Saturday, January 9, 2016

King Tut and Potato Chips

Woke up yesterday -- and threw up. Spent the day trying not to do it again, alternating with fun bouts of chills and fever. Oh goody.

I was supposed to manage a Seniors Luncheon at our church this morning, but the Brick, bless his wonderful heart, took over for me. Which meant a restful morning in an easy chair, hot coffee, Lays Wavy Potato Chips (the only food item that didn't cause instant nausea), and an old friend to keep me company:

King Tutankhamun. 

His Royalness (whose name is spelled any number of ways) was an Egyptian pharaoh who only ruled 9 short years (1332-1323 b.c.) during the New Kingdom -- from age 9-18. He didn't do much during his lifetime. But with the discovery with his tomb in November 1922 by Howard Carter, an archeologist with a wealthy sponsor, Lord Carnarvon, 'King Tut' became incredibly famous.

Just in case you didn't know,


*His mother-in-law may have been the beautiful Nefertiti. (Also with her share of name variants.) In fact, she may actually have been his mom, though historians think it was another, lesser wife.
     Yes, that Nefertiti.


*Tut had kids. Two stillborn infants, each in tiny coffins, were found in his tomb. Even at age 18, he'd been married for a while. (Probably to a sister.)

*Nobody knows for sure what killed him. His mummy shows a head wound, but it may have been post-mortem. At least one tv documentary alleged that it must have been while hunting, since so many archery scenes are in the tomb. (Or maybe a chariot accident.) Others say diseases did the boy pharaoh in. (An odd twist: his body may have spontaneously combusted in his coffin...because of mistakes during the mummification process.)
      Theories on Tut's death abound, including this one:

His death seems to have been unexpected, so...

*He may have been buried in someone else's tomb. Tutankhamun's final resting place was thought to be still under construction, so some historians believe he was actually interred in his senior advisor's tomb, instead -- a man named Ay. (When Ay's tomb was found, it included two statues whose inscriptions indicated they were meant for Tutankhamun's mortuary temple. Since Ay's tomb is larger, he may have taken his master's spot.)

*Nope, it wasn't a pyramid. The practice had died out at least a century before. I'd always wondered about this, since the pictures of the tomb emphasize it was underground. (Go here for modern photos that prove it.)

*His final resting place almost didn't get found. Although he'd made other discoveries in Egypt, Howard Carter wasn't allowed to search The Valley of the Kings until someone else's (Theodore Davis) concession expired in 1914. Besides...

*King Tut's tomb was already 'discovered' -- by someone else. In 1907, Davis found an alabaster figure and a broken gold-leafed box (with the names of Tutankhamun, his wife and Ay inscribed), and another figure under a boulder nearby. He also found a nearby pit with several white jars full of linen (marked with Tut's name), floral collars, bones of birds and animals, and lumps of natron. That was good enough for Davis to assume it was Tut's resting place -- rifled, like nearly all the other tombs that had been found. "I fear that the Valley of the Tombs (of the Kings) is now exhausted," Davis announced.
     It's now thought that the statues and box were getaway loot stashed by robbers. (More on this in a bit). The jars and other items were probably leftovers from the mummy's preparation...and the celebratory feast after the funeral. (Party favors?)

*The tomb had already been found shortly after Tut's interment -- by robbers. Twice, in fact. They'd apparently taken some silver and gold during the first visit, and unguents and oils during the second. (Fancy perfumes and oils must have been in enough demand to warrant the risk.) Tomb guards must have discovered them...or at least scared them off before they could do much damage, though the robbers had scattered items throughout. (Some of these were found in chests, whose written inventories didn't include them. Others were just plain gone.)
     The security apparently cleaned things up, stuffing them away willy-nilly, then carefully sealed the tomb's door -- again. (Flooding afterwards may have poured sand over the tomb...or it may have been covered by work on Ramses VI's tomb nearby. Whatever happened, the entryway was lost.)

The robbers weren't interested in tomb paintings...

*Carter was (almost) ready to stop excavating. He had found so little in eight years of searching that Lord Carnarvon planned to stop his funding. Carter persuaded Carnarvon to pay for one more season -- with the proviso that if he still found nothing, Carter would pay all expenses. The 1922 season was nearly done when Carter found some workmen's huts near Ramses VI's tomb...
     And a step that went down into the ground.

     Twelve steps were cleared away, and Carter discovered a sealed door.

*November 26, 1922 was the big day. Carter waited until his sponsor could arrive. Then, with Carnarvon and his daughter nearby...
    "Slowly, desperately slowly it seemed to us as we watched, the remains of passage debris that encumbered the lower part of the doorway were removed, until at last we had the whole door clear before us. [Carter wrote later] The decisive moment had arrived. With trembling hands I made a tiny breach in the upper left hand corner. Darkness and blank space, as far as an iron testing-rod could reach, showed that whatever lay beyond was empty, and not filled like the passage we had just cleared. Candle tests were applied as a precaution against possible foul gases, and then, widening the hole a little, I inserted the candle and peered in, Lord Carnarvon, Lady Evelyn [Lord Carnarvon's daughter] and Callender [an assistant] standing anxiously beside me to hear the verdict. At first I could see nothing, the hot air escaping from the chamber causing the candle flame to flicker, but presently, as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues, and gold - everywhere the glint of gold. 
     For the moment - an eternity it must have seemed to the others standing by - I was struck dumb with amazement, and when Lord Carnarvon, unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, 'Can you see anything?' it was all I could do to get out the words,
      'Yes, wonderful things.'

