In the previous edition of Arte-Factual, I wrote about the Metal Inrō from Tomb Raider (2013) and explained how these portable cases were used in pre-modern Japan. This time I’ll be taking a look at an iconic Egyptian artefact: Tutankhamun’s Anubis shrine.
The artefact in question appears in The Times Exclusive Level, a stand-alone level which was released in December 1999 and developed in conjunction with The Times newspaper.** The shrine can be seen in the screenshot below. Several times, in fact. Even at first glance, there’s little doubt that these statues were modelled after the portable Anubis shrine found in Tutankhamun’s tomb.
The Anubis shrine depicts the life-size recumbent figure of a jackal – the god Anubis in his jackal form – resting atop a small naos shrine, which is mounted on a wooden sledge with four carrying poles. The jackal is carved from wood and varnished with black resin. In Ancient Egyptian culture, black was the colour associated with the dead and the night and is the colour of the bitumen used in mummification. This seems fitting, given the fact that Anubis was the god of mummification and the protector of the dead.
Jackals became associated with the dead and the afterlife early on in Egyptian history due to the jackals’ penchant for scavenging for corpses. Chief embalmers would often wear Anubis masks while they embalmed the bodies of the deceased kings. Despite its association with death, this statue is a beautiful work of art. Its pricked ears, eye brows, and eyes are gilded with gold leaf. The jackal wears a gilded collar and scarf around its neck. Its claws are made from silver and its inlaid eyes are made from bright white calcite and shiny black obsidian. Who could resist that penetrating gaze?
The naos shrine is equally exquisite, though this cannot be appreciated in the screenshot; after all, we’re talking late 1990s graphics. The shrine is a compartmentalized chest made from carved and gilded wood and its sides are inscribed and decorated with recurring symbols of the gods Osiris and Isis: the djed pillar, which represents stability and the backbone of Osiris, and the tjet knot of Isis, which may represent female fertility. It’s possible that the symbols represent the duality of life and death or the contrasting but complementary powers of the masculine and the feminine.
A number of small artefacts and personal effects were found inside the chest’s compartments, including a number of blue earthenware amulets, statuettes depicting the gods Thoth and Horus, some jewels, and two wooden figurines.
When Howard Carter stumbled upon the Anubis shrine almost a century ago, the jackal was wrapped in a thin millennia-old linen shawl, adorned with delicate floral garlands, and guarding the entrance to the king’s Treasury. One can only imagine the thoughts that were running through his head when he set eyes on this long-lost guardian of the dead.
** The Times Exclusive Level was created to commemorate the fact that The Times was the first newspaper to publish the news of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in November 2022. In 1972, The Times also sponsored the British Museum’s exhibition Treasures of Tutankhamun, which ran for a period of nine months and is considered to be the museum’s most popular exhibition to date.
Sources & Further Reading:
- Anubis (Wikipedia)
- Color in Ancient Egypt by Graciela Gestoso Singer, UNESCO World Heritage Centre.
- KV62 (Wikipedia)
- Recumbent Figure of Anubis (Tour Egypt)
- The Legacy of Tutankhamun: Art and History by Mey Zaki, Farid Atiya Press (2008)
- Tutankhamun: Anatomy of an Excavation (The Griffith Institute)
- Tutankhamun’s Tomb: The Thrill of Discovery by Susan J. Allen, James P. Allen and Harry Burton, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (2006)