Friday, 10 January 2014

The Curse of Tutankhamen

George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon was an exceedingly wealthy and enthusiastic amateur Egyptologist. In 1907 he sponsored and helped carry out the excavation of the tombs of the Nobles in Thebes along with the eminent archaeologist Howard Carter. During 1917 they moved their excavation work to the Valley of the Kings in the quest for the elusive tomb of Tutankhamen.
Travelling in Edwardian style - the 5th Earl relaxes in Egypt
In total the Earl spent 15 years sponsoring and excavating in Egypt and by 1922 he had spend some £50,000 - 10 million pounds in today's money.  The Earl was seriously thinking of giving up funding anymore projects having sold three of the four estates he had inherited. He informed Carter that he would not fund another season - a desperate Carter said he would fund it himself. Carnarvon knew that this would bankrupt his old friend, and touched by Carter's willingness to risk everything he owned, the Earl agreed to pay for one last season. 
The gamble paid off. Carter sent the following cable to Carnarvon "At last have made wonderful discovery in the Valley. A magnificent tomb with seals intact. Await your arrival. Congratulations."
The Earl arrived by train in Luxor on the 25th January 1923 to prepare for the opening of Tutankhamen's tomb.  The tomb was finally opened on the 17th February which as we now know was packed with rooms full of priceless treasurers. Having only seen a small fraction of the wonderful artefacts within the tomb, 7 weeks later on the 5th April Carnarvon died of blood poisoning from an infected mosquito bite. In all it took Carter a further 10 years to unpack the tomb. 
It was said that at the moment of Carnarvon's death all the lights went out in Cairo - not an unusual event it still happens regularly today. That back in England his dog, Susie, howled and died in the same instant. However, most of the facts surrounding his death were simply invented, much of it sensationalism created by the press. One newspaper printed a curse reportedly found in the tomb, but there was no such curse. There was an inscription found on an Anubis that stated: "It is I who hinder the sand from choking the secret chamber. I am for the protection of the deceased." However, one reporter added his own words to the inscription: "and I will kill all those who cross this threshold into the sacred precincts of the Royal King who lives forever."
Anubis was one of many Egyptian gods. He was usually portrayed as a human with a jackals head or sometimes in full jackal form wearing a ribbon and holding a flail. He protected the dead on their journey to the afterlife. 
Let us now head up the grand stately driveway to the very portals of the 5th Earl's castle back in England. 
A house which will be familiar to many of you, home to the current 8th Earl of Carnavon.
Highclere Castle alias Downton Abbey
Now you know the story, albeit brief, should you have the opportunity to visit the castle then you can see the 5th Earls extensive Egyptian collection displayed throughout the cellars of the Castle.  The treasures from Tutankhamen's tomb are housed in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. 
This post is the result of a request by Val at the blog Val's Alentejo.


    Eye of Horus         

Note: Regarding the architecture of Highclere Castle, and without peeking further down the post, I wonder if any of you have noticed its similarity to another iconic British building?

   Eye of Horus            

Egypt is a place where you can have strange experiences and adventures especially if you travel around under your own steam as H and I did. However, you do need to keep your wits about you. I have only been there once but H has visited several times when he worked for the UN. One day I will endeavour to write down some of the unusual things that happened to us

The Palace of Westminster, Big Ben, our Houses of Parliament
It is no coincidence that the buildings bare a strong resemblance to one another they were both designed by the Victorian architect, Charles Barry.

Eye of Horus

60 comments:

  1. Dear Rosemary,

    I have seen images of Tuthankahmun's mask many times and am still in awe of its beauty and the precious materials from which it was made. It's so interesting that you have published this posting just now, as I have spent the week studying hieroglyphics for a current project!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Mark - I read somewhere that a modern type of hieroglyphic writings would be a rebus. I hope that you did not try and translate the hieroglyphs that I used - I just picked out some random images that appealed to me.
      I went to the Tutankhamen exhibition when it visited London many years ago, but have also been fortunate enough to see it more recently in the Cairo Museum. The workmanship is overwhelmingly exquisite and beautiful.

