Carter and Carnarvon decided to fill in the excavated tomb. Carter saw very clearly that under no circumstances could he plunge headlong into the task of removing the contents of ante-chamber and annex. Leaving aside the need for an exact record of the original position of all the objects—in order to determine temporal and other points of reference—Carter realized that many of the finds were in a perishable condition and would have to be given preservative treatment before, or immediately after, being removed. To this end it was necessary to lay in a large store of preservative and packing materials. Expert advice had to be sought on the best methods of procedure, and a laboratory set up for on-the-spot analysis. The cataloguing of such an immense find in itself required extensive organizational preparation. All in all, measures would have to be taken that were quite beyond the facilities then at hand. Carnarvon would have to go to England, and Carter at least to Cairo. On December 3 the entrance of the tomb was blocked with fill, a move which indicates that Carter thought tomb-robbery was still a factor to be reckoned with. Not until he had sealed up the tomb and posted Callender on guard was Carter’s mind easy. And immediately upon arriving in Cairo, he ordered a heavy steel door made to cover the inner antechamber door.
From the moment of discovery generous offers of help poured in from all corners of the world. Outside experts later contributed a great deal to enhance the thoroughness and exactitude of this most exemplary of Egyptian excavations. Later Carter took the trouble, rightly enough, to express his gratitude to everyone who helped him make such a comprehensive effort. In his book about the tomb of Tutankhamen is a letter from Rais Ahmed Gurgar, supervisor of the Egyptian laborers, which was sent to Carter while he was off in Cairo. It is reproduced here to illustrate that the cooperative climate of the project extended even to nonintellectual quarters.
5th August 1923
Mr. Howard Carter Esq
Beg to write this letter hoping that you are enjoying good health, and ask the Almighty to keep you & bring you back to us in Safety.
Beg to inform your Excellency that Store No. is alright, Treasure is Alright, the Northern Store is alright. Wadain & House are all alright, & in all your work order is carried on according to your honourable instructions.
Rais Hussein, Gad Hassan, Hassim Awad, Ahdelal Ahmed and all the Gaffirs of the house beg to send their best regards.
My best regards to your respectable Self, and all members of the Lord’s family, & to all your friends in England.
Longing to your early coming—
Your Most Obedient Servant
Rais Ahmed Gurgar
After Carter had “somewhat diffidently inquired” about the possibility, A. M. Lythgoe, curator of the Egyptian section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, whose concession at Thebes was close to Carnarvon’s, placed the American photographer Harry Burton at Carter’s disposal. Lythgoe, offering his own valuable assistance, telegraphed: “Only too delighted to assist in any possible way. Please call on Burton and any other members of our staff.” As a result of this offer the American draftsmen Hall and Hauser, as well as A. C. Mace, director of the museum excavations at the pyramids of Lisht, were also assigned to the Carnarvon-Carter project. In Cairo, A. Lucas, director of the chemical department of the Egyptian government, then about to leave on a three-month vacation prior to retirement from the service, offered Carter his services. Dr. Alan Gardiner undertook to handle the inscriptions, and Professor James H. Breasted of the University of Chicago hastened to the site to lend a hand in establishing the historical significance of the seal impressions on the doors.
Later—on November 11, 1925—Dr. Saleh Bey Hamdi and Douglas E. Derry, professor of anatomy at the Egyptian University, began to examine the mummy. A. Lucas wrote a fairly exhaustive study on “The Chemistry of the Tomb, specifically what had happened to the metals, minerals, fats, pigments, textiles and the like.” P. E. Newberry analyzed the floral wreaths found in the coffins of Tutankhamen and determined the kinds of flowers present nearly 3,300 years before. He was able to state that Tutankhamen was interred between the end of April and the middle of May, because he knew when such flowers as the little picris and the cornflower blossom, and when the fruit of the bittersweet or woody nightshade ripens, as well as that of the mandrake—the love-apple of Genesis and the Song of Solomon. Other “Objects” and “Specimens” from the tomb were analyzed by Alexander Scott and H. J. Plenderleith.
