April 1324 BC
EGYPT’S WEALTHIEST and most prominent citizens had traveled from near and far to mourn the Boy King. They had dressed in their most colorful kilts and gowns and golden collars. The vibrant scene looked out of place amid the valley’s desolation.
There were so many mourners, and the tomb entrance was so small, that only an elite few were granted the honor of entering it to see where the pharaoh would lie for eternity.
The sarcophagus was heavy, and the stairs were steep, making the journey to Tut’s final resting place long and laborious. The sweat from the shoulders of the men made their burden slick, and it was obvious that they were struggling not to drop the pharaoh.
The crowds outside watched anxiously, unprotected from the sun. Even the wealthiest and most delicate women were sweating and miserable, thick eyeliner running down their cheeks. Some were fanned by slaves, who provided just a whisper of relief in the still, hot air.
Yet no one dared leave to find a sliver of shade. That could wait until the pharaoh’s body was sealed in the ground.
The overseer snuck a glance at the queen. She was radiant in her sorrow, stifling tears, her pain impossible to hide. The overseer had always considered her a fine woman—too young to have endured the loss of two children and a husband. He wondered what would happen to her next and how she would rule this great land.
It was his job to safeguard the tomb’s contents, for even the richest and most powerful person in Thebes might be tempted to grab a golden trinket if given the chance. Once the pharaoh’s body had been placed in the tomb, the overseer quietly pressed through the crowd and descended the steps. His men were already using wood and plaster to seal the burial chamber.
Tut now lay inside a solid gold coffin, which was nested inside another coffin, which was nested inside another, which was then placed inside a sarcophagus made of quartzite, with a lid of pink granite. The sarcophagus was housed in a burial shrine, which was encased in another, and then another, all of this hidden within the outermost shrine decorated in blue faience and gold.
Tut’s innermost coffin, made of solid gold. There were three coffins in all.
The structure was so big it filled the burial chamber from wall to wall, with barely an inch to spare.
As the workers labored, gangs of men began carrying Tut’s possessions into the much larger room next to the burial chamber. No item of his was considered too small or insignificant—from childhood game boards to travel beds. The work went on for hours, as if Tut were moving everything he owned into a new residence, which, of course, he was.
“We’re finished, sir,” said the mason, motioning with one hand for the overseer to inspect the work. The plaster was still wet, but it was clear that the job had been expertly done. For a tomb robber to penetrate that chamber would take an act of supreme will—and muscle.
Getting to the pharaoh’s body would require knocking down the entire new wall, then disassembling each piece of the elaborate sepulchre.
“You are safe now,” murmured the overseer, proud of his handiwork and professionalism. “You were a good pharaoh.”
No one would bother the pharaoh ever again.
The overseer was the last man to leave the valley that evening. He mounted his mule and began the familiar trek back to Thebes.
In the distance he could still see the bright royal banners of the queen’s procession and her many servants. He suddenly realized that Tut’s tomb was too small—and too well sealed—for her to join him one day.
And yet he knew of no plans to carve a tomb for the queen.
That was odd.
What would become of Ankhesenpaaten?