The man who discovered Tutankhamun's tomb spent 10 years documenting the thousands of artefacts buried with the boy king. But his research lay neglected for decades. Jo Merchant meets the team of Oxford archaeologists finally revealing Howard Carter's secrets to the world.
From the circular main hall of the Sackler Library in Oxford, an unassuming corridor leads to a staircase that takes you down below street level.
Through a door marked "archive", office ceiling tiles and fluorescent lights stare down on a cheap blue carpet and a row of grey rolling stacks. The hum of the air-conditioning lets slip that this ordinary-looking room is hiding something special.
The temperature is held at 18.5C, several degrees cooler than the sunny July day outside, while a humidifier keeps the moisture level tightly controlled. For those grey stacks contain the forgotten secrets of the most famous find in Egyptology, if not all of archaeological history: the tomb of Tutankhamun.
This is the Griffith Institute - arguably the best Egyptology library in the world.
One of its most prized collections incorporates the notes, photographs and diaries of the English archaeologist Howard Carter, who discovered Tutankhamun's resting place in 1922. The only intact pharaoh's tomb ever discovered, it contained such an array of treasures that it took Carter 10 years to catalogue them all. Yet despite the immense significance of the discovery, the majority of Carter's findings have never been published, and many questions surrounding the tomb remain unanswered.
Jaromir Malek is the soft-spoken keeper of the archive whose own Tutankhamun project is nearing completion. By making all of Carter's notes available online, Malek wanted to ensure that the public would have access to the full extent of the discovery - and to spur Egyptologists into finishing the job of studying the tomb's contents. He has ended up creating a model that other researchers hope will transform the field of archaeology.
The effort has taken even longer than Carter's gruelling excavation. It began in 1993, when Malek says he realised that fewer than a third of the artefacts from Tutankhamun's tomb had been properly studied and published, a situation he describes as "unacceptable".
Friday, August 13, 2010
Howard Carter's records of Tutankhamun
New Zealand Herald