The Anubis Shrine in Tutankhamun's Tomb

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Tutankhamun's tomb told us a lot about ancient Egyptian life and religion. In this lesson, we'll take a close look at the shrine of Anubis, one of the outstanding treasures of the tomb.

Anubis in the Tomb of Tut

When Egyptologist Howard Carter uncovered the tomb of the 14th-century BCE boy king Tutankhamun in 1922, the find was a big deal. Unlike so many ransacked tombs, it was nearly intact, giving us a rare glimpse at just how exquisite the art of a royal tomb could be.

The tomb of Tutankhamun was filled with grave goods - the supplies, personal possessions and other items buried with a body.
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The most lavish part of Tutankhamun's tomb was the treasury, containing the finest grave goods, the sacred canopic jars that held the pharaoh's organs, and, of course, Tut's mummified body. Guarding the entrance was a black jackal perched atop a trapezoidal podium. Why would this figure be chosen to protect the remains of a king? This is no ordinary jackal. It is Anubis, a god of the afterlife who protected the dead, guarding their spirits into the afterlife, and punished mortals who violated a sacred tomb. It served as an Egyptian 'No Trespassing' sign that promised eternal retribution to those who defied it.

The Statue of Anubis

The Shrine of Anubis found in Tutankhamun's tomb is an important object. We can best understand it by examining it as two distinct components: the jackal and the altar. The roughly 3-foot-long jackal is made of wood, expertly carved to reveal the taut muscles of the recumbent canine deity. The wood was plastered and painted black, the symbolic color of Anubis that also represented death and decay, as well as the fertile soil of the Nile and regeneration. The eyes are set with calcite and obsidian and lined with gold. The nails are silver, and the ears and collar are gilded. It's an impressive piece of craftsmanship, meant to represent the presence of divinity. As was customary at the time, the statue was originally draped in a shawl and scarf of fine linen, a material associated both with kings and mummification.

The statue of Anubis in the tomb of Tutankhamun.
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The Shrine

The jackal sits atop a flat, trapezoidal altar made of gilded wood. The sides of this shrine are covered in inscriptions to the gods Isis and Osiris, as well as symbols of prosperity and fertility. It's important to remember that the Egyptians understood their cosmos in terms of cycles, so death was necessary for regeneration and life to continue.

There's also an inside to this shrine, which served as a hollow container. Inside were stored four blue amulets shaped like the back leg of an ox (a symbol of rebirth), blue earthenware statuettes shaped like baboons (a symbol of Thoth, god of wisdom), a falcon-headed god statuette, two mummified figurines, a papyrus-shaped scepter of earthenware, and a bunch of precious jewels. The overall symbolism reinforces the ideas of prosperity, fertility and rebirth.

The shrine of Anubis guarded sacred items like these canopic jars.
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