The treasures of the tomb

On this day in 1923 Howard Carter opened the sealed doorway into the burial chamber of Tutankhamun. He, Lord Carnarvon his patron, and Lady Herbert, Carnarvon’s daughter went into the tomb. They saw the fabulous mask and the sarcophagus of the one Pharaoh whose grave had not been plundered by earlier generations of grave robbers.

Carter had spent fifteen years searching for the missing tomb. Lord Carnarvon, a keen supporter of archaeology, had been patient, but by 1922 even this most forgiving of patrons told the archaeologist he had only one more season in which to find the elusive Pharaoh.

Carter found the steps to the tomb on 4 November 1922. Lord Carnarvon willingly made the journey to Egypt from his beautiful Highclere estate near Newbury. On 26 November they made a small hole in the doorway and peered through into the antechamber. It was full of artifacts from the Pharaoh’s time. These were catalogued prior to the breathtaking discoveries beyond the sealed door, that awaited the party on that fateful February 16th 85 years ago.

Carter held an excavation permit from the Egyptian authorities, and the main items were delivered into Egyptian ownership. The tomb was not kept intact, and the amazing jewels and mask have travelled the world so many more people can see them. Some to this day believe it was wrong to violate the only tomb left untouched in the hugely impressive Valley of Kings. Some think it would have been better to have opened it to see, but not to have split up the collection and taken it from its intended last resting place.

To contemporary British people in 1923 it seemed natural that it should be a combination of British aristocratic money with a British adventurer who should crack the last secret of the Valley. It was typical of the self confidence of Empire. The willingness to work with the Egyptian authorities was born of a growing understanding that Britain no longer had the right to claim all it could grasp or find. It was a gripping Boy’s own tale of a hard pressed pioneer, up against his luck, who finally found something he had told the world was missing. Later generations have had more misgivings about what happened once they broke through into the tomb. Thoughts about this reflect the move from Empire to a more complex world, with different people and nations having different views of what is the right thing to do to revere and understand the past.

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7 Comments

  1. Posted February 16, 2008 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Sorry but this is showbiz not archeology. He was a very minor king. His predecessor Akhenaton was far more important being the first ruler in history to embrace monotheism (worshipping Aton the Sun) & virtually certainly a formative influence on Moses. That Moses is not merely a legend is attested by his name which is Egyptian & thus not one you would use if inventing an Israeli hero.

    One can argue, indeed I would, that montheism, since it tells everybody that their God, worshilpped in their way, is the only one & demands the suppression of idolators, has been a very bad thing. But it was certainly a very important thing.

  2. Matthew Reynolds
    Posted February 16, 2008 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    One pleasing by-product of what you describe are the fine works as written by Dame Agatha Christie whose second husband worked out in The Middle East . Murder On The Orient Express , Death On Nile , The Egyptian Tomb Adventure , Appointment With Death and Murder In Messomptania where all a joy to read . The adaptations since then have been very good . Albert Finney delighted us all with his film Murder On The Orient Express while both David Suchet & Sir Peter Ustinov did a great job in their respective versions of Death On The Nile . Sir Peter Ustinov was brilliant in Appointment With Death ( his last stint as Poirot ) while David Suchet & Hugh Fraser deserve full honours for their performances in The Egyptian Tomb Adventure & Murder In Messomptania . So fans of detective fiction have been well served as a result of what you discuss ! I recommend those adaptations as superb things to watch on DVD while the written text does make a train journey pass that much quicker !
    Reply: Yes, they capture the mood and preoccupations of their day in a delightful way.

  3. Matthew Reynolds
    Posted February 16, 2008 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    One pleasing by-product of what you describe are the fine works as written by Dame Agatha Christie whose second husband worked out in The Middle East . Murder On The Orient Express , Death On Nile , The Egyptian Tomb Adventure , Appointment With Death and Murder In Messomptania where all a joy to read . The adaptations since then have been very good . Albert Finney delighted us all with his film Murder On The Orient Express while both David Suchet & Sir Peter Ustinov did a great job in their respective versions of Death On The Nile . Sir Peter Ustinov was brilliant in Appointment With Death ( his last stint as Poirot ) while David Suchet & Hugh Fraser deserve full honours for their performances in The Egyptian Tomb Adventure & Murder In Messomptania . So fans of detective fiction have been well served as a result of what you discuss ! I recommend those adaptations as superb things to watch on DVD while the written text does make a train journey pass that much quicker !
    Reply: Yes, they capture the mood and preoccupations of their day in a delightful way.

  4. Matthew Reynolds
    Posted February 16, 2008 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    You are certainly right there ! Pauline Moran was superb as Miss Lemon in The Adventure Of The Egyptian Tomb . It is a shame that she has been absent from the more recent Poirot adaptations . One hopes that ITV might see sense on this !

  5. Matthew Reynolds
    Posted February 16, 2008 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    You are certainly right there ! Pauline Moran was superb as Miss Lemon in The Adventure Of The Egyptian Tomb . It is a shame that she has been absent from the more recent Poirot adaptations . One hopes that ITV might see sense on this !

  6. John
    Posted February 17, 2008 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    In fact there are many tombs in the valley of the Kings still unopened and unexplored.

    Probably more discoveries to come.

  7. P H Newall
    Posted February 19, 2008 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    Re Northern Rock. I am not surprised that this Government intends to push through its decidion to Nationalise. I cannot say if it is a good or bad thing because we cannot have as laymen, the information needed to make a jusdgement.

    However, I would prefer to learn what the Conservative opposition would do if the decision was up to them, rather than simply denigrating the decision that has been made.

    Reply: As I have made clear on this site, the correct approach for the government would be to act as the tough Bank Manager, lending just enough so they survive, taking sufficient collateral to protect the taxpayer and asking for repayments to a tough but achievable schedule.

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    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, He graduated from Magdalen College Oxford, has a DPhil and is a fellow of All Souls College. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.

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