Ancient History & Civilisation

Chapter 38

Thebes

1908

NOW, LIKE MANY WEALTHY MEN who’d become smitten by Egypt and treasure hunting, Lord Carnarvon wanted to fund his own excavation.

The successes of Carnarvon and Theodore Davis were well known, and Carnarvon could easily see Davis’s yacht Bedouin moored across the street from his hotel. British acquaintances Robert Mond and the Marquis of Northampton also had minor concessions, and Carnarvon began to believe he would enjoy digging up an important bit of history. He thought it should be great fun indeed.

Unfortunately, his first season’s results weren’t promising. Or much fun. Arthur Weigall—who now held Carter’s former job as chief inspector for Upper Egypt—had dismissed Carnarvon for the rank amateur that he was. He assigned Carnarvon to a rubbish heap known as Sheikh abd el-Qurna, with predictably dismal results.

The sole find during that first six-week season was a mummifiedcat contained inside a wooden cat coffin.

Carnarvon, while disappointed, actually treasured the discovery. It was his first, after all. Egyptology was now officially in his blood.

The only problem, it seemed, was Carnarvon. Rather than hire an experienced professional, he led the digs himself. Each day he would sit inside a screened box that kept away flies, and smoke cigarette after cigarette, as his men, and not a top-notch crew, worked in the heat and dust.

What Carnarvon needed—he was told repeatedly—was a seasoned professional to guide his digs.

And Howard Carter needed a wealthy patron with a concession to get him back in the game.

Between seasons, Carnarvon wrote Weigall from England, asking for “a learned man, as I have not time to learn up all the requisite data.”

The common thread in all of this was Maspero, who had arranged Carnarvon’s concession in the first place.

So it was that Carter was summoned to the Winter Palace to stand before Carnarvon and Maspero to discuss the possibility of once again leading a full-scale excavation. His clothes were nearing the point of no return, and his ever-present portfolio was tucked under his arm, as if he had been called to sketch the moment, which, he believed, was a depressing possibility.

Did Carter want back in the game? he was asked.

The disgraced Egyptologist, thrilled that fate was giving him a second chance, hastily answered yes.

He even managed to keep his famous arrogance and temper in check—for the first meeting anyway.

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