On 4 November 1922 in Egypt, a stone step that was cut into the rock was found, possibly by a young water carrier (the eventual account of the find is nebulous). The step was in the valley known 1,300 years ago as “The Great and Majestic Necropolis of the Millions of Years of the Pharaoh, Life, Strength, Health in The West of Waset“. The possible boy ‘may’ have been Hussein Abd El Rassul, or possibly Mohamed Gorgar (mentioned by Karl Kitchen). An Ahmed Gerigar was a ‘Rais’ – a foreman at the site. As Arabic transliterations often vary – the 2nd name may be the same in Arabic . Or was it actually a ‘water boy’ who found it – Carter wasnt even in the valley when the step was found. His excavation team had many years experence excavating the valley and would surely have found a hidden step rather than a chance find.
This step was one of a series that led down to a doorway that had been sealed with numerous cartouches, some stamped with the throne name of a Pharaoh, ‘Nebkheperura’.
The door blocked the entrance into a tomb, that of Nebkheperura himself, more commonly known today as Tutankhamun and the valley is today called the Valley of the Kings.
Tutankhamun lived around 3,300 years ago – becoming ruler of Egypt in around 1345BC & dying around 1335BC (other dates have been suggested). During his reign the religion of Egypt underwent a sea-change, the country again used military force to consolidate & expand its southern & northeastern borders and a substantial number of building projects were undertaken. Despite all these – it is his tomb that Tutankhamun is most remembered for.
The Valley of the Kings lies just on the western edge of the Nile flood plain, at Luxor, that ancient town which was called Waset. It’s an easy 10km cycle ride from the town.
One early morning I set off, to be in the Valley before it became crowded with other tourists. My route passed the Colossi of Memnon, a pair of statues of Amenhotep III, Tutankhamun’s grandfather.
The original entrance of Amenhotep’s, now-ruined, Mortuary Temple is guarded by them. On my first visit to Egypt, in 1985, these stood in an isolated situation, miles from Luxor. Today, a tongue of housing has reached out from the Nile and lies at their vast feet.
All my peddling took me along the length of the temple’s grounds, past the recently publicised ‘Golden City/Dazzling Aten’, built during Amenhotep’s rule. Then it was onto the valley.
On 26 November 1922 a viewing hole into Tutankamun’s tomb was made. It went through a 2nd sealed doorway. However, life moved slowly 100 years ago. It wasn’t until 16 February 1923 that Howard Carter, who lead the excavations of Tutankhamun’s tomb, opened the doorway into the next room, which contained the shrines, 5 in all. Such was the style of life also that Hussein Abdel-Rassoul might have actually been a house boy in Howard Carter’s house.
They contained the coffins and the body of Tutankhamun. Remarkably, no further work was done before work finished for the ‘season’.
Work inside the tomb restarted on 19 November 1923 & by 22 November the first plans of the shrines were made and work on their removal could start within days. The politics of the period swirling around this excavation led to Carter calling a halt to work. It recommenced on 12 October 1925 – almost 3 years after the initial discovery.
The 3 coffins were disassembled and eventually, on 28 October 1925, the now-famous mask of Tutankhamun was revealed.
The Egyptian government is in the process of removing the artefacts found in Tutankhamun’s tomb from The Egyptian Museum, off Tahrir Square. They will be transferred into the new Grand Egyptian Museum, about 3kms from the Giza Pyramids.
This transfer is the situation I found on my visit. Here, Eid Mertah and his team of conservationists are literally wrapping objects in tissue paper for the move. They are disassembling the outer shrine, made of gold leaf and faience, with its decorative Djed pillars and Isis knots. Then it will be transported to its new home, of perhaps another few thousand years. The inner shrines had already disappeared from The Egyptian Museum. Fortunately for visitors, Tutankhamun’s gold mask was still on display.
However, Tutankhamun’s image is not only found in these museums and his tomb.
In the relatively new National Museum of Egyptian Civilization is a granite statue of Khonsu, Waset’s God of the Moon. The statue was found at Karnak Temple and is said to have the facial features of Tutankhamun.
Irrespective of any resemblance, it’s a fantastic statue created by superbly skilled craftspeople.
With the 100th anniversary of Tutankhamun’s tomb’s discovery, perhaps part of the Grand Egyptian Museum will open in November. Hopefully, the authorities will also announce the opening date of this museum, for the general public, in 2023.