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New evidence emerges of looting of King Tut's tomb in Egypt

While Egypt celebrates the 100-year anniversary of the discovery of King Tutankhamun's tomb, new evidence emerged that the discoverer, Howard Carter, stole objects from it.
British archaeologist Howard Carter (1874-1939) (R).

This November, Egypt will mark the 100-year anniversary of the discovery of the intact, well-preserved tomb of King Tutankhamun — who ruled from 1333 BC until his death in 1323 BC — by British Egyptologist Howard Carter in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, upon finance from Lord Carnarvon.

The Guardian astonished its Egyptomania readers when it published an article on Aug. 13 about a new accusation that Carter handled property “undoubtedly stolen from the tomb” in an unprinted letter sent to him in 1934 by a member of his own excavation team, Alan Gardiner.

The article stated: “It was written by Sir Alan Gardiner, a leading philologist. Carter had enlisted Gardiner to translate hieroglyphs found in the 3,300-year-old tomb, and later gave him a 'whm amulet' used for offerings to the dead, assuring him that it had not come from the tomb. Gardiner showed the amulet to Rex Engelbach, the then British director of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and was dismayed to be told that it had indeed come from the tomb as it matched other examples — all made from the same mould.”

It continued: “Firing off a letter to Carter, he enclosed Engelbach’s damning verdict, which reads: 'The whm amulet you showed me has been undoubtedly stolen from the tomb of Tutankhamun.' Gardiner told Carter: 'I deeply regret having been placed in such an awkward position.'”

Many Egyptian archaeologists already believe that Carter stole some of Tutankhamun's belongings. They based their belief on the fact that from time to time some of this young monarch's artifacts are discovered for sale in international auction halls.

Magdy Shaker, chief archaeologist at the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, undoubtedly agreed with this recent evidence, describing Carter as not innocent.

He told Al-Monitor that Egyptians have been suspicious of Carter since he discovered the tomb in 1922. Shaker added that when Morcos Pasha Hanna led the first ministry (the Ministry of Works) concerned with antiquities at the request of Egyptian revolutionary and statesman Saad Zaghloul in the 1920s, he replaced the foreigner's employees with Egyptians. Egypt at that time was under British occupation.

“He also refused the request of the British High Commissioner who banned interfering during the archaeological excavation of the tomb of Tutankhamun, and he decided to involve the Ministry of Works in it. After the tomb was opened, he stood firmly against the British who supervised it due to his suspicion of Carter's behavior. He ordered the closure of the tomb and handed it over to the Egyptian government, appointing a force to guard it,” Shaker explained.

Shaker spoke of the Tutankhamun papyri, also missing from the tomb.

He mentioned Tutankhamun: The Exodus Conspiracy,” a book written by English writers Andrew Collins and Chris Ogilvie-Herald, in which they believe that the papyri about the exodus of the Jews from Egypt were stolen from the tomb of Tutankhamun, writing that its disclosure was enough in their opinion to "change the map of the Middle East."

The writers stressed that Carter and Lord Carnarvon kept secrets revealing the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt. If it had been exposed and the world knew about it, it would have caused not only a political and religious scandal, but it might have changed the face of the world forever.

Shaker said that Carter went to the British Consulate in Cairo after Egyptian authorities accused him of stealing some of the cemetery's belongings, so he asked the consulate officials to protect him and threatened to publish “papyri texts that show the world all the real facts recorded about the Jewish exodus.”

“Carter may have destroyed it due to its important, historic topic,” Shaker said.

Shaaban Abdel-Gawad, general supervisor of the Repatriation Antiquities Department at the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, told Al-Monitor that they will deal with any information printed in The Guardian article.

“Our strategy is that with any news about any artifact that was taken out illegally, we will examine it and then work to bring it home,” he said.

“This strategy has helped us to repatriate more than 29,300 artifacts since 2011,” Abdel-Gawad added.

In 2011, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art returned 19 artifacts that were stolen from Tutankhamun’s tomb, among them a 2-centimeter-high bronze dog and part of a sphinx-shaped bracelet once owned by Carter’s niece.

A photo of Kim Kardashian helped repatriate the smuggled, gilded, ancient Egyptian coffin of Nedjemankh (created approximately between 150-50 BC). It was purchased in 2017 by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and returned two years later after the museum had learned of its looting from the Upper Egyptian city of Minya during the 2011 revolt that toppled then-President Hosni Mubarak.

Egyptologist Mohamed Raafat Abbas believes that what is mentioned in The Guardian lacks evidence and is not worth the attention.

“From time to time, foreign media use this young, ancient Egyptian monarch and his tomb as material for propaganda for their documentaries,” he told Al-Monitor.

Abbas explained the reason for his belief, as The Guardian mentioned in its article that the letter will be published in the forthcoming book “Tutankhamun and the Tomb that Changed the World” by Bob Brier, an Egyptologist at Long Island University in New York.

“It’s just propaganda before publishing the book,” he said.

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