Tag Archives: Ancient Egypt

Tutankhamen – Joyce Tyldesley

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Tutankhamen’s grave, in the Valley of the Kings, nearly went undiscovered. The Egyptologist who held the sole concession to excavate there for twelve years declared he had found a dusty tomb that was Tut’s final resting place and that it had long ago been emptied of artifacts and mummy. But when Lord Carnarvon and his hired archaeologist, Howard Carter, succeeded in grabbing the concession, they sifted the clues of those who worked the site before them and homed in on a likely spot.

Joyce Tyldesley writes a detailed adventure story of the hunt for King Tut’s remains and the painstaking process of recovering them in Tutankhamen: The Search for an Egyptian King. Your brain will get a rigorous workout keeping track of all the permutations of Nefertiti, Amenhotep, Tutankhamen, Tutankhaten, Tutankhamun, Hatshepsut, Ankesenamen and the rest of the royal band but your sense of story will be satisfied.

It’s a good story—even if many of the specifics remain elusive and a general disregard for fastidious archaeology was widespread at the time. The time is the turn of the last century when Britannia ruled and the expeditionary hobbies of the wealthy led to digging up deserts and plundering the ancient heritage of less prosperous lands. Egypt, with its tourist-friendly pyramids and legends of pharoah gold, was fertile pickings but the Tutankhamen discovery was blessed with a patron and an archaeologist who went to extraordinary lengths to protect their finds.

And they were blessed with the richest trove and most intact royal burial chamber to be unearthed in the often-plundered valley. Tut’s chambers were buried by flash floods that dumped sand and debris over tomb entrances and filled the long passages to reach them. Even so, the tomb had been breached several times before it was buried under the sands. Yet, when Carter and Carnarvon cautiously poked a torch into a small opening and saw the gold glinting in the gloom, they knew they had hit the jackpot.

The discovery and the recovery of the artifacts and the human remains of a king who reigned for ten years and died at about age eighteen continues to fascinate historians, archaeologists and the public. There was so much in the chambers that the information about Egyptian civilization yielded up by textiles, paintings, carving, sculpture, jewelry, gold, funerary objects and every scintilla of matter taken from the tomb is still being revealed. How did Tut die? Was he murdered? Who were his parents? Did he have children? Why are objects with the names of other kings included in his grave swag? Why were some of the earlier names on gold bands and caskets obliterated and Tut’s cartouche substituted? Were the children’s clothes found in the tomb those of the eight-year-old boy king? What would the world of the pharaohs have been like had he lived longer? Are some of the items left among the ceremonial offerings sentimental? Who mourned Tut? Was there really a Mummy’s Curse–or just an excess of bat guano?

The sheer beauty of the golden death mask and the carved and etched caskets and ornaments in the grave capture the imagination. Tutankhamen has that necessary ingredient for any lasting celebrity—extraordinary good looks. The images we have, in museums and exhibitions, make us stop and look again. The book about how those images came to see the light is an absorbing tale that sorts the obvious fictions from the facts we know—and leaves interesting questions unanswered to be excavated by advances in science tomorrow.

Tutankhamen: The Search for an Egyptian King   Joyce Tyldesley | Basic Books   2012


The Mummy Case — Elizabeth Peters

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Amelia Peabody is a strong-willed Egyptologist with definite feminist leanings in late 19th century Britain and she is, much to her surprise, married. Radcliffe Emerson, a distinguished archaeologist with a passion for all things pyramid, is her adoring and combative spouse and before long a small precocious Emerson, nicknamed Ramses, is busy upending their household and their lives.

The Mummy Case is an Elizabeth Peters mystery with Peabody at the heart of the devious doings in the desert outside Cairo but it is Ramses who takes over the book. He travels with mum and dad to Egypt at age six or seven, a child with an unerring instinct for dirt and disaster, a pet cat he calls De Cat Bastet who is fierce, slightly feral and will not be parted from him, a prodigious knowledge of Egyptian antiquity and practically everything, a knack for picking up and translating obscure languages and a habit of bending the English language to his own intentions, despite the explicit regulations of his mother.  

Family and feline set out for Egypt anticipating a rich dig in the temples of Dahshoor, a site only lightly explored with tantalizing potential for major discoveries. Alas, Radcliffe has failed to secure dig permission in time and someone has beat him to it. The Emersons are relegated to a bone-strewn site with no standing pyramids, right next door to the coveted dig. But before they even arrive on the desolate scene, Amanda has stumbled across a murder and a mystery in the commercial byways of Cairo that will threaten their work and her entire family.

Muslims, Coptics, christians and missionaries vie for center stage with eccentric Brits, a pet lion cub, missing antiquities, an odd mummy case and the misadventures of an irrepressible child who invites fresh disaster at every turn. Ramses insists on his speech quirk—to pronounce all “th” sounds as “d” sounds, even as he translates ancient papyri, overhears whispered plots in several languages, conducts his own clandestine excavations and acquires a second ferocious beast to live in his bedroom at the dig site.

The Mummy Case is amusing and instructive, detailing the black market antiquities trade, the supercilious white invaders of a complex, ancient civilization, and the ability of a determined small boy to dominate his world, reveal perfidy and avoid directly disobeying his mother. Ramses makes the intellectual sparring between his brilliant parents, the zealots and crooks, the misguided Brits and the hunt for artifacts fun. He is central to the plot and its resolution, and a welcome addition to the Amanda Peabody sagas. It’s an entertaining read full of vaudevillian characters, improbable developments and a narrative that makes it all believable with the kid and de cat Bastet at the heart of the story. Those two are small but effective heroes who don’t doubt themselves for a second, and neither do we.

The Mummy Case: An Amelia Peabody Novel of Suspense (Amelia Peabody Mysteries)    Elizabeth Peters | William Morrow   2007