Such cooperation on the part of first-class specialists—including some in fields unrelated to archæology—promised unprecedented contributions to science as a result of clearing the tomb. Accordingly, on December 16 the tomb was reopened, on December 18 the photographer Burton took his first shots in the antechamber, and on December 27 the first object was brought out of the tomb.
Thoroughness takes time. Work on the tomb of Tutankhamen lasted for several seasons. Here I will touch only on the high points of Howard Carter’s colorful report. Only a few of the particularly beautiful objects will be mentioned; for example, the painted wooden casket from the antechamber, which proved to be one of the greatest treasures of Egyptian art. It was covered completely with a thin gesso, or plaster, and painted on all sides with lovely designs, wherein a sensitive use of brilliant color was combined with exquisitely refined draftsmanship. The detail of the hunting and battle scenes shown on the casket was composed with a delicacy that, as Carter says, “far surpasses anything of the kind that Egypt has yet produced.” This decorative wooden casket was filled with a variety of objects. Typical of Carter’s whole approach was the fact that he spent three weeks of painstaking effort emptying this box.
Equally impressive were the three great animal-sided couches, known from illustrations in tomb paintings, but hitherto never actually found. They were curious pieces of furniture, the frame being constructed with a foot panel, but none at the head. The first was lion-headed, the second cow-headed, and the third had the head of a composite animal, half hippopotamus, half crocodile. All three couches were literally buried in precious things, packed tightly together on and about them—all manner of weapons, luxury objects, and pieces of clothing. Below one of the couches stood a throne with a panel back that moved Carter to say “with no hesitation” that it was “the most beautiful thing that has yet been found in Egypt.”
Finally mention must be made of the four chariots, which were so large that to get them into the tomb the axles had had to be sawn in two. The robbers, moreover, had scattered the parts all around the place. All four chariots were completely covered with gold. Every inch was decorated either with embossed designs and scenes hammered into the gold itself or with inlaid designs made of colored glass and stone.
On May 13 thirty-four heavy packing cases were loaded on little flat cars and taken, by way of a portable railroad, the five and a half miles to the waiting steam barge on the Nile. The treasures were carried away from the tomb by the same route by which they had come, borne in ceremonial procession three thousand years before. Seven days later they were in Cairo.
By the middle of February the antechamber was cleaned out. Space had been made for the one phase of the project that everyone was looking forward to with the keenest impatience: the opening up of the sealed door between the two sentinel figures. The question whether the next chamber contained a mummy would now soon be resolved. When, on a Friday, February 17, some twenty people who had been accorded the privilege of witnessing the unsealing assembled in the antechamber, excitement was running high. Yet nobody there had any idea what he would be looking at two hours later. After such prodigal finds of treasure it was hard to conceive that even more important and valuable objects would be brought to light.
The visitors—archæologists and Egyptian officials—took their places on the closely ranged chairs that had been provided for their comfort. A dead silence gripped the watchers as Carter mounted the platform built to facilitate his loosening the sealed door.
Carter used great care in picking out the uppermost layer of the stone filling. The work took a long time, and was extremely finicky, for there was always the danger that loose stones might fall inside and damage whatever lay beyond the door. He also had to try his best to preserve the seal impressions, for these had a high scientific value. He tells how, when he had made a small opening, “the temptation to stop and peer inside at every moment was irresistible.”
Mace and Callender now went to Carter’s assistance. A subdued murmur arose as Carter, after about ten minutes’ work, took a flashlight and poked it through the hole.
He could see nothing but a shining wall. Shifting the flashlight this way and that, he was still unable to find its outer limits. Apparently it blocked off the whole entrance to the chamber beyond the door. Carter was looking at a wall of solid gold.
