Tuesday,18 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1391, (26 April - 2 May 2018)
Tuesday,18 June, 2019
Issue 1391, (26 April - 2 May 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Howard Carter and Tutankhamun

As the centenary of the discovery of the tomb of Ancient Egyptian boy-king Tutankhamun nears, we should remember one of its forgotten heroes, writes Zahi Hawass

Howard Carter and Tutankhamun
Howard Carter and Tutankhamun

In November 2022, the world will celebrate the centenary of the discovery of the tomb of the ancient Egyptian boy-king Tutankhamun on 4 November 1922. In Egypt, we should begin preparations to mark this occasion now. We should also appoint a committee to organise a magnificent event to mark the opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) on the Giza Plateau, inviting world leaders to celebrate.  

We should also commission a new opera, something like Verdi’s Aida that marked the opening of the Suez Canal. Aida was originally the idea of Auguste Mariette, head of antiquities in Egypt at the time. Today, I think there should be a new opera commissioned to mark the centenary of the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun. There should be a further celebration in the Valley of the Kings at Luxor in front of the tomb itself. Capital cities across the world should be brought in to celebrate the centenary of the greatest archaeological discovery the world has ever seen.

Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany made a major decision when he sent out a new exhibition of objects from Tutankhamun’s tomb on a world tour. Egypt will gain great publicity as a result, and the exhibition will help bring tourists back to Egypt and make a political statement by demonstrating to the world that Egypt is secure and safe for visitors. The exhibition will also raise funds for the GEM, and it will provide opportunities for Egyptian archaeologists worldwide. 

On the day of the centenary we should also remember the great man who made the discovery, the British archaeologist Howard Carter. I respect the work that this great archaeologist did in his excavation of the tomb. On my last visit to London, I went to visit his grave in Putney Vale Cemetery, where I was surprised to see the following statement written on the grave: “May your spirit live, may you spend millions of years, you who love Thebes, sitting with your face to the north wind, your eyes beholding happiness.” Another line read “O night, spread thy wings over me as the imperishable stars.”

 The first statement was carved on the wishing cup of Tutankhamun, and it seems that Carter’s favourite piece from the tomb was this alabaster cup. The second line is often found on the lids of coffins from the Ancient Egyptian New Kingdom and is part of a prayer to the goddess Nut, the goddess of the sky.

Although Carter has received the credit for discovering the tomb, there is also a secret hero in the story of the discovery. In the fifth year of the search for the tomb, Hussein Abdel-Rasoul, 12 years old at the time and a member of the Abdel-Rasoul family that had found a cache of royal mummies in 1871, was hired to bring water to the site in jars carried on a donkey. While Hussein was digging a hole in the ground in order to accommodate the pointed base of one of the jars, he found a flat patch of stone, which turned out to be the top step of the entrance to Tutankhamun’s tomb. 

He ran to the tent where Carter was sitting and told him what he had found. Carter ran after him, and when he saw the entrance he smiled the smile of victory. Later, he asked his photographer, Harry Burton, to put one of the necklaces found in the tomb around Hussein’s neck, and Burton took a photograph of him. Hussein never had another job after the death of Carter in 1939. He used to take the photograph and stand in front of the Ramesseum on the west bank of the Nile at Luxor and show it to the tourists. He did this until he was 80 years old, and when he died, his sons inherited this photograph of their father holding his photograph with the necklace as a 12-year-old boy.  

Carter’s discovery, soon to be 100 years old, changed the field of Egyptology forever. Now every tourist who visits Egypt wants to see Tutankhamun, the golden boy-king who has captured the hearts of people all over the world.

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