      Delete
    2. I've sent rebus letters to my niece and nephew, and they're great fun to create.

      One of the things I've learned about hieroglyphics is that they can be read right to left or left to right, but the direction that the figures are facing determines which way the message should be read.

      Delete
    3. I learnt a little about hieroglyphics when I did a course on Egyptology, it would be very interesting to know more.

      Delete
  2. Hello Rosemary, There didn't seem to be much of a curse for the Egyptian government, or for various museum exhibitions, which have been raking it in for 90 years on various Tutankhamen exhibitions.

    Although not as well documented as the 'treasures,' I find the more ordinary finds (simple boxes and jars, crude ushabtis, etc.) equally fascinating, especially since Tutankhamen came at the end of the artistic 18th dynasty, when virtually everything was beautifully made.
    --Jim

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Jim - I am always very surprised at how cheaply you can pick up some of the ancient Egyptian artefacts in particular small funerary objects such as the ushabti. University College London has a wonderful collection of the more ordinary Egyptian finds called the Petrie Collection and named after Prof. William Petrie. They have an online catalogue which you might be interested to view.
      http://petriecat.museums.ucl.ac.uk/

      Delete
  3. Hi Rosemary, very interesting post! To me it is always fascinating how far people, in this case the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, will go to satisfy their passions! Even though I have seen photos of Highclere Castle many times, they never fail to amaze me. I didn't know that is has been design by the same architect, who created the Palace of Westminster. Now that you pointed it out the similarities are obvious, of course ;-)! Warm regards,
    Christina

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I thought that it might be of interest to add another dimension to the enthusiasm for Downton Abbey by introducing the 5th Earl whose finds must be known to everyone.
      It is surprising how well travelled the wealthy landed gentry were in the past and how they indulged their passions. For example many took the 'Grand Tour' and returned with treasures to fill their homes. For others they went on Expeditions to Africa, but many young aristocrats did have a great interest in archaeology.

      Delete
  4. A fascinating post, Rosemary. I didn't know that Highclere Castle was the home of the Earl of Carnarvon or that it was designed by Barry. I can see his style now.
    I travelled around Egypt when I was younger and loved it all - from seeing Tutankhamun's treasures in Cairo to sleeping in the desert! I'm always amazed that people now just go there for the holiday resorts alone without visiting the Pyramids or seeing the treasures. But I suppose different people want different experiences there.
    I look forward to reading about your own adventures!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree wholeheartedly with you Wendy, but the same applies to anywhere I suppose. When I visit a country I want to find out as much as I can about it and hopefully discover new things to learn about too.
      I don't think that I could go as far as sleeping in the dessert that might be difficult for me, I remember getting bitten quite badly by sandflies when we watch a Son et Lumiere in Giza.

      Delete
  5. Wow Rosemary! What a post I love the story from child, I've watched movies of course, documentaries about the theme and when I visited the British Museum of course the first place, I looked for, was the Egypt area. And I love too Downton Abbey so It's very interesting what you tell us.
    Great!

    Marina

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Marina - I thought that the Tutankhamen story would add another element to the enthusiasm felt so many people for the Downton Abbey series.

      Delete
  6. Tutankhamun has always interested me since my sister helped at at the Tutankhamun Exhibition when it first came to London in the 70's. I wasn't aware of the connection with Highclere Castle either.
    Sarah x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I remember well going to that exhibition in London. It generated such a huge amount of interest because very few people travelled very far in those days.
      The treasures from Tutankhamun's tomb are simple amazing and especially so when you are able to view them closely.

      Delete
  7. I enjoyed your post on Rosemary. I can still remember the film they made about it clearly. What I did not know that the house in which Downton was filmed was the earls home. I will keep it in mind for when we visit this part of England.