Carter and Carnarvon -- just before 

*It took eight full years to empty the tomb. Carter was so painstaking that he didn't even open the third chamber -- with Tutankhamun's sarcophagus -- until February 1923 -- three months after the tomb was first discovered. Why did it take so long? Because...

*The tomb was stuffed. Crammed full, even. Not because Tutankhamun's loved ones did more for him than other pharaohs -- in fact, a number of the items in his tomb seem to have been reused (with former inscriptions erased, and new ones affixed), or hurriedly gathered. What made this modest tomb special was --

    It is the first ancient Egyptian tomb discovered intact (or almost so) that we know of.
        Which makes you wonder -- what was in the tombs that were looted?

*Tut and his contemporaries had a thing about animals. Birds, too. You may have noticed the baboons in the tomb paintings above -- they were 'keepers of the calendar.' Other animals included lions, hippos...and a cow bed. Lest you think that too weird, the ancient Egyptians revered a bovine goddess that helped wayfarers toward heaven. The bed's inscriptions suggest it was made for Tut's use after death -- in other words, he could lie on it, face up, while she did her job.
     Hawks, falcons and other birds, including a long-handled ostrich feather fan (feathers gone, but with an inscription that Tut had hunted the birds himself in the desert of Heliopsis), were also part of the tomb. Granted, many of these entities had been translated into Egyptian gods and semi-deities. (Tut himself was considered a god. No surprise there, since Roman emperors, and many other leaders after them, have made similar claims.)

*No, there isn't a Curse of the Pharaohs. Or is there? Lord Carnarvon was dead within months of opening the tomb -- from a mosquito bite in Egypt that led to a fatal infection. (He was older and not in good health, to begin with.) The strange thing: at the moment of Carnarvon's death, his dog suddenly began howling, miles away.
    If the pharaohs were cursing anybody, it would have been Howard Carter -- but he continued to explore and excavate until his death in 1939. Although after the tomb's opening, a messenger sent to his house found Carter's pet canary being eaten by a cobra. A cobra: one of Egypt's sacred symbols of rule. (Weird, that.)
    There is another possibility: that breathing in the tomb's age-old air could reintroduce particulates and Other Stuff that haven't been around for thousands of years. Anthrax spores or other poisons, set as a subtle trap?  Strange airborne diseases? Unsettling thoughts.

*I have a strange connection to Lord Carnarvon. For that matter, you might, too. During grad school at the University of Michigan, I lived in the attic of the D'Arms family home. In return for my room and breakfast, I cleaned house and kept their young daughter company. (Lunch, too, if I came home at noon and walked the dog.)
     John D'Arms was a charmer -- an educated man, a brilliant jazz pianist, chair of the Classical Studies department and eventually the Dean of Michigan's Graduate School. His wife Teresa was a corporate lawyer, a snappy dresser, and just as educated and interesting as her husband. (They were very kind to this poor grad student...I remember them fondly.)
     She was also the oldest daughter of the novelist Evelyn Waugh --
                and a great-granddaughter, through her mother Laura, of the 4th Earl of Carnarvon, 'this' Lord Carnarvon's father. (Waugh actually married into the Carnarvon family twice--his first and second wives were related.)

     And if you're a fan of Downton Abbey...the Carnarvon dynasty was the inspiration for that popular television series.

*King Tut also has a connection to 20th century fabric. Nile Green was in use before the 20th century. But during the Depression Era, it was also one of quilting's most popular colors. This almost-grayed, almost-mint green was named for the tomb's discovery in 1922; it came in a wide variety of shades, changing as it moved toward the Forties. Go here to see it in person.
    Figures. Ancient Egyptians worked basically in six colors:
       red, blue, yellow, green, black and white.
                       (What, no purple or orange?!)
And yes, some of 'their' greens were very similar to Nile Green.

*Visit Tutankhamun's tomb virtually. If you can't make it to Egypt, this might be the next best thing. (Or go here for a full look.) A selection of items also do periodic tours of museums around the world. (The artifacts' home is in the Cairo Museum.)
     One of the strangest things about this: the modern photos (see the pyramid comment above) show he's still there. Buried in all that splendor, and it's gone. (There's a lesson there.)
     Now Tutankhamun's mummy lies in a plain glass case, with a linen sheet pulled up to his neck -- looking like a very skinny man trying to get some sleep on a humid summer night.

     At least they put him back in his original bedroom.

*There may be more waiting. In September 2015, Egyptian authorities announced that another chamber or corridor may be hidden outside Tut's burial chamber.  (Scans suggest an open space there.) No news yet, though the idea is intriguing.

If you want to learn more, try the links -- or the book I've been enjoying:

Treasures of Tutankhamun, a 1972 exhibition catalog by the British Museum. Tons of history, detailed descriptions and many photos -- much more than you can usually find. And it's only a penny right now on Amazon.

The unbroken seal of the third chamber, as seen in 1922

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