The Meaning of Wine in Egyptian Tombs: The Three Amphorae from Tutankhamun's Burial Chamber

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In one of only a few intact royal tombs to have been discovered in Egypt so far, that of Tutankhamun (1332-1322 BC) in the Valley of Kings (KV 62), Western Thebes, 23 amphorae were placed for use in the king's afterlife in the annexe chamber, which served as a store room for oils, fats, unguents, wines, fruits and foodstuffs (Carter 1933). However, in the burial chamber itself, containing the sarcophagus of the king, were three more wine jars lying on the ground between the outermost shrine and the walls situated to the east, west and south (Carter 1927; Figure 1).

Why were these wine jars not stored in the annexe chamber with the rest of the wine, but placed instead in the burial chamber? Does the position of the three wine jars (E, W and S) have any meaning? Curiously, no amphora was found on the northern side. The purpose of the research reported here was to use the residue to identify the nature of the wines that had been in the amphorae and investigate their symbolism in the context of what is known of Egyptian mythology in the late Amarna period. The results were of particular interest as each of the wines proved to have been of a different type.



Figure 1 shows the location of the three wine amphorae in Tutankhamun's burial chamber. The first to be found lay beside the eastern wall next to the entrance to the Treasury (no. 180 in the Carter Archive, Journal d'Entree 62316 in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo), the second (no. 195, JE 62314) was found beside the western wall, and the third (no. 206, JE 62315) beside the southern wall. Carter commented on a likely visit by looters, although 'little damage had been done by intruders, except that the folding doors of the great shrine had been opened for the purpose of peering in, and that the sealings of the wine jars, placed between the shrine and the walls, had been broken' (Carter 1927). Although the seals of all three amphorae in the burial chamber were missing, along with their clay plugs, it is unlikely that these would have been taken by looters, as supposed by Carter, since the amphorae were left with wine still inside, as shown by the residue. To the east, two lamps were found which retained slight traces of oil (Carter nos. 173 & 174). The scene suggests that it was before the tomb was finally sealed that the amphorae had been opened, probably by officiants who had also left the lamps burning.

Hieratic inscriptions on the jars (Cerny 1965) suggest differences in vintage, origin and production of the wines. The eastern amphora (180) is inscribed 'Year 5, wine of the Estate of Tutankhamun, Ruler of Thebes, in the Western river, chief vintner Khaa'; the western amphora (195) states 'Year 9, wine of the Estate of Aten in the Western river, chief vintner Sennufe'; and the southern amphora (206) inscribed with 'Year 5, very good shedeh of the Estate of Aten in the Western river, chief vintner Rer' (Figure 2).


Sediments were later noted inside these amphorae, their appearance being a 'dry residue of a light brown colour' (eastern amphora), a 'dry and blackish residue' (western amphora) and a 'dry residue of a black colour' (southern shedeh amphora) (Guasch-Jane 2008). These residues were analysed using liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LC/MS/MS); wine was identified from tartaric acid, a grape marker, and red wine from syringic acid derived from malvidin, a marker of red grapes (Guasch-Jane et al. 2004). The results showed that there was a white wine in the eastern amphora and a red wine in the western amphora (Guasch-Jane et al. 2006b; Guasch-Jane 2008), while in the southern amphora, inscribed shedeh, there was a red grape wine with a more elaborate preparation (Guasch-Jane et al. 2006a; Guasch-Jane 2008). The shedeh was a much appreciated beverage that appeared at the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty, with a value higher than that of wine. …