Monday, April 30, 2012

The Carter Carnarvon Connection

 At the heart of the Golden Age of Egyptology stands archaeologist Howard Carter a talented artist with a keen eye for beautiful objects and the good fortune to excavate the tombs of a number of kings in the Valley of the Kings including the semi-intact tomb of Tutankhamun with it's beautifully preserved objects.

The former head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities has praised Howard Carter for his work on the tomb though a series of great men took part in the excavation including the Metropolitan Museum of Art expedition photographer Harry Burton, who's photos of the excavation are now famous.

The problems really started in the early 1920's during a dispute between Howard Carter and the head of the Egyptian antiquities service Pierre Lacau who suspected that Carter and his financier Lord Carnarvon were smuggling out objects from Tutankhamun's tomb believing that the contents of the tomb belonged to them and not Egypt's antiquities service.

During the dispute an Egyptian inventory commission was sent to the Valley of the Kings to inspect the site and found in the excavations dining hall,  in a wine box the commission discovered a small wooden head of the boy king emerging from a blue lotus seaming to confirm the suspicion of the Egyptian authorities that all was not on the up with the excavation and the head was taken immediately to the Cairo Egyptian Museum.

The 1978 bestseller "Tutankhamun: The Untold Story" by the late director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Thomas Hoving, brought forward the knowledge that within the Metropolitan museum, as well as the Brooklyn museum, were objects from Tutankhamun's tomb including gold and silver coffin nails and rosettes from the pall which was destroyed during the excavation.

The matter of "pocket objects" being smuggled from the tomb is likely though both Carter and Carnarvon may have felt the objects belonged to them. When one looks around at the artifacts pointed out by Mr. Hoving one sees well preserved works of art belonging in quality to the royal workshops and being listed as in the Carnarvon collection before 1923 not a huge detraction to the obvious question including a small ivory gazelle and an ivory whip stock shaped as a running horse.

In Brooklyn we find still more wonderful objects but for me it is the excellent preserved writing palette of princess Meketaten in the Met which is complete with it's brushes and perhaps most exemplifies the issue of objects that potentially have had their provenances washed away for personal ownership?

Curious is the idea that Howard Carter found a similar ivory palette but made for princess Merytaten in Tutankhamun's tomb interesting that Meketaten's palette is listed as in the Canarvon collection prior 1923 and Howard Carter found Merytaten's palette in Tut's tomb. What are the odds that two well preserved palettes for two of Tutankhamun's sisters would come in contact with the Carter/Carnarvon connection at approximately the same time as the excavation of the tomb is taking place?

 So if Carter/Carnarvon were pocketing objects from Tutankhamun's tomb (KV62). Then what is to say the aforementioned ivory gazelle is not actually from the rubble of Amenhotep III's tomb (WV22),  which Howard Carter also excavated, or KV 20 the tomb of Hatschepsut, or KV43 tomb of Thutmosis IV which he also cleared? If he practiced the activity of pocket collecting in Tutankhamun's tomb than it seems a given that this was probably already a practice he used in past excavations? 

Curious to know if the missing parts of the ivory gazelle are in any of these tombs rubbish material whether left at the scene or collected, perhaps the gazelle was a cherished childhood possession of Hatshepsut!

Howard Carter was a man of great fortune who played a large part in the early days of modern Egyptology. His excavations of the early 20th century would be the envy of any Egyptologist today however his corpus of objects found and excavation reports of any of his excavations need re-examining in the future to winnow out any lost provenances that can potentially be recovered from Carter's records and his associates records including Lord Carnarvon and his associates.

An examination on the career of Howard Carter may yet reveal an ugly and well known practice by him which will more than likely altered a number of his discoveries for worse.

Photo: Dalbera 
Thomas Hoving, Tutankhamun The Untold Story, ISBN 0-671-24305-5
I.E.S. Edwards, The Treasures of Tutankhamun, catalogue #19, Penguin Books, 1977, ISBN 0 14 00.4287 3
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Brooklyn Museum

Friday, April 20, 2012

3400 Year Old Book of the Dead

The British Museum's curator Dr John Taylor has located pieces of a New Kingdom book of the dead that once belonged to a high priest of Amun in around 1420 bc. The fragments are kept in the Queensland Museum but there are other pieces in various collections around the world.

The ancient Egyptian book of the dead is a continuation of the even older pyramid texts of the Old Kingdom as well as the coffin texts of Egypt's Middle Kingdom. Each book of the dead is different in the spells from the Theban recession they contain to help the dead through the underworld.

When new the book would have been very costly and placed either in the tomb or frequently within the coffin or even wrapped in with the mummy. When found King Tutankhamun was not in possession of a book of the dead

The book came to light in the nineteenth century and apparently taken apart at that time. The museum staff are delighted to have the significant document in their collection and that now the document can be published in it's entirety.

Photo Courtesy: 612 ABC Brisbane

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The First Wonder

First occurrence of Sed jubilee

Year 2 second month of the first season, day 3

This wonder which happened to his majesty : that the beasts of the highlands came down to him; there came a gazelle great with young, going with the face of the people before her, while her eyes looked backward; she did not turn back until she arrived at this august mountain, at this block, it still being in place, for this lid of this sarcophagus. She dropped her young upon it while the army of the king was looking. Then they cut off her neck before it and brought fire. It descended in safety.

Now, it was the majesty of this august god, lord of the highlands, who gave the offering to his son, Nibtowere, Mentuhotep IV, living forever, in order that his heart might be joyful, that he might live upon his throne forever and ever, that he might celebrate millions of Sed Jubilees.

The hereditary prince, count, governor of the city and vizier, chief of all nobles of judicial office, supervisor of everything in this whole land, the vizier Amenemhet.

James Breasted: The Documentary Sources of Egyptian history