Lord Carnavon

In 1903, when Carnavon arrives in Cairo and pays a visit to the Director of the Egyptian capital’s museum, Professor Gaston Maspero, archaeologists have one near-certainty and one regret.  They consider that the Valley of the Kings has delivered all its secrets.  They have never succeeded in discovering an unviolated tomb and a complete collection of the funeral objects which should accompany the bodies of the pharaohs.  Pr Maspero is therefore rather sceptical when Lord Carnavon tells him that he intends to undertake new digs.  Even so, he suggests that he take Howard Carter as his assistant.

The two men, who will work together for twenty years, get on well right from the start.  Carnavon writes:

“Carter is not only an expert egyptologist, he is also a delicate artist full of imagination, and also a true friend to me…”

Carter is convinced that there are still things to discover in the Valley of the Kings.  In 1906, a find by another archaeologist, Theodore Davis, an American lawyer possessed by the demon of archaeology, will feed Carter’s dreams.  One day, Davis picks up a little blue earthenware bowl, hidden under a rock.

He scrapes off the soil which coats the object.  In a rectangular frame, an inscription appears.  A new name, which figures in no manual of Ancient Egyptian History, a name of which no archaeologist has ever heard:  Tutankhamun.  But, in spite of careful searching, Davis finds nothing else.

A year passes.  Davis is still searching.  Near a tomb, many times explored, his workers disengage a sort of chamber carved out of the rock.  It is full of mud up to the ceiling.  He has it cleaned.  Right at the bottom, a wooden chest, broken on two sides, appears.  In the chest, there are gold leaves.  And on the gold leaves, for the second time, the name of Tutankhamun.  Three days later, a new discovery, at the bottom of a shaft, about one hundred metres away, pieces of vases, bandelettes, bits of cloth, a few necklaces and clay jars marked with the same Tutankhamun seal.  Davis decides to send these vestiges to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to have them analysed.  Response of the experts:  you have found material used for the funeral of King Tutankhamun; approximative date, 1350 before the present era.

***

In her book Toutankhamon, Christine Desroches-Noblecourt places in exergue this sentence from the German egyptologist, Walterh Wolf:

“Nowhere, is the temptation to write a novel, rather than a chapter of History, as strong as here, and that is why we must show the greatest prudence in the exploitation of all these documents.”

Carter estimed that it was impossible to date with precision when Tutankhamun had lived.  He wrote:

“In the present state of our knowledge, we are able to say with certainty that the only remarkable fact in his existence, is that he died and was buried.”

Many egyptologists, even today, share Carter’s opinion and consider all the hypotheses, all the attempts at reconstitution of the life of Tutankhamun, as pure products of imagination.  Christine Desroches-Noblecourt writes:

“No document has yet permitted us to leave the domain of hypothesis to establish when Tutankhaton (this is supposedly the first name borne by the young prince, transformed into Tutankhamun at his accession to the throne of Egypt) was born, and by whom he was raised.”

To begin with, no-one has succeeded in determining with certainty the dates of Tutankhamun’s reign, which is supposed to have lasted nine or ten years.  Certain egyptologists situate it between the years 1369 and 1360 before the present era.  Others, like Otto Neubert, between 1358-57 and 1350-49.  A third group – and Christine Desroches-Noblecourt considers that it is the closest to the truth – envisage his accession to the throne around 1352 or 1351 and his death in 1344 or 43.  In any case, he seems to have succeeded one of the most prestigious pharaohs, Amenophis IV, also known as Akhenaton.  Amenophis IV was perhaps the father of the young Tutankhaton.  But none of this has ever been able to be verified.  With all necessary reservations, we are therefore going to examine the theory generally admitted as being the most likely.

***

Amenophis IV-Akhenaton, supposed father of Tutankhaton-Tutankhamun, occupies a particular place in the History of the pharaohs.  He is sometimes called “the mystic”, sometimes “the heretic”.  He is in fact the author of the most audacious attempt at religious revolution in Ancient Egypt.

Amenophis III surrounds himself with scholars who combat the power of the priests of the all-powerful god, Amun, all the more feared as he is mysterious.  He is the “hidden god”, who sees all without being seen and who allows the priests to dominate the public life of their time, through the terror that they inspire with the name of this god of whom they are the servants.

The young prince does not like this domination.  Does he plot against them?  We don’t know.  However, his father, well before dying, accepts to share his power with him.  Egypt then lives under a co-regency of father and son.  Amenophis IV, who marries the famous Nefertiti, leaves Thebes to better escape the power of the priests.  He founds a new city and the bases of a new religion.  The city, his capital, will be called Akhet-Aten, “Horizon of the Globe”, and it will be consecrated to a new god, Aton, the sun-god.  Amenophis IV takes the name of Akhenaton – the servant of Aton.  Religious quarrel?  Perhaps…  But above all a political fight, the first great historical battle, perhaps, between temporal power and spiritual power, the attempt of a king to thwart the power of a Church…  The new religion will be stripped of all the magical trickery which assured the empire of the priests over the faithful, the multitude of secondary gods who surround Amun is banished from the temples;  Aton is the one and only god…   And from now on, all men will be equal in the sight of Aton.  It really is a revolution in the theocratic and feudal society of Egypt.

To be continued.

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