Monday, June 5

Tutankhamun uncovers himself in his tomb

Howard Carte, next to Tutankhamun’s sarcophagus. / RC

Oxford University celebrates the centenary of the historic find with an exhibition of the archive of the excavation

Oxford University is showing for the first time more than a hundred original manuscripts, photographs and reproductions from the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in November 1922 under the direction of Howard Carter and his British patron, the Earl of Carnarvon. Tutankhamun: Excavating the Archive, which is housed at the Bodleian Library’s Weston Branch until February 2023, documents the complexity of each phase of the archaeological process and highlights the contribution of Egyptian staff to the project. “This is not the story of one heroic man, but a genuine team effort. The manuals tend to ignore the contribution of the Egyptians and we try to rectify it by projecting the focus on them, ”explains Daniela Rosenow, curator of the exhibition together with Professor Richard Bruce Parkinson, to this newspaper.

Foremen, workers, porters and other local assistants take center stage in this graphic return to the Valley of the Kings, in Luxor. They appear in images by expedition photographer Harry Burton, illustrating the painstaking effort of cataloging and locating each object in the underground chambers. For both Egyptologists, the star of the exhibited collection is the photograph of a boy with a turban and a colorful necklace of precious stones on his tunic. “It projects a powerful feeling of the connection between ancient and modern Egypt, between the world of the living and the dead,” interprets Parkinson. The identity of the boy, similar in age and height to the late pharaoh, who assumed the role of Tutankhamun’s double in order to “demonstrate the method of suspension” of the jewel, is not known. “He looks uncomfortable, tense, aware of the physical weight of the necklace and the weight of history that it metaphorically carries on his shoulders,” adds Rosenow.

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Amulets among the bandages

Carter’s archive was donated to the Griffith Institute, the university’s Egyptology center. It includes the archaeologist’s diary, his notebooks and explanatory notes, maps, plans, drawings and inventories of the rescued pieces. It preserves negatives and photographs of the excavation, as well as the restoration, packaging and transfer of the treasures to Cairo, where they have been kept ever since. The collection has also been digitized and can be consulted electronically.

In one of the manuscripts on display at Oxford, Carter describes the “great moment” when he saw, by candlelight and through a crack in the antechamber, “a strange and wonderful hodgepodge of rare and precious objects huddled one on top of the other.” ». Lord Carnarvon waited behind and asked impatiently, “Can you see anything?” I replied, “Yes, it’s wonderful.”

The notes and photographs also reveal ‘errors’ in the burial of the young pharaoh in a recycled tomb with reused materials. This was the case with the outer sarcophagus whose “feet had to be cut off because it was too long”, according to the curator in the exhibition catalogue. The coffin was not opened until 1925 and the experts took nine days to remove the bandages that wrapped the body of the ‘golden king’. Some 150 objects hidden among the bandages protected Tutankhamun, such as amulets, bracelets and two daggers.

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