Friday, November 4, 2022

Something About Wonderful Things

Man upside down, ripple of water, ankh. Ankh!

We would be amiss not to mention the events of one hundred years ago today when excavators led by the Egyptologist Howard Carter discovered the tomb of 18th Dynasty King Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings.

On November 4, 1922, a worker uncovered a step in the rock leading to a staircase going down to a sealed doorway. The digging stopped then but later resumed on November 23 when Lord Carnarvon, the chief financial backer of many of Howard Carter's Egyptian excavations, arrived. On November 26 the excavators reached a sealed doorway and broke the seal. Carnarvon asked Carter if he could see anything. Accounts differ regarding Carter's answer, but the best-known version is "Yes, wonderful things."

Carter's discovery brought a greater understanding of Egyptian relics and history. According to the Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves, the mask is "not only the quintessential image from Tutankhamun's tomb, it is perhaps the best-known object from ancient Egypt itself."

The discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb and grave goods played an essential role in the personal history of Alpheus Winterborn, the Minnesota inventor and philanthropist who later designed and built the Hoosac Public Library. As Bellairs writes in The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn (1978), Egyptology was a big thing following the Tutankhamun discovery, so:

Alpheus Winterborn didn't see why he couldn't discover something, too, so he bought a pith helmet, a pick, a shovel, and a lot of other gear and went to Egypt. He dug at Luxor, at Karnak, and at some other places on the Upper Nile. Then he went to the Holy Land and did some digging there.

After his return – possibly with something - Winterborn designed the library as a shrine to his memory, "just as the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt built their pyramids to house their bodies, their souls, and the record of their accomplishments."

The first traveling exhibition of Tutankhamun artifacts, albeit smaller pieces, occurred between 1961 and 1966. One such viewing was at Chicago's Field Museum in 1962 - and Bellairs would have been living in the city and possibly in attendance.

A later tour, "The Treasures of Tutankhamun", first began in London at the British Museum in 1972. The treasures - this time including the gold death mask - later moved to other countries and toured the United States between November 1976 and September 1979. More than eight million attended various locations, including New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco. Bellairs lived in Haverhill by this time, and we suppose he could have ventured into New York to see the pieces - but it would have been after Winterborn was published.

All these traveling expeditions do beg whether Winterborn ever personally witnessed the artifacts – but I'm not here to question fictional biographies.

Johnny Dixon compares the finding of the Sloane pitching robot to the "archeologists who had discovered King Tut's tomb" in The Eyes of the Killer Robot (1986) and later reads an account of the "wonderful things" while staying with Professor Childermass in The Stone, the Cipher, and the Shadows (2022).

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