Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Complete Tutankhamun: The King, the Tomb, the Royal Treasure


Rating: 5 Stars

I don't even know where to begin with this one. when they say complete, they mean complete. Every last inch of this book is crammed with texts, photos, sidebars, captions, diagrams; you name it, this book has it. It is almost overwhelming, to be honest. There is so much information and detail, I could see it scaring off someone who only has a passing interest. On the other hand, it is a great place to start if you are just learning of Tutankhamun, beyond him being 'the boy king who died mysteriously'.

As I said, there is an insane amount of detail here. The book starts by laying the scene, giving a history of Tut, his father, the religious upheaval, and such. Then  it moves toward who Howard Carter was and his work prior to discovering Tut's tomb. The author then moves step by step, from the discovery, to the death of Lord Carnarvon, the politics of the time that impacted their work, then eventually moves room by room within the tomb and details the discoveries in each space. After that, the author also provides ample information about the kinds of objects discovered that accompanied Tut to the Afterlife: ritual couches, games, chariots and necessary equipment, weaponry, wine jars, pottery, tools, lamps, and so on. There are even charts describing specific statues and figures. I don't think I can stress enough how much detail is here. I feel like I've said it a lot, but it's so very true.

I kind of have this love/hate relationship with the field of archaeology - particularly these, who explore these tombs and remove the treasures to put on display for the world. These are tombs, final resting places of real people who lived and died thousands of years before us. But they still deserve respect and the opportunity to rest in peace. I love seeing the treasures but this is still a kind of state-sanctioned grave robbing. In our never-ending quest to know everything about these people, we've raided their tombs and robbed their graves of anything of value. Sure, it is now done in the name of academia, but it truthfully is no different then those who did this thousands of years ago when the tombs were new and easier to access of the burial.

So, rant aside, I still enjoyed this book for the wealth of knowledge it provides. I do wish there were more color photos. I also found Carter's notes an interesting read and the author uses excerpts of them throughout the book. He took copious amounts of notes, recording what they saw from room to room and these insights are intriguing. The author also includes drawings that Carter's made, though his notes were never published as a volume. It is interesting to see from his perspective as the discoverer, though his methods seem terrible today. The treatment of the mummies never ceases to infuriate me. The fact that Tut (and who knows how many others, by other archaeologists throughout the centuries) had to be dismembered to be removed from his sarcophagus make me so angry. Archaeology is an important field, but so destructive at the same time. It is a field that has to destroy in order to discover, and this is uncomfortable for me.

Side note: the photos of the mummified remains of what are thought to be Tut's two little daughters are absolutely heart-breaking. They're just so tiny (duh).

Overall, this is about as complete a book as you can find about the tomb of King Tut. While there is some history of his reign and the suspicions surrounding his death, as well as information about his father before him, it is more focus on the tomb itself and the treasures it held and what they tell us about burials of the time. Highly recommended.

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