The RedState Department of History has always enjoyed good comedy. Not the nasty stuff we see today, mind you, but good old-fashioned funny stuff.
One of our favorites is Steve Martin, who carved out a great career for himself in film after becoming a breakout standup star in the 1970s and 80s.
Along the way, he ventured into music. In 1978 his recording “King Tut” reached number 17 on the Billboard charts and brought renewed attention to the song’s “boy king”.
As we listened to our oldies station last week and heard the song, we were left to remark on today’s anniversary – the 1922 discovery of King Tut’s tomb by Howard Carter.
Carter was born in London in 1874 and was a relative latecomer to the field of Egyptology. By that time, Egypt was under British occupation and as such, numerous explorers and archaeologists had spent time searching for the treasures of Egypt’s pharaohs.
The one missing, of course, was Tutankhamun. Reigning for nine years before dying at age eighteen, finding the remains of the “boy king” had long fascinated Egyptologists.
Carter, who was seen as a rising star in the field, was hired by George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert, known more formally as Lord Carnarvon, to find Tut’s tomb. He started looking in Egypt’s famed “Valley of the Kings” in 1914 after being granted a license.
The Valley was known to the Egyptians in hieroglyphs as “The Great and Majestic Necropolis of the Millions of Years of the Pharaoh, Life, Strength, Health in the West of Thebes, ” or simply “The Great Field”. It was thought to be inaccessible to grave robbers, and for nearly 3,000 years, it was.
However, that was about to change. The First World War put a temporary end to Carter’s search, for obvious reasons, but in 1919, he was back on site.
Discovery proved elusive, however, and after three years, Carnarvon was ready to end the expedition. Carter asked for one more year, and after receiving his last chance, received credit for an amazing discovery.
He had done a grid search of the areas in the Valley where nothing had yet been found. Finally, a young water-bearer was digging holes in the sand with a stick when he hit something solid. He told Carter, who arrived with more substantial equipment.
They found a stairway leading down to a sealed door and a secret chamber. That set off a communication to England, from whence Carnarvon came running.
“At last have made wonderful discovery in Valley; a magnificent tomb with seals intact; re-covered same for your arrival; congratulations.”
On November 26, the two opened the sealed door to reveal an amazing sight, as Carter recalled:
“Details of the room emerged slowly from the mist. . . strange animals, statues and gold—everywhere, the glint of gold.”
They had found the antechamber. After carefully cataloging and removing material, the team opened the door to Tutankhamun’s burial chamber.
In February 1923, that door was opened. Even more incredible finds awaited:
The room was found to be entirely taken up with three nested shrines. Deep inside these lay a series of gold sarcophagi, at the heart of which lay the mummy of King Tut wearing his golden funerary mask. Abutting the burial chamber was another, smaller room, which became known as the Treasury. Containing the most precious of Tutankhamun’s royal possessions, it had successfully eluded grave robbers for an astonishing 3,000 years.
Within months of the discovery, Carnarvon was dead, from a mosquito bite which had become infected. This and other odd occurrences led to what is now called “The Curse of the Pharaoahs.” Contrary to popular belief, no curse was found in Tut’s tomb, but Carnarvon’s death gave rise to a cultural phenomenon.
The find, in a word, made Howard Carter. He lived to age 64 — he had been quite sickly in his youth and eventually succumbed to lymphoma — but not until he had catalogued every item found in the tomb and embarked on a worldwide tour to speak of his find and of Egyptology in general.
Tut himself had been a comparatively unremarkable Pharoah, but the discovery of his tomb set off a worldwide sensation. Thanks to the doggedness of Howard Carter and his team, he is now well known to history, and gave Steve Martin a top-20 single.
Happy Sunday and enjoy today’s open thread!