Ancient Egypt’s King Tut: Understanding our Obsession

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Duration 01:14:12


Kara Cooney is a professor of Egyptology at UCLA and Chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures. Specializing in social history, gender studies, and economies in the ancient world, she received her Ph.D. in Egyptology from Johns Hopkins University. In 2005, she was co-curator of Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Cooney produced a com­parative archaeology television series, titled Out of Egypt, which aired in 2009 on the Discovery Channel and is available online. Her popular books include The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient EgyptWhen Women Ruled the World: Six Queens of Egypt, and The Good Kings: Absolute Power in Ancient Egypt and the Modern World. Her forthcoming books include Recycling for Death: A Social History of Ancient Egypt through Coffins of Dynasties Nineteen to Twenty-two and Ancient Egyptian Society: Challenging Assumptions, Exploring Approaches



In 1922, Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon discovered a nearly intact tomb. The golden treasures inside—the inner coffin weighs in at 269 pounds of solid gold—have obsessed us ever since, firmly sealing the young King Tut as the most famous of Egyptian kings. But why is Tutankhamun always the first pharaoh to come to mind when we think of ancient Egypt? Is it really because of those golden objects, or also because his tomb brings up questions of our own connections to death, our understanding of race, and our deep fascination with celebrity?  Tutankhamun’s place in our modern zeitgeist arguably says more about us than it does about the ancient Egyptians.


Recommended Reading:

The Good Kings: Absolute Power in Ancient Egypt and the Modern World, by Kara Cooney

The Complete Tutankhamun: The King, The Tomb, The Royal Treasure, by Nicholas Reeves.

Reeves, C. N. (2016). Tutankhamun’s mask reconsidered. Valley of the Kings since Howard Carter: proceedings of the Luxor Symposium November 4, 2009. H. Elleithy. Cairo, Ministry of Antiquities117-134

Discussion Questions:

1)    Why are we so obsessed with Tutankhamun today?

2)    What do you think about the display of the ancient Egyptian dead? Do you think it’s problematic?

3)    If this was Tutankhamun’s tomb, and he was a little-known king, what do you think the tombs of kings like Ramses II contain?





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Marc Tanenbaum

A wonderful Obsession

Professor Clooney does a beautiful job of explaining our modern obsession with everything King Tut. Most interesting. I wonder if she inquired of Pierce Bronson why he felt so angry that Tut’s 250+ pound gold coffin was not in the LA exhibit. It’s one thing to be disappointed, another to be terribly angry. All in all, a wonderful presentation. I’m curious why King Tut’s tomb was not a pyramid but underground approached by descending steps. Great talk.

2 years ago
Arturo Padilla

Relatable and approachable knowledge

It was an engaging presentation that made distant history and art feel relatable to todays world

1 year ago
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