At the time of the Ancient Romans, large-scale tourism took place in Egypt: organized voyages allowed travellers to visit around forty tombs and monuments along the Nile valley. As for the workmen that the Romans said were killed to hide the tomb sites, far from being sacrificed, they succeeded each other from father to son, just like in the Middle Ages the secrets of stained glass and stone-cutting were transmitted from generation to generation. Certain documents found in the village of Deir el-Medineh even mention strikes which erupted on a worksite because the workmen and tradespeople of the necropolises were unhappy about their working conditions. These workmen also brought their whole families close to them, organizing themselves into real communities. We know what happens when a secret is known to thousands of people…
As we have seen, all of the necropolises had been regularly pillaged. In the XIth Century before the present era, resounding trials took place in the courts of the pharaohs to punish profaners. The only known exception is Tutankhamun’s tomb, which remained more or less intact. Thieves penetrated it only two or three times at most. Its site was very quickly forgotten, its existence unknown.
Nowhere, in the hieroglyphic manuscripts, is Tutankhamun mentioned, while the life and exploits of other pharaohs are recounted with sufficient chronological precisions and details for archaeologists to succeed in completely reconstituting the “calendar” of thirty dynasties which succeeded each other on the throne of the pharaohs, from around 2850 before the present era, until the conquest of Egypt by Alexander, in 332. So, the existence of a king named Tutankhamun would probably never have been known without the discovery, in 1906, by Theodore Davis, of a drinking bowl marked with his seal. Since then, no other trace of him has been found outside his tomb.
It is clear, as well, that Tutankhamun’s treasure, as luxurious as it appears to us, was not really very much at all, compared to those which must have accompanied the great pharaohs to their last resting places. A few comparisons are sufficient to convince us of this. In the Valley of the Kings, it is striking to visit, one after the other, the entrances to the tombs of Tutankhamun and Ramses VI. The sixteen steps which lead to Tutankhamun’s antechamber sink into the ground, between two walls like those of a cellar, vaguely cemented. The doors are only slabs devoid of any decoration. What do we see, on the contrary, on the walls of the staircase which leads to the funeral chamber of Ramses VI? Thousands of hieroglyphs and drawings… there is not one square decimetre left blank. Together, they form a porch, prolonged by a vault, which are just as richly decorated as those of our cathedrals.
As well as this, the necropolises of the great pharaohs are much vaster and more complex than that of Tutankhamun.
The tomb of Amenophis IV, who, according to the most currently held theories, reigned just before Tutankhamun, is divided into two labyrinths and a dozen rooms. That of Seti I, who is supposedly one of the successors to Tutankhamun, is on five different levels and counts seven great rooms and three little annexes.
Tutankhamun’s tomb appears very modest, in comparison, with its single staircase, its antechamber, its funeral chamber and its two annexes… It is therefore not an exaggeration to say that Tutankhamun had, for a pharaoh, a pauper’s funeral – everything is relative. A minor pharaoh, a despised pharaoh, or a cursed pharaoh?
So this “curse” of the pharaohs that has been so discussed, this curse which had, according to the “mystics”, caused the deaths of Lord Carnavon and other scholars, isn’t it rather a curse against Tutankhamun? A curse, not divine, but simply human, therefore ephemeral.
From avenger, Tutankhamun becomes victim. We read no gloomy prediction on the funeral inscriptions. On the contrary, it is said that “to pronounce the name of the deceased, is to make him live again”. The worst catastrophe, the most terrible punishment, in Ancient Egypt, is not to have the right to survive after death. Delinquents, criminals were, by law, thrown into the void. Their names had to be effaced from men’s memories. Tutankhamun would not have been treated differently if he had been a criminal. Perhaps he was, in the eyes of his contemporaries.
But, if we admit this hypothesis, what is Lord Carnavon’s crime? Far from receiving the curse of the pharaoh for having “disturbed” him in his eternal sleep, he must have, on the contrary, received his gratitude. On all of the funeral monuments, prayers invite the pilgrim or the simple passer-by to pronounce the name of the deceased “to give him back the breath of life”. Lord Carnavon and the others pulled Tutankhamun out of three millenia of oblivion. It is thanks to them that Tutankhamun lives again today in men’s memories, once more with the living.