As fast as he dared, he removed more stones. Presently the watchers, too, could see the gold gleam. As one stone after another was taken away, “we could, as though by electric current,” he says, “feel the tingle of excitement which thrilled the spectators behind the barrier.” Carter, Mace, and Callender simultaneously realized what the wall really was. They were now actually face to face with the entrance to the sepulchral chamber. What appeared to them as a wall was the nearer surface of an unusually large, and of course fabulously costly, shrine. There was a delay that tried everyone’s nerves while the scattered beads of a necklace were gathered up from the floor where plunderers had dropped them. With the onlookers shifting about impatiently on their hard chairs, Carter, who had all the persistence and respect of the true archæologist for seeming trifles, collected bead after bead with infinite care, though he knew he was on the brink of a tremendous discovery.
It had now become evident that the level of the burial chamber was about 3.2 feet below that of the antechamber. Carter took an electric lamp and let himself down through the hole. Yes, he was standing beside a great shrine. The structure was so large that it all but filled the room. Carter reports that the passageway between the shrine and the chamber wall was only 15.35 inches wide. This narrow corridor had to be traversed with great caution, for it was cluttened with funerary gifts.
Lord Carnarvon and M. Pierre Lacau, director general of the service of antiquities in Cairo, were the first to follow Carter inside the sepulchral chamber. They were stricken mute by the splendor of the sight. They took the measurements of the shrine, which, double-checked, proved to be 17 by 11 by 9 feet high. It was completely covered with gold, and on its sides were inlaid panels of brilliant blue faïence, showing magic symbols intended to protect the dead.
The question that now troubled everyone’s mind was this: had the robbers had time to force their way into the shrine? Had they got at the mummy and injured it? Carter discovered that the folding doors at the eastern end of the shrine were bolted, but not sealed. With trembling hands he drew back the bolts and came upon another pair of folding doors, also bolted, and sealed. These doors gave ingress to a second shrine built within the first.
All three men gave an audible sigh of relief. Each chamber opened so far had shown signs of intrusion, but here, at the most critical segment of the tomb, they were definitely first. They would find the mummy untouched, exactly as it had been interred more than three thousand years before.
They closed the shrine door “as silently as possible.” They had noticed the linen pall, bespangled and brown with age, drooping above the shrine. “The pall made us realize that we were in the presence of a dead king of past ages.” For a moment, they felt like intruders. They went to the other end of the burial chamber. There they found a low door, which gave into another, rather small room. From the middle of this room, facing the doorway, shone a golden shrine-shaped chest, and surrounding it, unattached, were four protecting goddesses, fashioned with such grace and naturalness, with so much compassion and pleading in their faces, that “one felt it almost sacrilege to look at them.… I am not ashamed to confess,” Carter says, “that it brought a lump to my throat.”
Slowly Carter, Carnarvon, and Lacau moved back past the golden shrine and into the antechamber to enable the others to take their turn within. “It was curious, as we stood in the Antechamber, to watch their faces as, one by one, they emerged from the door. Each had a dazed, bewildered look in his eyes, and each in turn, as he came out, threw up his hands before him, an unconscious gesture of impotence to describe the wonders that he had seen.”
About five o’clock that afternoon, three hours after entering the tomb, they came up to the surface. As they returned to the light of day, “the very Valley seemed to have changed for us and taken on a more personal aspect.”
Further investigation of these supreme archæological treasures stretched out through several more seasons. Unfortunately, the first winter passed with very little accomplished, for Lord Carnarvon had died, and serious differences with the Egyptian government arose over whether the concession should be extended, and how the finds should be divided. Finally the case was submitted to an international commission, which eventually succeeded in arriving at a satisfactory adjustment. Thereafter work resumed. In the winter of 1926–7 the next most important steps were carried out—that is, the actual opening of the gilded shrine, the laborious separation of the various precious coffins, and the careful preliminary study of Tutankhamen’s mummy as found.
