News from Thebes

Nevine El-Aref , Thursday 19 Nov 2009

A new entrance for Luxor Temple and the reopening of Howard Carter's dig house as a museum are the main events commemorating the 88th anniversary of the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb




Waset is the pattern of every city... Mankind came into being within it, to find every city in its true name."

These words uttered by an ancient Egyptian priest and recorded for posterity testify to the significance of Waset, the ancient name for Luxor. It means, literally, "the spectre", and it houses what is today arguably the world's most amazing archaeological site.

Over the span of history its magical atmosphere has magnetised Egyptologists, historians and visitors and lured thousands of excavators to the Theban west bank. These erstwhile treasure hunters, later skilled archaeologists, tried to uncover the resting place of all those renowned Pharaohs and other royals who once ruled Egypt and helped establish the country's great ancient Egyptian civilisation.

To highlight Luxor's ancient history and new discoveries, and celebrate the anniversary of one of its greatest finds, made on 4 November 1922, the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) opened a new entrance to Luxor Temple, re-opened Howard Carter's rest house with a view to developing it into an open-air museum, and held an archaeological forum to discuss Carter's discovery and subsequent research on the Valley of the Kings.

The day began very early in the morning with the symposium entitled "Valley of the Kings since Howard Carter". The venue for this was the Mummification museum on Luxor's east bank where a number of Egyptologists from all over the globe, including many who had worked in the Valley of the Kings and themselves made important discoveries. The symposium was opened by Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the SCA, who delivered a lecture about the finds made in the Valley of the Kings since 2007, when he assigned the first all-Egyptian excavation team to the site.

Hawass told the audience that the mission had stumbled upon a number of important objects and investigated the workmen's huts in the valley, some of which were first discovered by Carter. The team had also located channels that the ancient Egyptians cut into the stone to divert floodwater and thus protect the tombs.

Hawass also mentioned excavation and conservation work in the tomb of Seti I. "We are exploring the tunnel at the back to see how far it goes and what is to be found at the end," he told the symposium.

Other lectures covered the topics of current excavation projects and new analyses of artifacts from the Valley of the Kings. Among these are the re-excavation of Horemhab's tomb; the reconsideration of Tutankhamun's mask; the integrated management plan for the Valley of the Kings; and the ostraca from the Amenemes project.

Luxor Temple: It was previously entered from the western side, beside the Nile, which led crowds of people accumulating near the river. Now a new entrance has been erected on the eastern side, with a new parking lot and a security entrance complete with x-ray machines. There is also a new gift shop and cafeteria for visitors. Encroaching buildings and a police station that were located north of the temple have been removed, and for the first time Luxor Temple can be viewed as a whole from the north side.

Howard Carter’s Rest House: In association with the symposium and the anniversary of the discovery of King Tutankhamun's tomb, the old rest house used by the famous discoverer Howard Carter has been renovated and turned into a museum. After Carter left the valley, the house, which had been built in 1910, was abandoned and neglected. Now it has been turned into a beautiful museum to celebrate Carter's work and is open to the public for the first time.

For just three nights a year the house will be open overnight to guests. This, Hawass says, will be timed to coincide with the discovery in early November, when the house will be available for rent for $20,000 on 4 November and $10,000 for each of the following two days.

Divinity and serenity flood through the house, which displays tools that Carter used alongside some of the objects he discovered in the Valley of the Kings. Here are his desk, camera, coat hangers, sofa and chimney. Black and white photographs show Carter busy at work, removing Tutankhamun's funerary collection from the tomb, and welcoming British, Egyptian and foreign dignitaries during the celebrations that marked its opening.

Pieces of English furniture illustrating a typical interior of the time are also on show. A visitors' centre attached to the house provides visitors with information about Carter.

As part of the exhibition, a simulation presentation by Carter is also provided at the museum to tell the story of Carter and his work up until the discovery of the boy king's tomb, as well as the history of his financial sponsor Lord Carnarvon. One room of the house is set aside; it contains a desk and other items behind a glass wall. An image of Carter is projected against this wall and talks to the audience for 20 minutes.

"This is a great way for people to learn the story of his life while at the same time taking a break from the hot sun outside," Hawass told the Al- Ahram Weekly.

Other rooms in the house contain furniture and equipment used by Carter, along with descriptions of how they were used.

Hawass said he was extremely pleased with the grand opening, especially because the descendants of Carter and Lord Carnarvon were able to attend. The current Lord Carnarvon and Stuart Carter, grandnephew of Howard Carter, both spoke about their ancestors and expressed their pleasure at witnessing the public opening of the rest house, which honoured their important work.

"This is where the two men spent long winter months over many years," the great-grandson of Lord Carnarvon said.

"It is poignant to come back. My great-grandfather was so persistent and determined to find objects of beauty, and Howard Carter was such a great organiser, draughtsman and scholar."

According to Mustafa Wazeri, director of antiquities at the Valley of the Kings, it was time to take good care of the house. "We have thousands of tourists coming every day and all their guides point to the Carter house. Many people asked us if they could take a look," he added.

Howard Carter: He left his home in Kensington, London, at the young age of 17, abandoning a career in the family business to join an Egypt Exploration Fund expedition as an illustrator. As he sailed into Alexandria he fell under Egypt's spell, and soon became devoted to exploring this country's ancient monuments.

At first Carter was employed as a tracer, copying drawings and inscriptions on paper for further study. He first worked at Beni Hassan, where he copied scenes from the walls of the tombs of royal princesses. Under the direction of William Flinders Petrie, Carter studied the science of Egyptology. During his training course at Tel Al-Amarna, he unearthed several important finds. He then continued his training under Gaston Maspero, and at the age of 25 he became the first inspector-general of the Monuments of Upper Egypt.

Regrettably, he was forced to resign from the Antiquities Service in 1905 following an incident between Egyptian archeology site guards at Saqqara and a few drunken French tourists. Seeking private funding for excavation work, Carter became the Supervisor of Excavations for Lord Carnarvon, who owned one of the most valuable collections of Egyptian artifacts in private hands. He would eventually discover six tombs in the Valley of the Kings on Luxor's west bank. However Carter became somewhat obsessed with finding the tomb of a fairly unknown Pharaoh called Tutankhamun. On 4 November 1922, he succeeded in discovering what proved to be the most complete and greatest Egyptian treasure of all time.


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