    Wishing you a happy weekend!

    Madelief x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think that you would enjoy visiting Highclere Castle, and if you are interested in Egypt then the exhibition is well worth visiting too.

      Delete
  8. I'am always fascinating in Egypt...last year I was in Vatican Musea, and there I saw many old Egyptian things.
    It is so mysterious.
    Great post Rosemary, and a nice photo about London.
    Have a nice Weekend.

    Greetings,
    Inge, my choice

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I had forgotten about the Egyptian collection at the Vatican Museum - thanks for that reminder.
      I know that they have some wonderful pharaonic statuary and funerary objects.

      Delete
  9. Oh! I really want to hear some of the things that happened now! Once again y our post has made me think, "you know I really MUST visit Highclere!"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Given time I will try and get my head around some of the happenings - make a note in your diary now Jenny to go this year.

      Delete
  10. What a coincidence, Rosemary. We just caught the television show "Secrets of Highclere Castle." So sad he died only a few months after the excavation. I also enjoyed learning that Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon, opened Highclere as a hospital during the war.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Loi - with so much interest in Downton Abbey I thought that it might give an added element to do a post on the 5th Earl. Many people know about Tutankhamen but perhaps not many realise how the discovery was connected to Highclere Castle.

      Delete
  11. Such an interesting piece of history, and how sad the earl died so quickly after the discovery and from such an unusual cause. Now you really aroused my curiosity to know about what happened to you in egypt :-)) Wish you a nice weekend.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Jane - we had such a lot of strange incidents happen - when I have time to think about it I will write something down.

      Delete
  12. Many years ago when I was at art college in British Columbia, the teacher took us all over the border to Seattle, by bus, to see the King Tutankhamen exhibit. Each student took a turn, walking quite alone down a black scrimed zig zag dimly lit 'hallway' where lay the King, lit so brightly, the shimmering gold and precious stones made your eyes (not to mention your heart) tremble. It was exhilarating, and quite moving, never to be forgotten. Not just seeing him, but, the experience of it...alone. Think we had about five minutes each until we heard the next student coming behind. Shivers to this day!! Loved this piece Rosemary.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is really lovely that this post has brought back memories of your own visit to the Tutankhamen exhibition.
      I visited it in London in the 1970s and I remember being really excited. Subsequently I have visited the museum in Cairo. The treasures really need to be seen in person to appreciate all of the details, the craftsmanship and the richness.
      Thank you - pleased that you enjoyed the post.

      Delete
  13. I thought so, that the Highclere Castle have the same facade as the Palace of Westminster. So the curse of Tutankhamen is not true? But the sudden death of the Earl is quite mysterious. I would love to visit Highclere Castle one day and see the Egyptian Collection. Looking forward to read about your trip to Egypt.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sadly Penicillin wasn't discovered until 1928 - too late to save the 5th Earl when suffering from blood poisoning.
      I bet you do visit one day Pamela.

      Delete
  14. Hi Rosemary! First time I think you talk about something I've seen already and a place I've been. I've always been amazed by the Egyptian history and the wonderful places, so many, many years ago, the first money I earned was spent on a trip to Egypt, not a cruise or anything , no, no, youth hostels and felloeka's (don't know if that's written right in English) but I remember it so well, strange experiences also included, yes, you have to keep your wits about you as you put it ;)
    Marian

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad that this post reminded you are your love of Egyptian history and your trip there too. Perhaps you could write a post about your strange experiences as well!!!

      Delete
  15. I suppose the current servants at Highclere are reluctant to be interviewed but it would be interesting to get a modern day perspective.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Highclere is not a family home as such anymore Susan, it is more of a commercial enterprise which helps to pay for the maintenance of the property. In fact the present Earl and his wife do not even live in the house but have a property within the grounds. Today most of the staff will come in on a daily basis to clean, work in the tea shop, look after the gift shop and generally oversea visitors to the castle.

