Monday, February 08, 2010

Feature: Carnarvon Never Got to See the Golden Death Mask

Heritage Key (Sean Williams)

When you think of King Tut, do you see a young boy, struggling with the enormity of his power; a slender adolescent in control of the world's greatest empire? Of course not, because you're like me: you see the magnificent death mask, the coffins, shrines, shabtis, daggers, beds, decrepit mummy (with or without penis) et al. We ancient world-lovers are just magpies with laptops really.

But do you ever wonder why, when Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon burst into the tomb in 1922, they could see so many 'wonderful things'? Why wasn't Tutankhamun's funerary procession made ancient swag, like those of nearly all of ancient Egypt's kings?

In fact even this isn't strictly true, as Lady Carnarvon points out to us from the cellar-cum-Egyptian exhibition at Highclere Castle: "Howard Carter estimated that around 60 per cent of the jewellery which (sic) would have been in the tomb...was possibly stolen by grave diggers of ancient times." Not a motto modern grave diggers will be thrilled about, but it does explain why the legs of the otherwise dazzling golden throne of King Tut are so bare.

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