Friday, November 26, 2010

The Cairo Museum is the official plunderer


On this day in 1922, King Tut's slumbers were disturbed for the first time in over 3,000 years.

When British archaeologist Howard Carter first arrived in Egypt, in 1891, most of the ancient Egyptian tombs had been discovered – and most of those had been plundered. But the brilliant and dogged Carter discovered the tombs of Queen Hatshepsut and King Thutmose IV. In 1907 he was commissioned by the Earl of Carnarvon, a collector of antiquities, to supervise excavations in the Valley of the Kings. Carter was convinced that the tomb of the little-known King Tut might still be found.

Tutankhamen became king in 1333 B.C., when he was a child of 8. He died a decade later. In the 13th century B.C., Tutankhamen and the other "Amarna" kings were publicly condemned, and most records of them were destroyed, including the location of Tut's tomb. A century later, in the 12th century B.C., workers building a tomb for Ramses VI inadvertently covered Tutankhamen's tomb with a deep layer of chips, further protecting it from discovery.

In November of 1922, Carter's crew discovered a step leading to the tomb's entrance. Carnarvon rushed to Egypt, and on Nov. 23 they broke through a mud-brick door, revealing the passageway that led to the tomb. On Nov. 26 they broke through another door, and Carter leaned in with a candle to take a look. Behind him, Lord Carnarvon asked, "Can you see anything?"

"Yes, wonderful things," Carter said.

The antechamber of the tomb was, miraculously, untouched. The dusty floor still showed the footprints of the tomb builders.

"Thus began a monumental excavation process in which Carter carefully explored the four-room tomb over several years, uncovering an incredible collection of several thousand objects. In addition to numerous pieces of jewelry and gold, there was statuary, furniture, clothes, a chariot, weapons, and numerous other objects that shed a brilliant light on the culture and history of ancient Egypt. The most splendid find was a stone sarcophagus containing three coffins nested within each other. Inside the final coffin, made out of solid gold, was the mummified body of the boy-king Tutankhamen, preserved for 3,200 years. Most of these treasures are now housed in the Cairo Museum." (This Day in History, at www.history.com.)