Ancient Egypt has been at the forefront of archaeological investigation since Napoleon discovered the Rosetta Stone. From then on archaeologists have continued to discover new findings that all have iconic qualities. However, it cannot be denied that the most iconic discovery is Tutankhamun's tomb. This discovery stimulated a widespread interest in Egyptian history known as ‘Tutmania’, an outcome that had not been witnessed before the twentieth century (Stevenson, 2019: 153). This sudden interest, stimulated by additional factors, enabled the discovery to be labeled as iconic. These factors include history, debate, a timeline of events, the uniqueness of the tomb, and the media attention the discovery received. All these factors emphasize how amazing this discovery was to archaeologists and the public. As a result, the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb is iconic.
The History of Tutankhamun
To begin with, the iconic nature of the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb is illustrated by his fascinating history and the sense of mystery created by debate. By looking at Tutankhamun's history it is obvious that his life was full of challenge and upheaval. He was born around 1341 B.C., a time in which Akhenaten, the ‘revolutionary pharaoh’, ruled (Jarus, 2016). This revolution, known as the ‘Amarna revolution’, discarded the concepts of traditional Egyptian life, particularly Egyptian religion (Dorman, 2021). As a result, the names of many Egyptian Gods were forgotten (Jarus, 2016).
Following this revolution, Tutankhamun became king at just nine years old (Jarus, 2016). Not only would this have been a daunting duty for such a young boy but also a turbulent one since it followed such a revolution. Not only did he rise to the task, with the aid of his advisors, but 4427502000he also condemned the actions of Akhenaten (Jarus, 2016). This is represented in his actions of restoration, depicting a king who was determined to put everything in its right order (Dorman, 2021). This history illustrates Tutankhamun as a strong, determined leader as he went against his predecessor's customs despite his little experience as Pharoah. This history would be brought to light by the discovery of his tomb, as well as adding to its significance when viewing its place within Egyptian history. This history exemplifies how iconic the discovery was.
Moreover, Tutankhamun's life was full of debate, providing even more mystery to a mysterious discovery and thus making it iconic. Firstly, there are debates surrounding Tutankhamun's parentage as there is no conclusive evidence of who they were (Dorman, 2021). The use of a black fragment from Akhenaten's capital city ignites the view that Akhenaten was his father (Dorman, 2021). There are also links to Smenkhkare through medical analysis, however, it is not definite that he is the mummy in tomb 55 (Dorman, 2021). This debate adds ambiguity to Tutankhamun's origins and so adds to how iconic he is as an individual and as a discovery.
There is also debate surrounding Tutankhamun's unexpected death when he was just nineteen years old (Dorman, 2021). There are possibilities of malaria and bone disease, but it will never be certain (Dorman, 2021). What is certain is what occurred after his death. He was to be mummified, buried in a tomb, and to be succeeded as ruler by Ay (Dorman, 2021). It is Tutankhamun's death, and the events surrounding it, that add to the discovery's iconic status. It will be continued to be debated why Tutankhamun died so early and why his tomb was so small (Dorman, 2021). These are significant in the discovery as the tomb is at the center of it. As it is so mysterious it gathers interest, making it an iconic discovery.
The history and debate surrounding Tutankhamun create ambiguity and so heighten the importance of the discovery. When Tutankhamun was removed from the king's list it is apparent that these secrets, and Tutankhamun himself, were to remain hidden (Dorman, 2021). As the discovery defies this secrecy and illustrates its iconic status.
The Discovery itself
In 1922 Howard Carter was on the search for discovery. Preceding this date saw digging temporarily stopped due to the first world war, making later findings discovered to be particularly valuable in the eyes of the public (Newberry, 1939: 69). This is because these discoveries would provide optimism to a society recovering from the ravages of war. Despite the resumed digging, Carter was unsuccessful in unearthing a discovery when digging in the Valley of the Kings (Newberry, 1939: 69). This is until he unexpectedly came across the tomb of Tutankhamun.
Howard Carter was born in 1873 and grew up with a passion for art (Newberry, 1939: 67). This came to use when he began his career in ‘Egyptian studies’, as he worked on the Beni Hasan tracings (Newberry, 1939: 67). It would be these tasks that would introduce Carter to the archaeological field. As an 'Inspector-in-chief of the monuments of Upper Egypt and Nubia' Carter made numerous discoveries like the tomb of Tuthmosis IV (Newberry, 1939: 68). Carter returned to the Valley of the Kings after the war and was near the end of the digging process when all hope was lost, that Tutankhamun's tomb was discovered (Newberry, 1939: 69)
This discovery was monumental for both Carter and the public. He is described as 'awestruck' when he first entered the tomb, the moment perfectly captured through the means of photography (Stevenson, 2019: 145). At the site of Tutankhamun's tomb, Harry Burton photographically recorded the events of the discovery and the artifacts within the tomb (Riggs, 2020: 53). This was done in a sophisticated manner, adding electricity to brighten the photos (Riggs, 2020: 55). The professional way in which this was done insinuates that they knew this was an iconic site. Even though it was normal to photographically record in this way, the fact that Burton introduced electricity to improve his photos suggests he knew that he was recording an iconic site (Riggs, 2020: 55).
The road to the discovery of Tutankhamun's Tomb was a rigorous process. It required the strive to discover Howard Carter after a turbulent time of war. Also, the fact that it was unexpected adds to how astonishing it was since it became the perfect narrative of suspense and reward. This journey required persistent photography to capture the amazing moments that were believed to make history. As a result, the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb is iconic.
