Biblical Archaeology Review 40:3, May/June 2014

Strata: How Many?

In how many coffins was Pharaoh Tutankhamun buried?

Answer: Eight

Similar to Russian dolls and Chinese boxes, the elite in ancient Egypt were buried in a series of coffins stacked one inside the next, the outermost layer(s) formed by a sarcophagus or sarcophagi—a rectangular, box-like container of stone or wood. Important figures, such as Pharaoh Tutankhamun who ruled Egypt in the 14th century B.C., were buried in as many as eight coffins and sarcophagi, each decorated with materials and symbols with religious significance and elements from temple architecture. As such, they defined a protected and sacred space around the deceased in which the afterlife transformations could take place.

While few burials of Egyptian Pharaohs have survived intact, all eight coffins and sarcophagi were recovered from the tomb of Tutankhamun during Howard Carter’s famous excavation in the Valley of the Kings in 1922. Becoming increasingly elaborate, the burials include, from the outside in:

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