The doors to the wooden catafalque are only closed by ebony latches, which are easy to open. Howard Carter is worried that Tutankhamun’s mummy might not have been respected.
He opens the two door panels. Then breathes a sigh of relief; he has before him a second chest, locked in the same way; but, between the two door panels, appears, intact, Tutankhamun’s seal, with the royal mark, the jackal Anubis lying on nine prisoners, the nine enemies of Egypt. Never, since the pharoah’s burial, has this chest been opened. Carter and Carnavon are now sure of it. They are triumphant. They have discovered a royal burial more or less intact, with its hardly touched treasures, its sarcophages and its mummy.
Walking around the catafalque, they notice, in a corner, the little low door of which we have spoken. They note that it is a simple unlocked opening, which leads to a new chamber, four metres by three metres fifty. This is where the greatest marvels of Egyptian archaeology have been buried for more than thirty centuries.
Firstly, a new chest of gilded wood, surmounted by sculpted cobras crowned with a solar disc. On each wall, the statue of a nearly-naked woman, covered only by a light veil which moulds her forms, her arms extended in a gesture of protection – or of possession: the goddess of death. It will be later known that this chest contains the pharaoh’s internal organs, in alabaster vases.
Placed on another chest, a statue of the jackal-god Anubis. On a pedestal, a bull’s head with long pointed horns. Against the walls, a whole fleet of boats, of which one, the biggest, painted in bright colours, possesses a central cabin and a mast from which still hang two spars. Four complete promenade chariots, two hunting carriages in pieces. And above all, piled on sledges, an unnumerable quantity of the most diverse objects: home utensils, like a hand seed grinder, sieves; toiletry articles, like boxes with mirrors; writing equipment, with little ivory pots and slabs of black and red ink, and the reed which served as a pen; statuettes, fans; medicines; and jewellery, including a big scarab in lapis-lazuli, earrings, gold bracelets decorated with stones, turquoises, amethysts, jades, cornalines; sceptres. A whole pile of objects which will allow the archaeologists to reconstitute the everyday life of the Ancient Egyptians better than they had ever been able to do before. For these are the pharaoh’s personal things which are assembled here, those he used in his everyday life, or with which he adorned himself, and which had to follow him into death, until the day when, according to the prediction, he will live again…
The list is very long of all the riches discovered by Carter and Carnavon in this room, which they immediately baptise “treasure room”. It will take ten years for Carter and his collaborators to list everything. And the archaeologist will never find time to write a detailed catalogue. So, even today, there is no work in which we can find the integral description of the objects found within the four rooms which compose Tutankhamun’s necropolis.
For a few days, Lord Carnavon has been complaining about a mosquito sting. The itchiness, banal at first, is getting worse. He tells Carter:
“At night, it bothers me so much that I can’t sleep.”
Shaving infects the wound, glands swell at the angle of his jaw. In the middle of March, Carnavon returns to Cairo to be treated. It is not too late: the doctors manage to get rid of the infection. But Carnavon leaves the hospital too soon. At the hotel, he is again feverish and his face becomes marbled with redness, a sort of erysipelas. Carter writes in his Memoires:
“Throughout these three long weeks of suffering and misery, Lord Carnavon conserved his traditional courage. The letters he wrote to me showed that he had all his wits about him. However, he was under no illusion, or rather he no longer believed in his chances. He told a friend:
‘I’ve heard the call, I’m ready.'”
At the end of the month, a pulmonary congestion accompanied by a 40 degree temperature and delirium, appear. He is starting to die and Lord Carnavon keeps saying:
‘A bird is clawing at my face.’
His son, Lord Porchester, an officer in the Indian Army, is informed. Carnavon was so well-known throughout the whole world by then, that Lord Porchester obtains, without too much difficulty, that a boat, which was not supposed to stop at Alexandria, make a detour there. During the whole crossing, he has prayers for his father’s salvation said by the Muslim passengers crowded on the bridge.
The young man arrives in Cairo in the evening of 4 April. A few hours later, Lord Carnavon succumbs in his arms, without having recognized him. Here is how Le Figaro announces Carnavon’s death, in its edition dated 6 April 1923:
“The events have proven the predictions of the fellahs to be right. The man who discovered Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s hypogeum has been the victim of subterranean divinities. Lord Carnavon is no more. And the menaces of the Egyptian High Priests against the profaners of mummies have come true…”
The New York Herald is much more sceptical.
“Lord Carnavon, who still had a heavy task to accomplish, loses his combat against death”
is this American newspaper’s title. And in subtitle:
“Mystics evoke the legend of the vengeance of the pharaohs against tomb violaters.”
The New York Herald ironises:
“Who will succeed Lord Carnavon in sorting out the mysteries of Tutankhamun’s tomb? That is the question which preoccupies European scholars and historians much more than that of knowing if he had been a victim of the mysterious curse against profaners of necropolises. Superstitious people are adamant that Lord Carnavon was punished. The absurdity of these stories is only too evident when it is known that the tomb had been forced a very long time ago and that precious vases had been stolen.”
To be continued.