The Egyptians are finally being recognized for their involvement in the discovery of King Tut's tomb
By: April Carson
While British archaeologist Howard Carter is credited with finding Tutankhamun's tomb, the Egyptians who did most of the work remain largely unknown.
The "Tutankhamun: Excavating the Archive" exhibition at the University of Oxford's Bodleian libraries, running until Feb. 5, 2023, is showcasing photos of the Egyptians who discovered King Tutankhamun's tomb in an effort to honor them.
The exhibition includes more than 100 original photographs of the excavation team, many of which have never been seen before. The images depict the Egyptians archaeologists, workers and water carriers who toiled alongside Carter in the 1920s to uncover Tutankhamun's tomb in the Valley of the Kings.
The images on display demonstrate Egyptians during most of the excavation, as well as an Egyptian medical professional present for Tutankhamun's autopsy. One photo depicts a child wearing some of Tut's jewelry, and another frame contains a scene of American and European archaeologists taking their meal near the excavation while being waited on by Egyptians. These new images help to tell the story of Tutankhamun's tomb from a more complete perspective, one that includes the vital role played by the Egyptians in its discovery.
The Egyptian government has been working hard in recent years to try and rectify the historical record when it comes to Tutankhamun's tomb. They have sought to dispel the notion that Howard Carter and his team were the sole discoverers of the tomb, and have instead worked to highlight the role played by Egyptian workmen in the excavation.
The curators of the exhibition stated that we are unaware of the majority of Egyptian names who excavated the tomb. Daniela Rosenow, a project officer at the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at University of Oxford said the following via email regarding Carter's foremen: "We only know four foremen employed by Carter, as he published their names and thanked them. Those men were Ahmed Gerigar, Gad Hassan, Hussein Abu Awad and Hussein Ahmed."
"The four men were all from Luxor and had worked as excavators for many years. They were experienced in tomb construction and knew a great deal about the Valley of the Kings," Rosenow said.
Mohamed Saleh Hamdi Bey, an Egyptian medical doctor present during Tutankhamun's autopsy, and Hussein Abd el-Rassul, a water boy who allegedly found the tomb first or among the earliest explorers, are two more notable figures from that time. However, in most situations, contemporary exhibition curators cannot identify these men from the photographs.
"The discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb is a story that has been told many times, but it is always from the perspective of the Europeans who were there at the time," Rosenow said.
A number of Egyptologists told Live Science that Carter had a colonial mindset and tended not to treat the Egyptians as equals. "I think he was generally arrogant … not only against Egyptians but also against other nationalities," Usama Gad, a tenured lecturer of papyrology and comparative literature at Ain Shams University in Cairo, told Live Science in an email. "He abused most of his teams' efforts and work."
During the excavation of Tutankhamun's tomb, Carter oversaw a work force of more than 600 Egyptians. However, in a letter to his friend and patron, Lord Carnarvon, he wrote that he "had to guard against" the Egyptian workers as they were "thieving scoundrels."
Zahi Hawass, former minister of antiquities in Egypt stated that one of Carter's most significant wrongdoings was how he treated Egyptians. When interviewed by Live Science, Hawass said via email,"One of Carter's biggest mistakes was how he treated Egyptians." While he was in charge, Hawass didn't allow any Egyptian officials to visit the tomb. He wanted to open the burial chamber and sarcophagus with just his team and their wives--an act which tension between Carter and Egypt's then-minister of antiquities, Morcos Hanna. As a result, Carter was eventually dismissed from 1924. However, after Egypt's government changed 1925, Carter was allowed go back resuming work at the site.
Egypt officially became independent from British rule in 1922, but even after gaining sovereignty, Britain still had a lot of sway. "It was hard for Egyptians striving for genuine independence to see Tutankhamun's tomb under the control of foreigners," Peter Der Manuelian, an Egyptology professor at Harvard University explained in his book "Walking Among Pharaohs: George Reisner and the Dawn of Modern Egyptology."
As Hawass states, Egyptian archaeologists now lead and manage most major excavation projects. "Our work and excavations are now viewed with admiration by foreign teams," said Hawass. "We're not against working with foreigners, but we can compete."
Gad said that although many decades have passed since Egypt's colonization, foreigners are still dominating various aspects of Egyptian life. "The colonial legacy is heavy on the ground and cannot be undone in just a few years," Gad said. "Sidelining Egyptians is continuing unabated."
He also said that the current situation is "rosy" for those who want to study ancient Egypt, as more excavation sites are being uncovered and there are more opportunities to do so. "It's a great time to be an archaeologist," Gad said.
But he cautioned that with this increase in activity comes greater responsibility to protect and conserve these sites. "We need to do a better job of taking care of what we have," Gad said. "If we don't, the next generation won't have anything to study."
In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the role that Egyptians played in the discovery of King Tut's tomb.
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About the Blogger:
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
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