An Archaeologist visits Ancient Egypt - part 6 (Q&A)



Dr. Greene: I think we have time for some questions.

Man 1: Yes.


Man 2: ...mentioned how Carter was pretty careful in removing things from the tomb, but I noticed in the exhibition there was a wooden head of a cow and the ears were damaged. I'd wondered how that happened because when you look at the black and white pictures there when it was actually in the tomb, the ears were intact. I was really very surprised. Do you know anything about how that damage occurred, how much damage actually occurred in getting things out of the tomb?

Dr. Greene: Yes, and it surprises me too because I think everybody has heard about the discover of the tomb, November 1922, drama. It hits the headlines all over the world. There's a very unfortunate tie up with The Times which puts off all the other newspaper who then are quite aggressive in the way they treat Carter and the team working there. That's 1922.

But it took 10 years to empty the tomb, 10 years for Carter and his team to remove the well, it's over 5,000 object from the tomb. It was done with immense care and there are plenty of photographs that were taken, by Harry Burton who was the photographer from the Metropolitan Museum in New York, who took the most wonderful photographs. All of which are available online if you go to the Griffith Institute Oxford, their website. All of his images are there and you can explore them for yourself, it's fantastic to do it.

But coming back to your question. Each object was taken and then one of the nearby tombs was set up as a sort of conservation lab. So objects were packed very, very careful, each one was numbered. You'll see in some of the pictures all the numbers on each of the objects.

In fact, if you visit the tomb of Tutankhamun now in it is a sarcophagus and the inner most of the sequence of mummy cases. There on the top is the number 240, the number that Carter gave to the sarcophagus. So it was done with immense care. The objects were then taken up to Cairo where they've been in the museum ever since.

So I'm working my way round to saying I don't know. I don't know how they were damaged. I'm very impressed with what Carter did, and his team. Many other archeologists would have just carted them out one after another. The fact that he had worked with Flinders Petrie, who was the most methodical of archeologists and Egyptologists, gave him the right sort of approach, which has led to the survival of in a wonderful condition most of the objects.

I don't know. But I will ask other people when I have a chance to. Another question? Over here.

Man 3: Yeah, the boat that was extracted from the pit and reassembled, you said there were three other vessels still there?

Dr. Greene: No, I said there were three other pits.

Man 3: Ah.

Dr. Greene: Two of those pits are empty. There is another one which has at least parts of a boat in it, but which has not been excavated. But quite amazing that anything should survive. Of course, the dry atmosphere is great for preserving organic material.

But the thing which allowed that particular boat to be preserved was the fact that those blocks that were over the top were well sealed because you do get rainstorms and those rainstorms can obviously penetrate structures and do an awful lot of damage. In fact around the Sphinx there's been a real problem with rising water tables and drilling has recently taken place to put pump in to reduce the water table.

So water is the big enemy of all of these materials. But yeah, so that one boat has been found in that one pit, but fascinating to see those other pits as well.

Woman 1: The three boats you mentioned was given three different boats for the travel after the death. I just couldn't catch the three different reason for the boat.

Dr. Greene: Right. There are in fact two boats, two types of boats. There are 35 boats found in Tutankhamun's tomb of which we have two in the exhibition here. One of which is a boat of a very similar design to the one from the pit. The other one represents a reed boat made out of bundles of reeds.

The two types of boat in ancient Egypt were for two purposes. One was for use on the Nile or on the Red Sea, as that expedition to Punt showed. The other was for the marshes. The marshes, of course, down at the delta. Kings are often shown hunting in the marshes for wild fowl.

After death those two boats had a different significance. Well, they had the same significance in a way. The Nile boat was the boat which takes the Sun across the sky. The reed boat is for the spirit of the dead person to never get through the marshes.

They have to do that and this is all in the Book of the Dead, the instructions of how to reach the afterlife involves these very dangerous and threatening marches. So that's what that boat is for. In the middle there.

Woman 2: Dr. Greene, you said you were very impressed with Howard Carter's excavations. There seem to have been some evidence that some objects were removed, possibly, before he officially opened the tomb or possibly shortly afterwards and some objects seem to have turned up in odd places like the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Do you give any of that any credence?

Dr. Greene: To comment on that I need to explain how excavation took place in Egypt at the time, which was essentially that you had to apply for a license to excavate from the antiquities officer. If you were given a license it spelt out the conditions. I've read through the license that Lord Carnarvon was given with Carter and the usual practice at the end of the excavation is called partage, to divide up the objects into two.

So the excavator and the excavator's agency, or in this case his patron, Lord Carnarvon has half and the other half go to the Cairo Museum. It is a perfectly respectable procedure. It meant that finance was available to carry out excavations that otherwise wouldn't have been available and the objects go to two good homes.

But in the case of Tutankhamun it's different because one of the clauses in the agreement say, "If an intact tomb is found all the objects, all of them, have to go to the Cairo Museum."

Now, after his death a few objects were found in Carter's flat or house in London. It does appear that some objects that he did take some objects with him. Very quietly an agreement was made between the British Government and the Egyptian Government to return them and they went back in the diplomatic bag.

The Metropolitan Museum has material related to Tutankhamun, but it's not from the tomb. It's from another discovery that the excavator who had the license before Carnarvon and Carter. He carried out an excavation and found some pots with some floral wreaths and things like that which had been preserved, which then went on this partage basis, half of them went back to the Metropolitan Museum.

Later on it was discovered that the name Tutankhamun was associated with these objects. It was one of the clues for Carter to keep digging in that area. Those objects have recently been displayed in a new exhibition in the Metropolitan Museum and they appear to be material used during the funeral process, but never put in the tomb and not intended to be put in the tomb.

So that is the material that Metropolitan Museum has. But it doesn't have any material from the tomb itself.

Woman 3: Dr. Greene, in the excavation of the avenue from the Temple of Luxor, what are archeologists hoping to find there. Are they hoping to find more of the Avenue of Sphinxes or paving? What do they hope?

Dr. Greene: Both of those, indeed not just hoping, they are finding the bases. So each one has a rectangular based and then the cast Sphinx is on top of that. Now, in many of the cases what they're finding is fragments, not the whole Sphinx. In other cases they're finding the complete body, the complete sculpture.

I suspect what they'll do is incorporate the fragments in each case into a modern reproduction of it, but following good conservation practice of making clear what is original and what is not. Down the middle is a paved area and lengths of that have been turning up. The idea is that people will once again be able to walk between the two temples, probably more advisable in the winter than the summer.

Between each of the bases they're finding a circle of mud bricks. These seem to be the surrounds for trees. You know how you see trees in the streets here set into the pavement. Well this is exactly the same. So one can imagine this very nice situation of having a walkway down the middle, the Sphinxes either side, with alternating trees to give shade over the walkway.

So really an amazing piece of planning and decoration for the city.

Man 3: Well, I said in my introduction that the Valley of the Kings I had found to be the hottest place on earth. So I can't tell you how impressed I was to see the photograph of Patrick there wearing a coat and a jumper.


Man 3: Which I suspect suggests I went at the wrong time of year. January is a much better time for you to think about going if you're planning to go there.

Man 1: Yeah, it's pretty chilly in the morning.

Man 3: But seriously, to see all of this again through the eyes of an archeologist has been a special treat and especially when accompanied by these very, very vivid slides. So Patrick, thank you very much for this evening and we wish you all the best for this exhibition which I'm sure is going to be proving to be an Australian record in its attendance.

Thank you for all you've done to bring it here for all of us.


About this Video

Part 6 of 6 of Dr Greene's lecture 'An Archaeologist visits Ancient Egypt'
Length: 14:25