The Postmortem Agency of Tutankhamun (ca. 1336-1327 BCE)

  • Danielle O. Phelps (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


The death of individual does not bring a loss of agency, but rather it develops into a new

form that still has the ability to affect the living. The theoretical concept of postmortem

agency is relatively new and has not been applied to the study of ancient Egyptian mortuary

practices. However, the ancient Egyptians believed that the deceased as transformed entities

could and would affect the living. The mummified human remains of Tutankhamun, the ante-

penultimate pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty (ca. 1550-1295 BCE), presents a unique case

study in to examining the postmortem agency of an ancient Egyptian king. In 1922, Howard

Carter uncovered the tomb of Tutankhamun and observed that the tomb reflected an intentional

change of Tutankhamun’s identity from mortal king into that of a god, Osiris, in attempt to

return to normative mortuary practices after the Amarna period. This paper suggests that

Tutankhamun’s body was intentionally manipulated into a sacred image, a statue, of the

chthonic gods in order to help with the restoration process, but more importantly to help

with the legitimatization of his successor, Ay, to the throne of Egypt.