Tutmania is sweeping the UK as Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum celebrates the historic find of the boy pharaoh’s tomb, writes Nevine El-Aref
When British Egyptologist Howard Carter discovered the intact tomb of Tutankhamun in November 1922 the whole world was spellbound.
Today, another facet of the historic find is revealed at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum in the “Discovering Tutankhamun” exhibition. It explores the story behind the excavation through Carter’s original records, drawings, and photographs.
On 5 November 1922, one day after the discovery of the tomb, he sent a telegraph to his sponsor, Lord Carnarvon, saying “At last have made wonderful discovery in Valley, a magnificent tomb with seals intact…” It would be ten years before Carter had completed recording and documenting the tomb’s treasures.
“Can you see anything?” asked Carnarvon as Carter later opened the tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. “Yes,” replied Carter. “Wonderful things.”
These words are inscribed on the exhibition’s entrance wall to make the visitor ready to explore the story of the discovery. The exhibition then focuses on the story of the tomb’s discovery and how it created Tutmania across the globe.
The exhibition includes photographs by Times photographer Harry Burton, Carnarvon having given the paper exclusive access to the excavations. Paul Collins, co-curator of the exhibition, said that some of Burton’s photographs showing chairs and other furniture found during the excavations had been loaned from the Metropolitan Museum in New York, along with a limestone head of Tutankhamun and a granite statue of the boy king from the British Museum.
Regretfully, there are no artefacts on loan from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, the home of the Tutankhamun collection, as the exhibition was planned at the height of the 25 January Revolution and loans proved impossible to negotiate, Collins said.
However, Carter’s diary is among the exhibition items, along with his personal belongings including his reading glasses, brush and microscope. A limestone fragment showing Queen Nefertiti offering a bouquet of flowers to the god Atun is also on display, as is part of a limestone statue of the pharaoh Akhenatun.
Most of the items on display are taken from the archives of Oxford’s Griffith Institute, which was given more than 3,000 record cards and 1,800 negatives when Carter died in 1939. The Institute then published nine volumes on the discovery of the tomb between 1963 and 1990. They were also used to construct a replica tomb in Luxor beside Carter’s rest house.
A replica of the boy king’s sumptuous gold funerary mask is on show, the original being in Cairo. Handfuls of seeds, among them almonds and watermelon meant to be used by the king in the afterlife, are also on display.
The exhibition describes how Tutmania later hit both sides of the Atlantic, impacting the arts, culture and design during the 1920s. Ancient Egyptian motifs appeared on clothes, jewellery, fabrics, furniture, architecture and even advertisements.
“Tutankhamun, Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter became almost like movie stars,” Collins told the BBC news. He added that there was an extraordinary fad for games, costumes and posters. “Everybody wanted a little bit of Tut,” he said.
Songwriter Harry Von Tilzer had a 1923 hit with “Old King Tut,” and the sheet music and an old recording of the song appear in the exhibition. It was played at the Ashmolean’s launch event last week, accompanied by a group of 1920s-style dancers.
‘Old King Tut’ was one of the great hits of the time, just as the Charleston was becoming the most popular dance,” Collins told BBC news. “It was a great combination.”
A Tut board game, a hand-beaded lurex jacket, and a Cartier diamond brooch are among the objects inspired by the contents of Tutankhamun’s tomb, as well as a ritual couch ornamented with animal heads crafted by a sculptor in Hull.
The opening ceremony of the exhibition, which will last until November 2, was attended by a relative of Lord Carnarvon.