The discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun turns 100 years old – DW – 11/04/2022

The discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun turns 100 years old – DW – 11/04/2022

For six years, archaeologist Howard Carter had been digging through the desert sands in Egypt’s so-called Valley of the Kings in search of the tomb of the famous boy pharaoh Tutankhamun, but to no avail. His financier, the Earl of Carnarvon, grew impatient, and Carter had one last chance to discover the crypt.

Then a local boy named Hussein Abd el-Rassul, who was bringing water to the workers, hit a stone step under the rubble. Later, Carter liked to tell the story that the boy had wanted to emulate the archaeologists of Europe and therefore had poked around with a stick. In the process, he said, he hit the stone surface.

The Valley of the Kings
Carter had been searching the Valley of the Kings for six years.Image: Erich Lessing/akg-images/picture-alliance

‘Wonderful things’

From then on, gripped by anticipation, the excavation team did not stop. They discovered 16 steps in total and also found two seals bearing the royal mark of Tutankhamun. But it was not until Lord Carnarvon arrived from England that Carter opened the antechamber to the tomb on November 26, 1922, and the real breakthrough occurred.

“Can you see anything?” The count is said to have asked, standing in the dark passageway.

“Yes, wonderful things,” Carter replied.

The men had stumbled upon priceless treasures that no human eye had seen in over 3,000 years. “We had the impression of looking into the prop room of the opera house of a bygone civilization,” Carter later described first impressions of it. “Details inside the chamber slowly emerged from the mist: strange animals, statues, gold. Everywhere, the glitter of gold.”

Door sealed with a rope to the burial chamber of Tutankhamun
The sealed door to Tutankhamun’s burial chamberImage: akg-images/picture-alliance

hype about the pharaoh

News of the sensational find spread quickly, sparking “Egyptomania” around the world.

Harry Victor Frederick Winstone, author of “Howard Carter and the Discovery of Tutankhamun’s Tomb”, first published in 1991, writes how the discovery led architects to create Egyptian style facades. Purses, cookie jars and juice bottles bore the unmistakable symbol of the king’s golden mask, Winstone wrote, adding that even Tutankhamun’s blouses were for sale and automaker General Motors was promoting a vehicle in the shape of a pharaoh

In the Valley of the Kings itself, onlookers packed the dig site. Locals and tourists from all over the world wanted to take a look at the treasures while possibly buying a souvenir. Carter and his team had trouble keeping people at bay.

Anubis, the god of the dead

For ten years, the British archaeologist and his assistants meticulously cataloged every artifact in the tomb. Each individual piece was photographed and packaged; The largest exhibits were transported to the Nile by a small light railway and loaded onto ships. The most important finds are now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and in Luxor itself.

The most famous of the approximately 5,400 objects found remains the 11-kilogram blue and gold death mask of Tutankhamun himself. Carter found him in the coffin chamber. Enclosed by four gilded wooden altars, a stone sarcophagus and three mummy-shaped coffins placed one inside the other, lay the embalmed pharaoh, in a 225-kilogram coffin of pure gold. The death mask covered his face.

In another treasure lay a statue of the Egyptian god of the dead, Anubis, who guarded a shrine containing the entrails of Tutankhamun.

Anubis was an ancient Egyptian god of the underworld who guided and protected the spirits of the dead. Anubis is associated with mummification, burial rituals, and the graveyard in ancient Egyptian myth, and is usually depicted as a black canine or canine-headed man.

The statue of the god Anubis discovered in the tomb of King Tutankhamun in a glass case at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo
The statue of the god Anubis discovered in the tomb of King Tutankhamun in the Egyptian Museum in CairoImage: Sui Xiankai/Xinhua/Picture Alliance

family identities

Pharaoh Akhenaten was the father of Tutankhamun. However, Nefertiti Tutankhamun was not his mother, as previously thought, after a genetic study conducted on discovered mummies suggested otherwise.

Tutankhamun was the son of a mistress, most likely his father’s sister, identified through DNA testing as an unknown mummy known as “the younger lady.”

The young pharaoh ascended the throne at the age of eight. At first, he was called Tutankaten, “living image of Aten”, because at his birth the god Aten was still worshipped. Later, when the priesthood worshiped the god Amun, he changed his name to Tutankhamun.

The boy king of the New Kingdom of the Eighteenth Dynasty died in 1323 BC. C. at the age of 18 or 19 years. Examinations of the mummy indicate that Tutankhamun died in an accident, although this is not known for certain.

Apparently, however, the young pharaoh was quite frail during his lifetime. A team of scientists from Tübingen, Germany, Bolzano in northern Italy and Cairo discovered years ago that he suffered from serious bone disease and malaria, as well as genetic deformities such as a cleft palate and clubfoot.

Pharaoh’s Curse

In life, Tutankhamun was not a powerful pharaoh. Today everyone knows his name. KV62, the scientific name for his grave (where KV stands for King’s Valley), remains a tourist magnet today. Unlike the treasures found inside, the sarcophagus with the pharaoh’s mummified body still rests in the burial chamber. On its walls, magnificent paintings illustrate the life and death of Tutankhamun.

To this day, the story of the so-called pharaoh’s curse, with which he protected his tomb against intruders, continues to haunt. Shortly after the vaults were opened, Carter’s client, Lord Carnarvon, died, and other mysterious deaths followed in the archaeologist’s entourage. This further fueled media hysteria, despite Carter describing the alleged curse as “absolute nonsense”.

Standing on the steps leading to the entrance to Tutankhamun's tomb are (from left to right) Lady Evelyn Herbert, her father Lord Carnarvon, Mr. Howard Carter, and Mr. B. Callender (Carter's chief assistant)
On the steps leading to the entrance to Tutankhamun’s tomb are (from left to right) Lady Evelyn Herbert, her father Lord Carnarvon, Howard Carter, and Carter’s assistant. Image: Illustrated London News Ltd//Mary Evans Picture Library/Picture Alliance

Damage done to Tutankhamun

After remaining undiscovered and unscathed for over 3,000 years, Tutankhamun was visibly affected by the tourist frenzy after his discovery. Over the years, the combination of dust, humidity fluctuations, and visitors entering the small chamber took its toll.

Although a plexiglass lid now protects the sarcophagus from the elements and decay, action was urgently needed. Thus, in 2009, a team of 25 restorers set to work to repair the damage already done to the tomb and take steps to prevent further damage in the future. In 2021, the work was completed. The old wall paintings shine with new splendour; New barriers, a sophisticated ventilation system and a new visitor platform were installed.

The sarcophagus of the child pharaoh, King Tutankhamun, is on display in his recently renovated tomb in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt.
King Tutankhamun’s sarcophagus is on display in his recently renovated tomb in the Valley of the Kings.Image: Reuters/M. Abd El Gany

Zahi Hawass, former Secretary General of the Egyptian Antiquities Authority, had initiated the restoration project. To this day, he calls for massive restrictions on the number of visitors to the tomb. “If we continue to allow mass tourism here, the tomb will not survive another 500 years,” he warns, suggesting that an identical copy be built near the royal tomb. “We have to think about the future,” Hawass stresses. “Otherwise, at some point, there will be no more Valley of the Kings.”

A file photo dated November 4, 2007 shows Egypt's antiquities chief Dr Zahi Hawass (centre) as he oversees the removal of King Tutankhamen's mummy from its stone sarcophagus in his underground tomb at the famous Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt.
In 2007, Zahi Hawass oversaw the removal of Tutankhamun’s mummy from its stone sarcophagus. Image: Ben Curtis/EPA

Museum opening postponed

In reality, the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb was to be celebrated at the new Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) on November 4. The Egyptians wanted to inaugurate the gigantic building with an area of ​​more than 40,000 square meters on this symbolic date, but time has run out. and the GEM is now scheduled to open its doors in 2023.

The largest archaeological museum in the world is located in Cairo, in the immediate vicinity of the Giza pyramids. For the first time, all 5,400 objects from Tutankhamun’s tomb will be displayed here together, along with countless other ancient exhibits, some of which have never been displayed before. Until now, most of it was housed in the packed Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square in central Cairo.

Architect's rendering of the new Grand Egyptian Museum, at Guizeh (or Giza), near Cairo
The Grand Egyptian Museum, outside Cairo, will open in 2023Image: Balkis Press/ABACA/Picture Alliance

Dating back more than 3,000 years, a massive statue of Egypt’s 19th Dynasty third pharaoh, Ramses II, already stands at the site, waiting to welcome visitors. Tutankhamun’s mummy, however, will not move here. She continues to rest in her burial chamber, where she has lain for over three millennia.

Translated by: John Silk

Leave a Comment