On the 100th Anniversary of Opening King Tut’s Tomb, All That Glitzes Is Still Not Gold

In late 1922, archeologist Howard Carter and his workforce found a stone step underneath eons of sand in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. Carter had been looking for the tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun for over a decade and now he felt he had struck gold. He despatched phrase of his discovery to his patron, Lord Carnarvon, who embarked from England to be there when the tomb was opened.

Nearly precisely 100 years in the past, on November 26, 1922, Carter peered via a small breach in a nook of the door at the backside of the steps. The aristocrat requested, “Can you see anything?” and the Egyptologist replied, “Yes, wonderful things!”

Quick ahead to the late Seventies and King Tut’s treasures have been barnstorming their means throughout America, engendering turn-away crowds at every of the six U.S. museums that hosted the exhibition—comic Steve Martin scored a hit with a novelty song and Saturday Night Live performance parodying this Tut mania.

The Tut extravaganza made its final cease at the Metropolitan Museum of Artwork in December 1978, and the Voice despatched the artist, playwright, and all-around Renaissance lady, Rosalyn Drexler, to get the lowdown on all that glittered in historic Egypt. Drexler’s astute and sprightly prose captured the unimaginable sense of historical past inhabiting the objects whereas additionally conveying the absurdity of the surrounding hoopla.

Drexler was born on November 25, 1926, 4 years nearly to the day, after Tut’s tomb was opened, and she or he remains to be working right now. Completely happy Birthday to her, and right here’s hoping that Tut has discovered peace in his fame. —R.C. Baker


By Rosalyn Drexler
December 25, 1978

Three thousand years from now, when the archaeologists uncover my burial place, they’ll discover no gold, alabaster, lapis lazuli, or bits of effective linen clinging to my bones; they’ll discover a funky, green-satin quilted touring bag, a field of therapeutic minerals and nutritional vitamins, sweat pants, T-shirt, Nike trainers, an Olympic barbell set, a Royal typewriter, a ream of 60 per cent rag paper, an adjustable secretarial chair, and a phone e-book— all a commoner-writer-athlete must take together with her to the different world. I’m not even certain I’ll want all that stuff…does a skeleton have to maintain in form? And what ideas would a field of bones need to document? You see, the Egyptians knew the worth of maintaining physique and soul aside, preserving the physique simply in case one had to make use of it once more. Decay and putrefaction was the enemy. These days, who has time to soak in brine for 70 days? The glad thought {that a} useless particular person was merely going to take up residence elsewhere led the Egyptians to populate the tombs along with his or her possessions, not neglecting to incorporate many servants (in the form of small faience dolls known as shawabty) packed tightly into picket packing containers, one foreman to a crew of ten…didn’t you realize that there’s guide labor in heaven, as an example, oiling the chariot of the solar god Ra.

Tutankhamun, often known as the boy king as a result of he was about 11 when he ascended the throne, went to the West at the tender age of (historians assume) 20, thus carrying the double crown of higher and Decrease Egypt for a mere 9 years. There may be some doubt as to who Tut’s father was…was Tut Akhenaton’s son? Or his youthful brother? Was his mom Nefertiti? Did he marry his father’s third daughter who was his sister? Did his father take his personal daughters to mattress when Nefertiti stated no? Did Tut inherit Akhenaton’s elongated cranium? Anyway, after Akhenaton died, his son Smenkhkara dominated for some time, and after Smenkhkara died, Tut held the criminal and flail. Instantly, the monks packed all his toys away, and shaved his head (saving the small bundles of hair in an alabaster casket to be put into his tomb when he died) in order that the pharaoh’s wig and crown might be positioned upon his head. All this occurred someplace round 1334 B.C. After an uneventful reign, the boy king died all of the sudden, mysteriously, precipitously, and suspiciously…possibly poisoned…presumably a political determination…it left him with no tomb to name his personal, in order that they put him into one which was being ready for his aged vizier, who was Nefertiti’s father and presumably his grandfather. Into this lower than grand collection of necro-chambers went all the extravagant and exquisite issues a pharaoh would wish on his journey via eternity: Anubis, the jackal god of embalming; Hathor, the cow who suckles the younger and likewise guides useless souls via the portals of heaven; a chariot (unassembled, and with out directions enclosed); a inflexible stool with picket seat painted to resemble a leopard pores and skin; artfully carved canopic jars of alabaster containing the younger king’s guts (Tut guts); 20 kilos of gold masks inlaid with carnelian, quartz, obsidian, inexperienced feldspar, and turquoise; alabaster lamps to mild the means; sleek goddesses, their arms outstretched to guard a shrine holding mummified stays; a demigod in the type of a gilded serpent, and plenty of containers of baked clay holding provisions for the lengthy journey.

