- Juan Francisco Alonso
- BBC News World
Tutankhamun. Finding someone today who has not heard this name or who does not know who it is, is a difficult task.
However, it was not always like that. Barely a century ago, the pharaoh was a great unknown, but all that began to change on November 4, 1922, thanks to the stubbornness and persistence of one of the few who knew of his existence: British archaeologist Howard Carter.
That day, serendipitous luck rewarded the stubbornness of Carter, who had spent the previous five years digging in the Valley of the Kings without finding anything of real relevance. One of the children who was distributing water to the workers of his expedition tripped unusual stone.
The boy informed his employer, who began clearing the area and realized that the rock in question was actually a rung of a ladder cut into the ground. Cleaning away the dirt accumulated over the centuries, he found a mud door with oval seals and hieroglyphs.
“Do you see anything?” asked Carter the Earl of Carnarvon, George Hebert, who financed his adventure. “I see wonderful things”replied the explorer after breaking down the door and sticking his head into the tomb.
But who was Howard Carter, what was the significance of his discovery and whether or not it was made with objects from the tomb of an Egyptian monarch. BBC Mundo will try to answer these questions with the help of experts.
A brilliant autodidact
The discovery of Tutankhamun’s treasure-filled tomb made Carter the most famous archaeologist in the world. And this despite the fact that he did not study this discipline.
“Carter was not polite, that is he didn’t go to college. We don’t even know if he went to high school. What we do know is that his parents, who were artists, educated him at home,” American Egyptologist Bob Brier told BBC Mundo.
Carter was born on May 9, 1874 in the London neighborhood of Kensington and was the youngest of 11 children. Because he was a sickly child, he stayed for a long time in the family house in the British capital and the one that his maternal relatives had in the English town of Swaffham, in central England. Therefore, his parents took over his education, especially his father, Samuel John Carter, who was a famous painter.
Carter himself he was an artist and that’s how he got into archaeology,” says the professor at Long Island University in New York, who has just published a book about Carter’s discovery (“Tutankhamun and the Tomb That Changed the World”).
“As a teenager, he was hired to work on excavations, because of his artistic talent. He copied the images and hieroglyphs of the temples and eventually became an archaeologist himself, even becoming the Chief Inspector of Antiquities for Upper Egypt during British colonial rule,” he added.
For her part, Egyptologist Daniela Rosenow believes that we should all be grateful that the British were the ones who found the tomb. Reason? “He learned the trade from the best Egyptologists of his time,” he replied.
The find of the century
After being forced to resign his position due to an incident with some French tourists and having to survive by selling watercolors of Pharaonic ruins to the very people who cost him his job, in 1914 Carter obtained permission from the Egyptian authorities to excavate in the Valley of the Kings.
Despite the fact that for decades other explorers had removed tons of earth and rocks in the area without finding anything, the British believed there was at least one tomb that remained hidden.
In addition to his instincts, Carter had some clues. I knew that in other excavations objects with Tutankhamun’s namewhich did not appear in almost any registry.
“Before Carter, nobody knew about Tutankhamun. Tutankhamun was a minor pharaoh, about whom little was known. Nobody knew who he was. But when Carter found his tomb, he became the most famous pharaoh in the world. Carter not only did he discover the tomb, but also Tutankhamun” Brier judgment.
Tutankhamun was only on the throne for about 10 years and died around 1372 BC at the age of 19, but apart from his short reign, he was the son of the controversial Akhenaten. This monarch changed the religion in Egypt and from the worship of several gods only one happened: Aten, god of the sun.
“Tutankhamun’s father was the first monotheist in the world. But this did not please the Egyptians and when he died they erased his name from the records, destroyed his tomb, and the same happened to his son. “Tutakhamun’s successors consciously wanted to erase him from history and his tomb was forgotten,” explained Brier.
The discovery of the tomb, the first and only one so far found intact, made Carter and the boy pharaoh world famous.
Responsible person of Tutmania
The news of the treasure found in the tomb, especially the sarcophagus and death mask made of solid gold, spread like wildfire and stimulated an unusual interest in Egyptology.
“Carter made Tutankhamun the most famous Egyptian in the world. The whole world wanted to read about what they found in the tomb,” said Brier, who attributed this to advances in communications.
“The fact that the newspaper could print photos Andhelped against fever which was released by Tutankhamun in those years,” he concluded.
Carter and his financier, the Earl of Carnarvon, sold the London newspaper “The Times” the exclusivity of the story for 4000 pounds sterling time (about $2.4 million today).
However, other media did not hesitate to send correspondents to Egypt to report on the findings. Work on the excavation and classification of more than 5,000 objects found in the tomb lasted for ten years.
However, Carter later regretted that decision. At least that’s what he let it be seen in his diaries, where he complained about the flow of observers that the information about his discovery attracted and because of which he kept interrupting his work.
Hero or villain?
Despite the fact that many consider him the father of modern archaeology, Carter was always plagued by suspicions of not-so-legal behavior. Some suspicions that Brier confirms in his latest book.
“There is a lot of evidence that Carter was removing items from the tomb without permission“, he assures.
However, the investigator clarified that he did not do this for economic purposes. “Carter didn’t get rich, he lived modestly for the rest of his life,” he said.
“He took things out of the grave showing his colonial mentality. He believed that the tomb belonged to himbecause he discovered it,” he said and added: “The objects he brought out he gave to acquaintances and friends as souvenirs“.
In his book, “Tutankhamun and the Tomb That Changed the World,” Brier cites a letter sent to him by one of Carter’s associates, in which he complained that Carter had given him an amulet that belonged to the pharaoh’s treasure without ever warning him.
For his part, Rosenow, who works at Oxford University’s Griffith Institute, where Carter’s diaries and files ended up, refuses to beatify or demonize the archaeologist.
“People need to understand that this discovery was a 10-year job involving a large team, including dozens of Egyptians who have remained anonymous. This was not the story of one a heroic man“, He said.
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