Archive sheds new light on Tutankhamun discovery, 100 years on

By Ijeoma Ndukwe
BBC News

Published
Image source, Harry Burton/Griffith Institute, Oxford University
Image caption,
Tutankhamun's gold mask, seen here without its beard, was covered with paraffin wax by photographer Harry Burton to dull reflections

The tomb of the ancient Egyptian king Tutankhamun at Luxor is one of the most famous discoveries in modern archaeology.

A new exhibition at the University of Oxford's Bodleian Libraries - Tutankhamun: Excavating the Archives - marks the 100th anniversary of the discovery by the British Egyptologist Howard Carter and his team.

Dramatically lit images captured by the photographer Harry Burton, along with letters, plans, drawings and diaries from Carter's archive shed new light on the story of the 10-year excavation of the tomb, which was the first known intact royal burial from ancient Egypt.

They also challenge the perception of Carter as a solitary hero, highlighting the contribution of the many skilled Egyptian workers who are often overlooked.

Image source, Harry Burton/Griffith Institute, Oxford University

An unnamed Egyptian boy models a heavy, jewelled necklace from a casket within the tomb of Tutankhamun, bringing together ancient and modern Egypt. Several people later claimed to be the boy, including Hussein Abd el-Rassul of Gurna, who helped Carter's team - but none have been verified.

Image source, Harry Burton/Griffith Institute, Oxford University

This photo is among a series given centre stage at the exhibition. It shows two foremen and a boy carefully dismantling a partition wall to open up the burial chamber.

Four Egyptian foremen - Ahmed Gerigar, Gad Hassan, Hussein Abu Awad and Hussein Ahmed Said - were named and thanked by Carter in his publications. However, it is not possible to identify them among the workers pictured.

Image source, Harry Burton/Griffith Institute, Oxford University

Dr Daniela Rosenow, an Egyptologist who co-curated the exhibition, says more than 50 local workmen were hired by Carter, and that there were dozens more workers, including children, on site.

While their names were not recorded, Dr Rosenow says the images challenge the colonial stereotype of a one-man discovery.

"Through these photographs we can see [the Egyptians'] vital contribution and that makes it clear that what we have here is only one part of the story."

Image source, Harry Burton/Griffith Institute, Oxford University

This dramatically and deliberately posed image shows Carter's team opening the doors of a gilded shrine. Carter is crouched, while his assistant Arthur Callender and an unidentified Egyptian stand over him.

The image helped publicise the discovery of the tomb around the world and promoted Carter as an English adventurer.

Image source, Harry Burton/Griffith Institute, Oxford University

Burton's intimate view of Tutankhamun's outer coffin focuses on the garland of cornflowers and olives leaves adorning the young king's forehead.

Soon after it was exposed, the natural materials disintegrated. Its existence is now preserved only through this striking image.

Image source, Harry Burton/Griffith Institute, Oxford University

British surgeon Douglas Derry makes the first incision into Tutankhamun's mummified body during a "scientific examination" that began on 11 November 1925.

Derry's Egyptian colleague Dr Saleh Bey Hamdi is standing on his right. Carter, the French director-general of Egypt's Antiquities Service, Pierre Lacau, and an Egyptian official are also among the spectators.

Image source, Harry Burton/Griffith Institute, Oxford University

Tutankhamun's solid gold mask, found on his mummified body, was one of the most iconic objects discovered in the tomb.

Image source, Harry Burton/Griffith Institute, Oxford University

A statue of Anubis, the jackal god of the dead, is the subject of this drawing by Carter, which includes notes and measurements. The son of an illustrator, Carter trained as an artist before transitioning into archaeology without gaining any formal academic qualifications.

Image source, Harry Burton/Griffith Institute, Oxford University

Carter named a storeroom located to the east of the burial chamber the "Treasury". In this photograph, Burton uses hidden lighting to produce a deliberately eerie and dramatic effect, spotlighting the shrine of god Anubis.

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