x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The instant expert: Objects of adoration

This week Ellen Fortini looks at the discovery of King Tut's tomb, which was opened on this day in 1922 after more than 3,200 years.

THE BASICS Howard Carter was just 17 when he was sent to Egypt to record the decorations inside the tombs during the excavation of Beni Hasan in 1891. The talented young artist continued his work in Egypt and ultimately was hired by the wealthy Egyptologist George Herbert, the Earl of Carnarvon, in 1907.

JUST KEEP SEARCHING Carnarvon funded Carter's work in the Valley of the Kings between 1914 and 1917, interrupted only by the onset of the First World War, and then again through 1922, without any significant findings. Carnarvon gave Carter one more season of funding.

NO RESULTS IN EIGHT YEARS? Not what Carnarvon wanted - Tutankhamun's tomb. The boy king ruled Egypt from 1333 BC, at the age of 9, until his death in 1323. Worshipped as a god and with a cult-like following in life, the pharaoh was largely forgotten in death. But a cup bearing Tut's name was found by another Egyptologist, Theodore Davis, leading Carnarvon to believe the royal tomb was still undiscovered.

WHY WAS IT SO HARD TO FIND? Tut's mummy was buried in a tomb that was probably not built for royalty, following what is believed to have been an unexpected death, possibly by a blow to the head or from a broken leg. With the customary waiting period between death and burial of just 70 days, there was no time for a kingly tomb, so one was modified for the noble teenager. Eventually Tut's tomb was lost, covered by debris from other tombs and workers' shelters built on top.

SO HOW DID CARTER FIND IT? It was his water carrier who stumbled upon the steps to the tomb on November 4, 1922, after one of the worker huts had been removed. Carter sent for Carnarvon, who arrived three weeks later. Eighty-nine years ago today, Carter chipped away at the plaster door and peered inside with a candle. Seeing gold and ebony treasures, he was still uncertain if he had discovered a tomb or a cache. Carnarvon asked him: "Can you see anything?" Carter replied: "Yes, wonderful things."

LIKE WHAT? Broken chariots, life-sized statues of the king, boxes and animal couches were among the first items found. Then the tomb was meticulously photographed and around 3,500 items were found and recorded, including thrones, jewellery, weapons, furniture, jars of oils, vases, linen clothing, statues, wine, beds, gold, lamps, feather fans, boats and more.

WHAT OF THE ARTEFACTS? The first traveling exhibition began in 1961, igniting a worldwide King Tut craze, and featured 34 pieces of precious metals and glass that toured North America until 1967. In March 1972, many more artefacts, including the king's iconic gold burial mask, went on display at the British Museum in a six-month-long exhibition called The Treasures of Tutankhamun. More than 1.6 million visitors came out, queuing for up to eight hours. It remains the most popular exhibition in the museum's history, and then toured the globe for more than five years. All of the items are property of the Egyptian government and most are kept permanently at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

AND TODAY? On November 4, 2007, 85 years to the day after his tomb was discovered, Tut's mummy went on display where it was found. It rests in a climate-controlled glass box to prevent decomposition. Traveling exhibits of artefacts continue.

IN POPULAR CULTURE Aside from the popular Mummy films featuring Brendan Fraser, and the King Tut/professor character in Batman, there are also the 1978 novelty song King Tut by Steve Martin and the Toot Uncommons and a 1939 Three Stooges film We Want Our Mummy. The US president Herbert Hoover even named his dog King Tut.

 

Curses!

The curse of the pharaohs is a long-held belief that whoever disturbs the mummy of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh will be placed under a curse. These individuals have been believed to have been victims:

LORD CARNARVON On April 5, 1923, five months after witnessing the opening of Tut's tomb, Carnarvon, 56, died of an infected mosquito bite.

AUBREY HERBERT Five months after the death of his half-brother Carnarvon, the 43-year-old diplomat's death from sepsis was laid by many to curse association.

GEORGE JAY GOULD The 59-year-old financier came down with a fever after visiting Tut's tomb and died on the French Riviera in May 1923.

AC MACE Howard Carter's assistant died five years after participating in the opening of the tomb, at the age of 54.

LEE STACK The governor-general of Sudan, age 56, was shot and killed while driving through Cairo.

GEORGE E LABRASH The San Francisco police lieutenant, 56, suffered a minor stroke while guarding a traveling Tut exhibition in 1979. He filed a lawsuit against the City of San Francisco citing the curse of the pharaohs.