering technique. I thought their ability to use these jeweller’s tools advanced for their civilization. I expected riveting, pressure setting and the use of threaded screws. Could the alloys of gold be an indication of not the production of differing carats of gold but different sources of gold – as gold forms in natural combinations (alloys).
5). and 6). The Ears
Reeves notices that the ears have been attached separately, riveted on. This is expected if they have been cast. The holes in the ears are a greater curiosity. Reeves proposes that holes for earrings on a now adult’s burial mask indicate that they have been taken from the funerary equipment of a female, probably Nefernefruaten (whom he equates with Nefertiti). Men didn’t wear earrings but boys and women did.
The discs that were found having fallen out are tattle-tale tellers. Surely they indicate that the ears weren’t made for this burial bust?Reeves asks why carve ears with holes that aren’t meant to be there? Why plug holes with earrings that don’t fit? If the discs were meant to plug the earring holes for eternity, why weren’t sprues soldered onto the back of them so that they could remain where they had been placed. Was the burial that hurried an affair? Why? War?
7). The Beard
My guess is that the beard was finely cast with the gold channels carved into the wax model. Once the gold had been fired the faience was poured into the channels and it was refired. The casting would have to be light as the beard itself was pressure set into place – probably the last procedure in the construction.
That the faience in the beard has faded but that of the crown itself retains its faux-lapis appearance is another indicator that this is a second hand rose. Does the faience of the beard contain a different type of pigment to the crown? Did the beard come out of a separate workshop than that of the front and back panels making up the crown?
8). The Collar Panel / Necklace
I assume that the collar panel was fabricated out of gold sheet. What looks like enamel/faience on the shoulders of the collar would mean that it would have been applied in a kiln or with the aid of a blow-pipe before the carnelian, lapis and turquoise were cut, polished and set into it’s breast panels. It appears to have been fully stone set and to be a stiff representation of a beaded necklace similar to the one above. This collar panel I believe was made at the time of the burial to fit into the front panel of the Nemes crown. Rivets at the base of the throat would indicate that either the collar or the lappets or both were already set when they were combined.
So what is it? Was the Nemes Crown made of cloth or gold? Was the mask originally Nefertiti’s? Could Tutankhamen have worn the crown in life? Was it really just made for his burial?
This sometime prop-maker and once-upon-a-time jeweller has come to this conclusion: the mask and crown were made at roughly the same time, perhaps using more than one workshop; the collar panel was made for the burial; and the mask-crown was made to represent the boy-king and was worn in life. Egyptians, masters of propaganda, surely knew how to awe, humble, amaze, mesmerize and befuddle their people. A mask and crown combination on a stand-in king may have served to propagate the illusion of the king as god and reaffirm the mythology of the golden skinned, silver-boned and lapis-locked pharaoh.
If you asked another jeweller you may get another conclusion. If you asked a milliner to have a go at making the nemes crown from cloth they may come up with a plausible way of getting the crown to sit square, not fall back and have its lappets stand perpendicular to its head. My problem of balancing the weight of the back and the front of the crown is solved with a golden nemes crown and face-mask combination. I’m neither an egyptologist, nor a milliner and no longer a jeweller, so I will always have room for doubts about this conclusion. For the moment, it has placated my curiosity. Thanks for taking the journey with me
This is the final of a series of posts on the beautiful nemes crown of Tutankhamun. To read them all, they have been published on my blog in the following order:
- Intro to Making Tutankhamen’s Nemes Crown
- 2.Making the Nemes Crown: Snake and Vulture
- Making the Nemes Crown: Cloth or Gold!
- Making the Nemes Crown – 1st attempt (cont..)
- Making the Nemes Crown cont… lappets
P.S., Addenda, and then there is …
If I were to have a third attempt at the Nemes Crown, it would definitely be a combination of metal and cloth and there would be a metallic form. Yes I’ve tried designing it but am not happy enough with the outcome, on paper at least, to publish it I will endeavoiur to post the step by step images for the first two attempts on my pinterest page – www.pinterest.com/craftytheatre – over the coming months. The first attempt is already posted on my facebook page.
(1) Dr Eric Wells is convincing when he posits that Tutankhamen may have been the son of a younger brother of Ahkenaten and not his son. See the podcast, Eric’s Guide to Ancient Egypt.
(2) Reeves, Nicholas, Tutankhamun’s Mask Reconsidered, Bulletin of the Egyptological Seminar: The Art and Culture of Ancient Egypt: Studies in honor of Dorothea Arnold, Vol. 19, 2015, p. 516.
(3) ibid. p.512. I have converted the measurements to millimeters as they are the preferred units used by jewellers in Australia at least – and the ones that I relate easiest to when thinking of jewellery manufacturing.
(4) Dominic Perry, Egyptian History Podcast (History of Egypt Podcast), Episode 39:The Wealth of Asia or Epsisode 39:The Wealth and Splendour of Nebkaure Amenemhat II
(5) ibid. p.525.
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fischerfotos/23785641449/ Mark Fischer http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/ CC BY-SA
Tutankhamun’s Death Bust
Egyptian beaded Necklace perhaps of faience beads