      Delete
  16. This is probably the most famous mask in the world. Great pictures and what a story.

    Greetings,
    Filip

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad you enjoyed learning more about Tutankhamen and the 5th Earls connection.

      Delete
  17. That is so interesting, thank for posting.
    It never occurred to me to search for Highclere, where it was or the tale behind the person/s whom had owned it.
    Have watched the 4th series and the Christmas Special :) It will be on our TV later..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you - I am pleased that you found this extra element to the history of Highclere Castle interesting.

      Delete
  18. Dear Rosmary,
    so very interesting - thank you! As I don't read the comments of others before writing mine, maybe somebody else mentioned already Agatha Christie - she wrote 1924, as you will know, the short story "The Adventure of the Egypt Tomb", later to be seen with David Suchet as marvelous Hercule Poirot (you know I write about crime Tv) - have you ever seen the episode? The story is directly connected with Lord Carnavon.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I haven't seen that particular episode, but will definitely watch out for it Brigitta.

      Delete
  19. When you were in Egypt, did you enter a pyramid? I did and I almost got panic. It was forty celcius, really hot, and a lot of people in a low tunnel going forward. I would have liked to turn back, but it was impossible...Thank you for this interesting post, Rosemary.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Satu - Being inside the pyramids is very similar to being in the Subterranean Cities in Turkey where you clamber down steep narrow tunnels and cannot turn back either - not a place to go if you suffer from claustrophobia.

      Delete
  20. Dear Rosemary, Your posting brought back so many memories, the visit to the colossal Karnak Temple, the Valley of the Kings and Queen Hapseshut's classic Temple. The most incredible sight, however, was seeing all of Tutankhamens treasures tossed into one corner of the upper floor of the Cairo Museum. I don't know what the Museum looks like now but in the early 80s the Museum was so crowded with artifacts that you had to wiggle between ancient statues to get from one isle to the other. I was in hog heaven. ox, Gina

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Gina - I can't actually remember exactly when we visited Egypt. H and I were travelling so frequently when he was with the UN. I think that it was probably in the second half of the 80s. I do remember that the downstairs area of the museum was fairly well organised but as you say the upstairs was crammed full of stuff, and in particular the treasures from Tutankhamen's tomb. I don't knoe whether it is more organised now, they must have made a lot of money from all of the travelling exhibitions that they have done. I did hear that the museum had been looted during the recent uprisings, so if the Tut treasures are still crammed upstairs then they were probably much safer there.

      Delete
  21. Hi Rosemary,

    Didn't Agatha Christie write a book about Egypt? I really want to go to Egypt myself.
    From: Bea Cupcake

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Spot on Bea - you are probably thinking about her book Death on the Nile. Has your Mum told you about her adventures in Egypt? - if not you will have to ask her.

      Delete
  22. Many years ago I saw the exhibit of the treasures at the Smithsonian. Fabulous! I have just finished the latest book by the Countess of Carnarvon - all about Catherine, and therefore, with a few bits about her father-in-law and the treasure.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think that everyone who has seen the Tutankhamen treasures never forgets that very first impact that they have on you.
      I had read that the Countess of Carnarvon has written a book, but I haven't seen it myself.

      Delete
  23. Highclere Castle is very beautiful, and as a non-watcher of Downton, it is unfamiliar to me. I was also struck by the fact it resembles the Houses of Parliament, which to me are exquisite architecture. Thank you for sharing the connection to Lord Carnavon - perhaps the most famous story of archeology in Egypt! A great post, Rosemary.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The story of the 5th Earl resonates regardless of the Downton Abbey connection - as you say one of the great stories of archeology in Egypt. Val asked me to do a post about the Egyptian treasures at Highclere Castle and I did enjoy reacquainting myself with the facts.