The query is, why are all these private treasures in New York, at the Metropolitan Museum of Artwork, as an alternative of with the solar god Ra? Has this been the boy king’s vacation spot all alongside? Is this the hereafter in spite of everything? On this, the land of the useless, a Thermo­Hygrometer retains the temperature at 50 levels in every one of the sealed glass show circumstances, and the entrance to the antechamber is protected by observe lighting. I, as an harmless viewer, was reassured by the managed environment, and was moderately certain that the curse of the gods wouldn’t strike me useless: Lord Carnarvon, who together with Howard Carter found Tut’s tomb, was bitten by a mosquito at Luxor quickly after and died, confirming the superstition that they who disturb the ashes of departed Egyptians incur the wrath of the gods. I somewhat assume the sale of Tutankhamun souvenirs may try this: An “exact” duplicate of the goddess Selket, who in the unique wears a sleek, flowing, pleated tunic that’s nearly clear in its delicacy, however right here seems opaque and clumsy, as if the goddess have been the end result of a do-it-yourself equipment in the fingers of a baboon, going for $1850.

Fortunately, it’s unattainable to translate some of the finest artwork, as an example an distinctive ivory headrest that has no parallel in all of Egyptian artwork (that’s what it says in the illustrated brochure); Shu, god of the air, holds the curved assist for the head.

In keeping with legend, Shu introduced chaos to an finish at the creation of the universe by elevating the sky excessive above the earth; this motion needed to be maintained constantly for in any other case the sky would fall and chaos would return. To point that the base of the headrest represents the earth, the artist has included two lions, symbolizing the mountains on the japanese and western horizons between which the solar rose and set. I first heard rumors that the sky was falling from Rooster Little who additionally predicted, on the White Home garden, that nuclear bombs would make it fall even sooner…Shu and Rooster Little knew what they have been speaking about.

Treasures of Tutankhamun is a glitzy, spotless, good, ‘WOW’ vacationer attraction non-pareil, that’s the hardest ticket on the town, however you gained’t discover any solutions to the pressing philosophical questions of life and demise there. And why must you? That is an artwork present. But the present is impersonal. Observing the priceless objects, conventional although superior tomb stuff, one doesn’t obtain an intimation of what the boy king was actually like (not that I desire a videotape of his sleeping habits, or what foot he used to kick his canines with)…it’s as if Tutankhamen himself is extraneous…solely his possessions of curiosity. It might have been significant if he may have been current, in mummified type of course. In images, he has a pleasing, relaxed expression in spite of protruding tooth, his fingers folded throughout his chest, his royal genital preserved for all to see (and understand that right here was a person). We’ve at all times been fascinated by mummies, tombs, historic rites, demise itself…Nevertheless, this exhibition is a denial of demise: no mud, no decay, no hand of an artisan revealing it­self as uncertain.

An admission: I may hardly have a look at all these treasures with out wanting to the touch them. I had a definite urge to plunder the exhibit; the vandal in me was solely restrained by tight safety, and years of civilized patterning. By the time I reached the memento space, I used to be prepared for motion. Solely a scarcity of funds, and a extremely developed sense of what high quality merchandise actually is, saved me from buying large portions of tomorrow’s kitsch…I settled for 5 postcards at 20 cents every.

To accommodate this exhibition, a very good half of the everlasting Egyptian assortment of the museum is now saved behind locked doorways…a terrific deal of it is not going to be seen once more till 1980. This can be a loss…statues of the first feminine pharaoh, Hatshepsut, are ready in the wings, together with a lot jewellery of the 18th dynasty, the papyrus copybooks of youngsters, letters, toys, and many others.

What I did see of the everlasting assortment was great, and extra superb and satisfying than the Tut present: Pages from The Guide of the Useless superbly illustrated with drawings and hieroglyphics, lots of of shards, some solely as large as your fingernail, painted with lotus and papyrus design, a small golden ring that had adorned the infantile hand of Tut, the pores and skin and bones of a gazelle (curled comfortably in demise) that had been the pet of a princess and was buried together with her, many monumental mummy circumstances painted in and out with symbols, gods and hieroglyphics, a pair of tiny carved animals, a carved group of two males and one boy who seem like glad, heads with pale carved fingers as headdresses, goddesses suckling toddler pharaohs as they’ve all through historical past, determine sketches on fragments, so free they look like fashionable…

So, in the event you can’t get to see Treasures of Tutankhamun, don’t really feel too dangerous, see the different Egyptian artwork at the Met, stroll beside the waters at the Temple of Dendur, traverse the hall resulting in the everlasting Egyptian assortment, it’s lined with wall friezes that remind one of the glory that continues to be in the Valley of the Kings…and understand that historical past is individuals, that folks make artwork, and that artwork lives! Nearly without end.   ❖


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This text from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 23, 2022

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