In the Commemoration of the Unsung Heroes Behind the Discovery of King Tutankhamun's Tomb
By: Kimothy Wong / Arab America Contributing Writer
The Discovery of King Tut’s Tomb
A team led by British Egyptologist Howard Carter began excavating Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings on November 4, 1922. Tutankhamun, often known as King Tut, was an Egyptian pharaoh who reigned from 1333 BCE (when he was nine years old) to 1323 BCE.
According to legend, Tutankhamun was mummified and buried in a tomb packed with artwork, jewelry, and valuables after he died. The tomb was swiftly concealed by shifting desert sands, and it mainly remained hidden for more than 3,000 years.
Carter’s crew discovered the first step of a staircase on November 4. His team found the entire stairway the next day, and by the end of November, an antechamber, a treasury, and the tomb’s main door had been revealed.
On November 26, Carter discovered a room full of gold riches after cutting a small hole in the door. The sarcophagus housing Tutankhamen’s mummy was not discovered until much later.
The Discovery of King Tut’s Tomb Transformed Our Understanding of Ancient Egypt
Tutankhamun was a lesser-known pharaoh during his lifetime. Yet, his tomb was even more significant in death due to the following reasons.
- Tutankhamun Was the First Untouched Royal Mummy Discovered
The manner of the burial showed how seriously the ancient Egyptians took death: he was placed in a coffin, in the inner of four shrines, inside a vast gilded wooden coffin. Like Russian dolls that contained a second coffin, inside which was the final, golden coffin held fast by a thick band of resin.
- The Embalming Procedure Was Exposed Like Never Before.
Despite damage to the 3300-year-old swaddled body – the resin was stubbornly stuck – new information about how mummies were preserved emerged, including drying out the corpse to prevent rot and removing the brain and digestive tract.
- It Aided in the Formation of the Art Deco Movement
When Tut’s tomb was discovered, the world went mummy crazy – think of him as a 1920s Princess Diana. However, the iconography – scarabs, pylons, and cornices – was transferred to the emerging Art Deco architecture movement and can still be seen today in structures such as New York’s Chrysler Building.
- The Abundance of Gold
“Strange animals, statues, and gold, gold everywhere,” Carter observed. He wasn’t mistaken. There were 5398 items inside, including a gold throne, gold coffin, and the famous gold death mask – which you may have just imagined as you read these words. Under the mummy wrappings, there were 143 pieces of gold jewelry with precious stones, proving that you can, in fact, take it with you.
The Unsung Egyptian Workers Behind the Discovery of King Tut’s Tomb
To begin with, several talented Egyptian workers made the discovery possible. Despite the fact that scores of anonymous Egyptian men and children contributed to the site’s rigorous physical labor and provided their local knowledge and specialized talents, self-taught British archaeologist Howard Carter received full credit for the discovery.
Now, a new exhibition in England sheds light on the Egyptian laborers who made the discovery possible—the vast majority of whom have been forgotten in history.
The exhibition “Tutankhamun: Anatomy of an Excavation,” which is on display at the University of Oxford’s Weston Library in Oxford, England, until February 5, 2023, commemorates the discovery’s 100th anniversary.
The “Tutankhamun: Excavating the Archive” section goes beyond “colonialist popular stereotypes” to highlight the “humanity of the modern and ancient people who worked on the tomb,” says co-curator Richard Bruce Parkinson, an Egyptologist at Oxford.
Carter became an international sensation after the uncovering of Tut’s tomb. The Egyptian men and children hired to work on the expedition, on the other hand, were largely ignored. Carter made no mention of the other Egyptians in his crew of 60 to 100 people.
Even today, curators are unable to match the identities of Carter’s four foremen with the Egyptian males depicted in the images, nor can they identify any of the other men and children Burton photographed. While Carter may have appreciated the Egyptian employees, Parkinson tells Paul Peachey of the National that his gratitude for them was “very much within a very colonial context.”
The display aims to honor the unsung heroes of the discovery by allowing visitors to observe for themselves the crucial role that the anonymous Egyptian men played in the discovery, even if they don’t know their identities.
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