      Delete
  24. Lovely, interesting post, Rosemary - and thanks to Val for requesting it! It has brought back memories of queuing for a long, long time to see the exhibition in London sometime in the early 70s - and of course of being quite openmouthed at the things we saw once we got inside. I haven't watched 'Downton Abbey' but recognise both these beautiful buildings - great photos and wonderful to see them next to each other.
    Axxx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad it brought back memories for you Annie - I was in that queue in the 70s too. I don't think that you could buy tickets so readily then as you can now - you just had to turn up and take pot luck unless you were with a group.

      Delete
  25. Dear Rosemary,
    I am catching up. just finished a post. nothing really happening here.. winter and its cloudy and cold.
    This is so nice of you to write this post. It evoked memories of my visits to Cairo in my youth , with my parents. The museum of Antiquities in Cairo.. Cairo Museum left a mark on me. I remember so much of what I saw there and have always been interested in Egyptology.
    Seeing the Giza ncecropolis, the sphinx.Great pyramid. I have a photo somewhere in my old photo's of me next to it.
    My father hired a private driver and we drove to Alexandria.- A big page in my family history. Age blocks out some memories..but most are vivid.
    Highclare Castle. This castle and surroundings are top of my list of things i would like to do when next visiting England... Its magnificent. It also holds so much history.
    One of the P&O ships that we sailed to Africa on was the M/V Canarvon Castle...
    So.. the castle is a must.

    Egypt.. I would love to visit again.

    Thank you Rosemary.
    A fantastic photo of the Houses of Parliment.
    This post has made my day, and given me itchy feet.
    x val

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Val - when you asked for a post about the treasures at Highclere Castle I decided that the most important fact about the Egyptian artefacts was how they came to be there in the first place, so hence the post.
      Glad that it reminded you of your visit to Egypt with your parents. H and I went to Alexandria too but we took the train from Cairo to get there.
      You were very fortunate that your parents gave you such a wonderful trip - my parents were very unadventurous in that respect. Always holidays in the UK, I don't think that they even went abroad until I had left home.

      Delete
    2. Dear Rosemary,
      I have been traveling to the past since I read this super post.
      It's a post that opens up another space for more of your knowledge on Egyptology ...another post perhaps. I really am fascinated with the idea of visiting uk .. and seeing Highclere Castle, and its collection.
      Carter.. must have taken many artifacts .. can you imagine how he must have felt , seeing them for the first time.!

      Delete
    3. No promises Val, but I may put my mind to something at some time in the future. However, I am pleased that the post has taken you back to travels past. I agree it must have been overwhelming when the Earl and Carter first saw inside the tomb, just unimaginable.

      Delete
  26. As a huge Downton Abby fan, than you for the story about the Earl -- and for pointing out the similarities between Highclere and the Houses of Parliament.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb was a great discovery in the world of archaeology and so I thought that it was important enough to bring it to the attention of those that love Highclere Castle through watching Downton Abbey.

      Delete
  27. Oh how I loved this post, Rosemary. I didn't even know that the 8th Earl's home, Highclere Castle, was featured on Downton Abbey. Didn't know that Highclere and the buildings of Parliament had been done by the same architect. So I've learned a lot from this post. I kind of knew about the Earl of Carnarvon and Howard Carter and the discovery of the treasures of Tutankhamon since I have a wonderful book on the subject on my shelves.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad this post has tied all the ends together for you Yvette - I know that Downton Abbey has a big following and is popular in the States.

      Delete
  28. Fascinating, Rosemary. I knew about the Earl Caernarvon and his financing of the search for the tomb, but had no idea his family seat was Highclere. I also saw the resemblance between the castle and Parliament, but again didn't know they were by the same architect. Your posts are always an education. :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Perpetua - there are so many Downton Abbey fans around the world that I thought this would add some historical interest to those who admire Highclere Castle.

      Delete

❖PLEASE NOTE❖ Comments made by those who hide their identity will be deleted

“You can't stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you - you have to go to them sometimes”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh