The Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen Critical Context - Essay

A. C. Mace

Critical Context

Carter and Mace offer an unusual combination in their description of an exciting discovery and their explanation of the science of archaeology. The text allows readers to share in the exhilaration associated with great quests like those of Sir Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke for the source of the Nile, or of Robert Scott and Roald Amundsen’s polar expeditions. In archaeology, the closest important analogy would be the excavations of Heinrich Schliemann at Hissarlik and Mycenae, but, while Schliemann made spectacular discoveries, he was no scientist; his amateurish methods and haste destroyed much evidence of the cultures that he attempted to understand.

By contrast, descriptions of Carter’s attempts to protect and preserve objects from Tutankhamen’s tomb introduce the reader to what were then the most advanced practices of field archaeology. His zeal for protecting the thousands of individual items in the tomb was motivated in part by the awareness that many would be of interest to future students of the culture and art of Tutankhamen’s era. His careful work ensured that the civilization of Tutankhamen’s time would be better understood, and items that he preserved from the tomb have brought aesthetic pleasure to millions.