The Tomb and its contents
When Carter opened the tomb, he required much staff to collect the items within (Newberry, 1939: 69). The rich amount of material in Tutankhamun's tomb made it unique since most of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings had been looted (Jarus, 2016). This uniqueness, combined with the debates surrounding the tomb, establishes the tomb as an enigma and thus iconic. Since these aspects were highly publicized in the media also adds to this conclusion.
Beginning with the tomb itself, and its layout, it is evident that Tutankhamun's tomb is unique. With any tomb, the construction process would have been long and difficult. This is exemplified by the cluster of huts for the workers around the tomb, each having their own duty in processing materials like tools (Cross, 2014). As well as the tomb itself, lots of time would have been spent on the elaborations of the tomb, which appears absent when observing Tutankhamun's tomb (Jarus, 2016). There is evidence to suggest that Tutankhamun's tomb was rushed as it was sealed with wet paint (Jarus, 2016). The layout also lacks the numerous passages and rooms that characterized other tombs (Carter, 2014:17) Since this tomb does not reflect the leader that Tutankhamun was a debate is created. One of these debates includes the notion that the tomb was not made for Tutankhamun but for Ay, a figure who is apparently in the tomb's decorations (Carter, 2014: 18). Either way, the enigma that is the tomb creates debate about the twentieth-century audience and thus creates excitement and intrigue.
Tutankhamun's mummy within the tomb is also unique. When analyzing the elements of the mummy there is an indication of trauma and poor condition of the wrappings, unusual for the work of a pharaoh (Carter, 2014: 78). The friction of the linen wrappings, the angle of the mummy and saturation of the body with ‘unguents’ indicates the body was not in a good condition (Carter, 2014: 79-9). Despite these factors, many aspects of the body remained to be remarkable to its discoverers. The head of the mummy was kept in good condition, enabling the discoverer to see the best features of Tutankhamun (Carter, 2014: 79-80). As a result, the astonishing find of the mummy makes the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb iconic. Despite the damage, Carter and the public were able to see the body and face of a Pharoah, an iconic point in history.
The rich source of objects within the tomb is central to the tomb's uniqueness, establishing the discovery's iconic status. These objects reflected the Amarna period, a period of extravagance and excess (Silverman, 1976: 237). This is exemplified by the 'exquisite workmanship' that has gone into the items like jewelry, furniture, chariots, and stones (Silverman, 1976: 238). These items also display the Egyptian beliefs on the afterlife by including the items which would be required to survive. One of the primary necessities for an Egyptian tomb is shawabti figurines as they would take on agricultural duties in the afterlife (Silverman, 1976: 239). Not only did Tutankhamun have more than the average 365, but they also visually represented individuals (Silverman, 1976: 239). As a result, not only was the tomb unique with respect to its objects but also by having them in excess. These objects would have an impact on the public, as the death mask became known as ‘the Quintessential image of ancient Egypt' (AlSayyad, 2019:63). As a result, the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb is iconic.
The Impact of the Discovery
After the discovery, the public had a greater appetite for Egyptian artifacts, stimulating the focus on museums to provide what they wanted (Stevenson, 2019: 147). Later excavations at Amarna took place to fuel these appetites (Stevenson, 2019: 148). Not only did the public want to see Egyptian artifacts, but there was also a drive for anything Tutankhamun and Egyptian related. Art, architecture, clothes, and film are just a few examples that underwent Egyptian influence (Stevenson, 2019: 153). These interests only began after 1922, suggesting the discovery initiated them, highlighting how iconic it is. This is because it had the power to change interests in the way it did.
Moreover, the importance of the discovery is exemplified by the ‘Worldwide media attention' it had (Stevenson, 2019: 146). The photos taken by Harry Burton were escalated via newspapers and postcards, enabling these photos to be seen on a mass scale (Riggs, 2020: 58). As a result, everyone knew the names, Tutankhamun and Howard Carter. Despite the experience Carter had in the archaeological industry he is known only for that discovery alone. He is ‘known to the world as the discoverer of the tomb of Tutankhamun’, rather than as an experienced archaeologist (Newberry, 1939: 67). The discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb provided the limelight for Carter and Egypt, suggesting how iconic the discovery was. This is because the discovery gained popularity worldwide, enabling this limelight and changing culture.
To conclude, many aspects that make the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb iconic. The debates and history of Tutankhamun alongside the events of the discovery all provide a sense of mystery and intrigue to the tomb. As well as this, the tomb and its contents illustrate the uniqueness of the tomb and so make the discovery iconic in comparison to other tombs. Not only are these factors alone iconic but the media heightened them, to the point that the public became mesmerized by the discovery. The media enabled the discovery to gain worldwide popularity, establishing it as an iconic discovery.
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- Brier- Remmer Collection. (1923). Poster for the stage magician, Carter the Great. [Online]. Available at: https:www.culture24.org.ukhistory-and-heritagearchaeologyart491894-Discovering-Tutankhamun-Ashmolean-Museum-Art-Archaeology (Accessed: 16 April 2021).
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- Carter, H. (2014). The Tomb of Tutankhamun: Volume 2: The Burial Chamber. London: Bloomsbury Academic.
- Cross, S. (2014). ‘The Workmen’s Huts and Stratigraphy in the Valley of the Kings', The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 100, pp. 133-150.
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- Jarus, O. (2016). Tutankhamun: The Life