This phase of the project, though it provided few surprises for a sensation-hungry public, was of great interest to the science of Egyptology, and also had its own dramatic climax. This peak of interest came when the investigators, for the first time since he had been removed from mortal purview thirty-three centuries before, looked into the features of the dead King. That this long-awaited moment should prove to be the only disappointment in the whole saga of the excavation simply goes to show that every chain of luck has its weak link.
The work began with the removal of the brick wall between the antechamber and the sepulchral room, and thereafter the first golden shrine was disassembled. Within this shrine, they found, was a third as well as a second one.
Carter had every reason to believe that the sarcophagus itself would be inside the third shrine. “It was an exciting moment in our arduous task that cannot easily be forgotten,” he writes, when he went through the opening of the third shrine. “With suppressed excitement I carefully cut the cord, removed that precious seal, drew back the bolts, and opened the doors when a fourth shrine was revealed, similar in design and even more brilliant in workmanship than the last.… An indescribable moment for an archæologist! What was beneath and what did that fourth shrine contain? With intense excitement I drew back the bolts of the last and unsealed doors; they slowly swung open, and there, filling the entire area within … stood an immense yellow quartzite sarcophagus, intact, just as the pious hands had left it.” What an unforgettably splendid sight, heightened even more by the glitter of gold on the shrines! A goddess spread protecting arms and wings over the foot end of the sarcophagus, “as if to ward off an intruder.” He stood in awe before this eloquent sign (see Plates XI to XVI).
The removal of the shrine from the sepulchral chamber alone took eighty-four days of heavy manual labor. The four shrines altogether consisted of about eighty-odd parts—each part being heavy, hard to handle, and very breakable.
As so often happens, a certain irony infected the prevailing mood of exaltation. Carter, the perfectionist, scolds—at a remove of three thousand years—the workmen who put the shrines together. Whereas he marvels at the masterly skill of the artisans who actually fashioned the component parts of the shrines, and praises them for carefully providing each piece with a number and location sign to facilitate assembly, he is very much annoyed with the men who had charge of the actual assembly.
“But on the other hand,” he writes, “there was evidence that the obsequies had been hurriedly performed, and that the workmen in charge of those last rites were anything but careful men. They had, with little doubt, placed those parts around the sarcophagus, but in their carelessness had reversed their order in regard to the four cardinal points. They had leant them against the four walls around the sarcophagus they were to shield, contrary to the instructions written upon the different parts, with a result that, when they were erected, the doors of the shrines faced east instead of west, the foot ends west instead of east, and the side panels were likewise transposed. This may have been a pardonable fault … although there were other signs of slovenliness. Sections had obviously been banged together, regardless of the risk of damage to their gilt ornamentation. Deep dents from blows from a heavy hammer-like implement are visible to the present day on the gold-work, parts of the surfaces in some cases had been actually knocked off, and the workmen’s refuse, such as chips of wood, had never been cleared away.”
On February 3 the searchers at last were able to have a perfectly unimpeded look at the sarcophagus. It was a masterpiece, made from a single great block of the finest yellow quartzite. It measured 8.8 feet long, 4.8 feet wide, and 4.8 feet high. The lid was made of rose granite.
When the tackle for raising the heavy lid—it weighed more than twelve hundredweight—began to squeak and creak under the rising load, again an audience of prominent guests looked on. “Amid intense silence the huge slab … rose from its bed.” The first view of the interior was disappointing: nothing to see but a bulky something bundled in linen cloths. But when these were removed, revealing the coffin itself, the revelation was so much the more impressive.
Already the King’s body? No, the first thing to come to view was a golden effigy of the boy ruler on the lid of an “anthropoid coffin.” The gold glittered as brightly as if it had just come from the foundry. The head and hands were cast in three dimensions, but the highly decorated remainder of the figure was rendered in low relief. Crossed hands held the royal emblems of Crook and Flail, inlaid with blue faïence. The face was of pure gold, the eyes were made of aragonite and obsidian, the brows and lids of lapis-lazuli glass. This bright visage had a rigid, masklike look, and yet seemed alive.
There was something else on the coffin that affected Carter and the others even more poignantly than the effigy. Carter describes it thus: “… but perhaps the most touching by its human simplicity was the tiny wreath of flowers” around the symbols on the forehead, “the last farewell offering of the widowed girl queen to her husband.… Among all that regal splendour, that royal magnificence—everywhere the glint of gold—there was nothing so beautiful as those few withered flowers, still retaining their tinge of colour. They told us what a short period three thousand three hundred years really was—but Yesterday and the Morrow. In fact, that little touch of nature made that ancient and our modern civilization kin.” Carter writes again in much the same vein when he is describing how in the winter of 1925–6 he again descended into the tomb to open the sarcophagus: “Familiarity can never entirely dissipate the feeling of mystery—the sense of vanished but haunting forces that cling to the tomb. The conviction of the unity of past and present is constantly impressed upon the archæological adventurer, even when absorbed in the mechanical details of his work.” Carter really felt these reverent sentiments. It is good to know that the scientist does not deny the claims of the spirit.
It is not really possible to linger over all the details and small incidents connected with the opening of the sarcophagus. The actual labor was extremely tedious, and the working space awkwardly constricted. Any number of mishaps—the failure of the block and tackle, the giving way of a timber prop—might have severely damaged the treasures within, and so the greatest care was exercised at all times. On the lid of the second coffin—three coffins were nested one within another—was an effigy of the young Pharaoh in ceremonial dress, richly ornamented in the Osirian style. Nothing new of this nature came to light, however, when the third coffin was opened; but throughout the whole operation the workers had been struck by the inexplicable weight of the nested coffins. Now came another in the seemingly endless series of surprises afforded by the tomb.
Ikhnaton and his wife. Tutankhamen’s father-in-law showers the priest, Eje, and Eje’s wife, with gifts.
When Burton, the photographer, had done his work, and after Carter had removed the wreath of flowers and the protective linen cover, the mystery of the tremendous weight was solved. The third coffin, 6 feet 1.75 inches in length, was made of solid gold, .15 to .21 inches thick. Its intrinsic value alone was enormous.
This pleasant surprise, however, was soon tempered by concern over the discovery of some sticky stuff that had already been noted clinging to the ornamentation of the second coffin. It now appeared that the whole space between the second and third coffins had been filled with a liquid that had become a firm, hard mass. A double detachable necklace of gold and faïence beads was taken from this pitchy deposit and cleaned without too much difficulty. But now the investigators began to speculate anxiously on what injury the incontinent application of consecrated unguents might have worked on the mummy itself. When one of the workers took off the last linen shroud and the floral collarette mingled with faïence beads—all of which seemed to be in sound condition—they simply fell apart. The sacred oils and tars had completely decayed them.
At once Lucas undertook an analysis of the unguent material. Some sort of fluid, or near-fluid, substance must have been used, the basic ingredients of which were fatty matter of some sort and resin. The presence of wood-pitch, the odor of which strongly perfumed the stuff after it was warmed, could not be immediately determined. Again the tension rose; the final, decisive moment was at hand.
Some golden tenons were loosened, then the lid of the last coffin was lifted off by its golden handles, and the mummy uncovered. There lay the cadaver of Tutankhamen, after six years of preparatory labor.
“At such moments,” Carter says, “the emotions evade verbal expression, complex and stirring as they are.”
But who was this Pharaoh, this Tutankhamen? Curiously enough, for all the splendor of his burial, Tutankhamen was a ruler of little importance. He died at the age of eighteen. It is certain that he was the son-in-law of Ikhnaton, the “heretic King,” and probably Ikhnaton’s half brother as well. Tutankhamen’s youth was passed during the interlude of religious reform instituted by his Aton-worshipping father-in-law. The fact that he reverted to the traditional religion of Amen is shown by his change of name, from the original Tutankh-Aton to Tut-ankh-Amen. We know that his reign was politically muddled. There are pictures showing Tutankhamen kicking prisoners of war, also shooting down rows of enemies. But it is not in the least certain whether he actually ever took the field in person. We do not even know the exact duration of his reign, except that it dates from somewhere about 1350 B.C. The throne came to him through his wife, Anches-en-Amen, whom he married very young, and whose portraits show her to have been a bewitching creature.
Through the numerous pictures and reliefs found in his grave, and many objects of daily personal use, we have received a pleasing impression of Tutankhamen’s personality. But we know nothing of his royal deeds, the way he functioned as a ruler. It seems safe to assume that not much of significance could have been achieved by a ruler who died at eighteen. Surely Carter is justified in saying that, as far as we know, the only remarkable act of Tutankhamen’s life is that he died and was buried.
However, if this eighteen-year-old Pharaoh was buried with a pomp and splendor exceeding all that our Western imagination can conceive, what must have been the tomb furnishings of Ramses the Great and Sethos I? It was to Ramses and Sethos that Derry was referring when he said that every single chamber of their tombs must have contained as much as the entire tomb of Tutankhamen. What unimaginable treasures must have passed through the hands of robbers from the royal graves in the Valley of the Kings, in the course of so many centuries!
The aspect of the Pharaoh’s mummy was both splendid and terrible. A great deal of embalming unguent had been poured over the swathed cadaver, and this gluey stuff had hardened, turned black, and cemented the cerements to the body.
Contrasting with the dark, shapeless mass of the mummy was a golden mask covering the head and shoulders of the King, the gold shining with a regal gleam. The mask itself was free from the dark embalming material, as were the feet of the mummy.
After a number of unsuccessful tries, the second coffin of wood was separated from the third, golden one nested inside it, by a laborious process of heating to 932° Fahrenheit. The gold was protected with a sheathing of zinc plates after the mummy had been removed.
The next step was to examine the mummy, the only one in the Valley, so far as was known, that had remained untouched throughout thirty-three centuries. This inspection brought to light a fact on which Carter comments as follows: “Here we have a grim example of the irony which may sometimes await research. The tomb-robbers who dragged the remains of the Pharaohs from their coverings for plunder, or the pious priests who hid them to save them from further violations, at least protected those royal remains against the chemical action of the sacred unguents before there was time for corrosion.” Mummies were often damaged during theft—unless the thieves were priests—but notwithstanding, they have still come down in much better state than the mummy of Tutankhamen. Indeed, the deterioration of the body was the only real disappointment in the tomb.
On November 11, about 9:45 in the morning, Dr. Derry, the anatomist, made his first incision into the outer linen cloths swaddling the mummy. Except for the face and feet, which had not been touched by the unguents, the mummy proved to be in a frightful condition. The oxidation of the resinous content of the mixture had occasioned a sort of spontaneous combustion, so intense that not only the ceremental windings, but the tissue and bones of the mummy had been carbonized. The pitchlike sheath was so hard in places, as for example under the legs and rump, that it had to be chiseled away.
An astounding discovery was the finding of an amuletic headrest under the crownlike pad bandaged with surgical skill onto the head. The amulet in itself was not at all out of the ordinary. And within the linen windings Tutankhamen had been provided with all sorts of “magical armor”—amulets, symbols, and magic signs. But the head-rest was fashioned out of pure iron, instead of the usual hematite! This amuletic head-rest, together with a number of tiny implements, evidently models, constituted one of the earliest-dated finds of pure iron known to Egyptology.
Enormous care was used in loosing the last linen wrappings from the carbonized body of the young Pharaoh. The least touch of a sable brush, and the remains of the rotten tissue fell apart. Then the countenance of the young King was laid bare to view; in Carter’s words: “… a serene and placid countenance, that of a young man.” “The face,” we are told, “was refined and cultured, the features well-formed, especially the clearly marked lips.”
One hundred and forty-three pieces of jewelry of various kinds were discovered inside the mummy’s bindings. Of the thirty-three pages that Carter uses to describe the examination of the mummy, more than half are given over exclusively to listing precious articles found wrapped in the cerements. The eighteen-year-old Pharaoh was literally wrapped in several layers of gold and precious stones.
In a special monograph Dr. Derry later described the inspection of the mummy from the anatomical point of view. He claims that in all probability there was a father-son relationship between Ikhnaton and Tutankhamen, a fact of extraordinary significance in so far as it illuminates the dynastic and political conditions at the time of the moribund Eighteenth Dynasty.
Derry then goes on to record an observation, highly interesting from a cultural standpoint: namely, that the arts of representation at the beginning of the New Empire inclined strongly toward realism. “The effigy of Tut.ankh.Amen on the gold mask exhibits him as a gentle and refined-looking young man,” says Derry. “Those who were privileged to see the actual face when finally exposed can bear testimony to the ability and accuracy of the Eighteenth Dynasty artist who has so faithfully represented the features, and left for all time, in imperishable metal, a beautiful portrait of the young king.”
Derry was also able to arrive at a close estimate of the King’s age, which history does not give. From the degree of ossification of the internal condyle of the humerus and the condition of the bony union of trochanter and femur and of the end of the tibia, he judged Tutankhamen’s age to be somewhere between seventeen and eighteen years, eighteen probably being the closest approximation.
Here the story of the actual excavation of the tomb of Tutankhamen ends since the annex and the little treasure chamber yielded only mildly interesting, though important finds.
There is another aspect, however, that merits attention: the “curse of the Pharaohs.” More than twenty persons connected at some time or other with the unsealing of the famous tomb died under mysterious circumstances.
During the two hundred years, more or less, of archæological history, no revelation of the lost world of antiquity received more publicity than that of Tutankhamen. Not for nothing did the incident unfold in the day of the rotary press, the camera, and the newly sprung radio industry. The world first showed its interest with a flood of congratulatory telegrams. Then reporters began to haunt the site. Presently letters from the critical and the well-meaning began to arrive. Some complained bitterly about the desecration of the dead. Others sent patented grave-digging methods. The first winter ten or fifteen crank letters arrived every day. What sort of person, Carter marvels at one point, can a man be who seriously inquires whether the discovery of the tomb will throw light on the current atrocities in the Belgian Congo?
Then visitors began to arrive in droves. In three months of the year 1926, when the publicity was at its height, 12,300 tourists visited the tomb. There were also 270 applications to examine the finds and the laboratory work.
Exactly how the legend of the “curse of the Pharaohs” arose cannot be traced. All through the 1930’s, nevertheless, the theme was played up again and again in the world press. It must be admitted, however, that there is more foundation for the story than there was for the numerologies based on the Great Pyramid of Cheops, or of the “mummy wheat” taken from old Egyptian tombs, which reportedly retains its germinative power after the lapse of two or three thousand years. This wheat legend is so widely believed that even today guides often make extra tips by seeing to it that their clients find “mummy wheat” in the cracks of the masonry of the royal tombs.
The “curse of the Pharaohs” is, if nothing else, conversational material of a mildly gruesome sort, about on a par with the “curse of the Hope Diamond” and the less well-known “curse of the monks of Lacroma.” If any single circumstance started the “curse of the Pharaohs” legend, very probably it was the sudden death of Lord Carnarvon. When he died, on April 6, 1923, after a three-week losing battle with the effects of a mosquito bite, people began to talk about punishments visited from the spirit realm on blasphemers.
Such headlines as “Revenge of the Pharaohs” began to appear, with subheads announcing a “New Victim of the Curse of Tutankhamen” … “Second Victim” … “Third Victim” … “Nineteenth Victim,” and so on. The death of this nineteenth victim was reported as follows: “Today the 78-year-old Lord Westbury jumped from the window of his seventh-story London apartment and was instantly killed. Lord Westbury’s son, who was formerly the secretary of Howard Carter, the archæologist at the Tutankhamen diggings, was found last November dead in his apartment, though when he went to bed he appeared to be in the best of health. The exact cause of his death has never been determined.” “A shudder is going through England …” another journalist wrote when Archibald Douglas Reid died as he was about to X-ray a mummy. Later the Egyptologist Arthur Weigall was catalogued as the twenty-first victim of the Pharaonic curse when he died of an “unknown fever.”
Then Carter’s partner, A. C. Maee, died, a man who had worked actively on the tomb. The news reports suppressed the fact, however, that Mace had been ailing for a long time and that he had assisted Carter despite the pressure of chronic ill health. Indeed, he had to give up before the project was finished.
Later, when Lord Carnarvon’s half-brother, Aubrey Herbert, died of natural causes, some newspapers sought to fit his departure from life into the frame of The Curse Legend, too. When Lady Elizabeth Carnarvon died in February 1929, Howard Carter remained the only surviving co-worker.
“Death will come on swift pinions to those who disturb the rest of the Pharaoh”—such is one of the many variations of the Pharaonic curse supposedly found in an inscription in the tomb.
When it was reported that a man named Carter, living in the United States, had in some mysterious fashion become the latest victim of the Pharaohs, it seemed to clinch the argument that Tutankhamen was definitely out for revenge, and apparently working gradually toward the discoverer himself through his family. At this, serious archæologists began to feel the game had gone too far and raised a protest.
Carter himself tried to quell the tide of rumor. “The sentiment of the Egyptologist,” he said “… is not one of fear, but of respect and awe. It is entirely opposed to the foolish superstitions which are far too prevalent among emotional people in search of ‘psychic’ excitement.” He condemned “ridiculous stories” of Tutankhamen’s revenge as a “form of literary amusement.” Then he went concretely into the reports that it was physically hazardous to cross the threshold of the tomb—even if science could explain away the danger. Earnestly he pointed out the scientifically demonstrated absence of bacillary agents in the tomb. The interior had been tested for infection and given a clean bill of health. His tone became quite bitter toward the end of his protest: “… in some respects,” he said, “our moral progress is less obvious than kindly people generally believe.”
With a good instinct for publicity, the German Egyptologist Professor Georg Steindorff in 1933 issued a manifesto on the subject of Pharaonic curses, in which he took the trouble to track down the sources of newspaper and other reports. He established the fact that the Carter who had died in America had nothing but his name in common with the archæologist Carter. He also found out that neither of the Westburys had the least connection, direct or indirect, with the tomb, the removal of its contents, or the mummy. After piling up exhaustive evidence of irrelevance, he adduced the most telling argument of all: the “curse of the Pharaohs” simply did not exist. No such thing had been uttered or inscribed.
In this same connection Carter, who of course subscribed to Steindorff’s view, writes: “So far as the living are concerned, curses of this nature have no place in the Egyptian ritual. On the contrary, we are piously desired to express our benevolent wishes for the dead.”
It is a clear falsification of the intended sense to interpret as curses the few protective formulas of adjuration found inscribed on the magical manikins that were left in the burial chamber. These formulas were intended solely to “frighten away the enemy of Osiris (the deceased) in whatever form he may come.” Many expeditions have been excavating in Egypt since the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb. In 1939, 1940, and 1946 Professor Pierre Montet found a perfect nest of royal tombs of the Twenty-first and Twenty-second Dynasty. In subterranean galleries more than three thousand feet long, hewn into solid rock, Professor Sami Gabra discovered holy places of the Ibis cult and countless tombs of sacred animals. Egypt’s King Farouk equipped an expedition to seek for traces of his nation’s antiquity, and burial places dating from the second and third millennium B.C. were uncovered. In 1941 Dr. Ahmad Badawi and Dr. Mustapha El-Amir stumbled upon a stele honoring Amenophis II, and an undisturbed tomb of Prince Sheshonk, with a sumptuous find of jewels.