Supreme art is
a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truth,
passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius,
but never abandoned.
William Butler Yeats
The Pharaoh's Curse
Have finally made a marvellous discovery in the
stop - Magnificent grave with unbroken seals -
stop - Covered up again until you arrive -
stop - Congratulations!
Telegram sent by Howard Carter to Lord Carnarvon,
6 November 1922
Howard Carter and an
Egyptian assistant examine Tutankhamen's coffin
A triumphant moment:
Howard Carter opening the golden shrine, 1922
beautiful riling that has ever been found m Fgypt".
The throne discovered in
After six years of intense
excavation work in
the Valley of the Kings, the archaeologist Howard Carter had finally
stumbled on the entrance to a tomb. 1 he tomb of Tutankhamen?
He did not know for certain, but he sent the above telegram to his
patron, Lord George Edward Carnarvon, imploring him to come to Egypt
as quickly as possible. Carter recovered the tomb and awaited Lord
Carnarvon's arrival — a period of almost three weeks in which Carter
was sleepless with excitement.
Carter and Carnarvon experienced one
of the greatest triumphs in the history of archaeology: after they had
cleared the last of the sixteen steps leading into the tomb, the two
were standing in front of a walled-up entrance — bearing the royal
emblem of Tutankhamen! This was only the beginning. When Carter and
Carnarvon found a second walled-up entrance, they took a crowbar and
knocked a hole m the 3,000 year-old masonry. Through it, they gazed at
things that left them speechless. The flickering light of a candle
illuminated the most important treasures ever discovered in Egypt.
Among them was a gold throne with a brilliantly coloured back — a
present to the young Pharaoh from his wife. Carter described the chair
as "the most beautiful thing that has ever been found in Egypt". These
objects captured the world's attention and sparked a lasting interest
in Egyptian art.
It was as if a tale from
A Thousand and One Nights
had come true, and
Carter summarised his find in this way: "The most remarkable thing
Tutankhamen did in the eighteen years of his reign was to die and be
The press gave the story extensive
coverage. It also invented another story — on something it called the
"Pharaoh's Curse", which was apparently deadly to anyone who disturbed
the rest of the dead king. It is true that Lord Carnarvon and his wife
died shortly after the tomb's discovery, as well as a number of others
who had been present when it was opened. And by 1930 the only living
member of the original excavation team was Howard Carter, who seemed
indifferent to the rumour that these deaths were the result of an
ancient malediction. After all, they had never encountered an
inscription recording the "Pharaoh's Curse". Upon investigation into
this series of deaths, it was discovered that quite a few were press
swindles invented to keep newspaper circulation high. Yet there is
something to the legend. Science has revealed that by opening these
tombs, people are exposed to an infectious mould which is present in
decaying bodies. This may have something to do with the mysterious
series of deaths that followed the discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb.
Anonymous, Egyptian Tutankhamen Anointed by His Wife 1355-1342 BC
Detail from the back of
Carved wood and gold, inlaid with Egyptian
faience, enamel, semiprecious, stones and silver
104 x 53 X 64.5 cm
From the tomb in the Valley of the Kings Egyptian Museum, Cairo
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