On this day 93 years ago, the Egyptologist Howard Carter (1874-1939) would at last find out what lay hidden behind the wall to the innermost chamber of the tomb whose access he had finally discovered in November 1922. It was after 1 pm when the work to open the sealed chamber began, and hours later, in the presence of his sponsor, Lord Carnarvon (1866-1923) and a number of important officials, Carter gained access to a beautifully decorated mausoleum full of ancient relics and treasures, untouched for over 3,000 years. Tutankhamen’s intact tomb in the Valley of the Kings (Luxor, Egypt) proved to be the most spectacular and significant
archaeological find of the 20th century. It has provided Egyptologists with unique insights into the culture and history of Ancient Egypt under the rule of the Pharaoh ‘King Tut’, born in about 1346 BC, who was nine years old when he succeeded his father Pharaoh Akehenhaten and about 18 to 19 when he died.
Much has been written about both this event and Tutankhamen, so that the following sites are but a small selection of what is available:
- the New York Times article of the day
- further details at http://history1900s.about.com/od/1920s/a/kingtut.htm
- the BBC site about Ancient Egypt, offering rich specific and general material
- National Geographic with articles on the research into the Pharaoh’s untimely death, 2005, 2006 and 2010
- National Geographic’s multimedia presentation
- Maps at the Theban mapping project detailing the location of the Egyptian tombs discovered so far
- a Daily Mail arcticle about the coloured reconstruction of Harry Burton’s originally black-and-white photos from the Tutankhamen’s dig, 1922/23
Carpenter and his staff continued for years to catalogue the discovered items and safely remove them to adequate storing facilities and museums. A travelling exposition variably entitled “Treasures of Tutankhamen” or “The Discovery of King Tut” is touring the world, though the exhibition’s permanent home is the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
The aspect less talked about today is the enormous impact this discovery had worldwide: it set off a wave of “Tutmania”. Reporters vied for every scrap of information, whether factual or mythical, and improved means of communication made spreading the news easier and faster. Egyptian motifs and/or style could be found in the most varied areas: fashion design, fabrics, jewellery, hairstyles, furniture, architecture, publicity, cinema, music, to name but a few. The appeal of the mysterious and glamorous lifestyle of a civilisation long gone was simply irresistible in the aftermath of a glum and nightmarish war. For further examples, see the article in the Daily Telegraph or this blog. You may also enjoy reading Aileen Mason’s article about “Egyptian Revival in Art Deco”.