TVAES Philip Wickens Memorial Lecture
Mythologising a Dig: Howard Carter and the Curse of Tutankhamun
Date: Saturday 9th September 2023 at 2pm
By Dr Eleanor Dobson
Cost: Free for Members and £4 Visitors
Venue: Oakwood Centre Woodley In-Person only 2.00 pm No advance booking required
The discovery of the tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamun in 1922 is one of the best-known archaeological events of all time.
Equally as well known as the wealth of gilded artefacts interred in Tutankhamun's resting place, however, are rumours of a mummy's curse plaguing the dig. Within weeks of the king’s burial chamber being opened, the excavation's financier, the fifth Earl of Carnarvon, was dead.
In this talk, I examine the supernatural rumours that many archaeologists attempted to suppress, comparing the ‘official’ accounts of the dig with the lead excavator Howard Carter’s notebooks and diaries, paying particular attention to the fate of Carter's pet canary and those - including Carter himself - who capitalised upon this eerie tale. What emerges is a picture of Egyptology’s conflicted status in the early twentieth century as, on the one hand, the field that claimed to piece together the truth about the past, and, on the other, a discipline inseparable from stories - however farfetched - about the power that the ancient dead continued to wield in the modern world.
Dr Eleanor Dobson is Associate Professor in Nineteenth-Century Literature at the University of Birmingham. She is the author of Writing the Sphinx: Literature, Culture and Egyptology (Edinburgh University Press, 2020) and Victorian Alchemy: Science, Magic and Ancient Egypt (UCL Press, 2022), and the editor of Victorian Literary Culture and Ancient Egypt (Manchester University Press, 2020). Her current project is an exploration of the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in fiction and film from 1922 to the present.