The problem of new looting in Iraq

From New York Times:

The looting of Iraq’s ancient ruins is thriving again. This time it is not a result of the “stuff happens” chaos that followed the American invasion in 2003, but rather the bureaucratic indifference of Iraq’s newly sovereign government.

Thousands of archaeological sites — containing some of the oldest treasures of civilization — have been left unprotected, allowing what officials of Iraq’s antiquities board say is a resumption of brazenly illegal excavations, especially here in southern Iraq.

A new antiquities police force, created in 2008 to replace withdrawing American troops, was supposed to have more than 5,000 officers by now. It has 106, enough to protect their headquarters in an Ottoman-era mansion on the eastern bank of the Tigris River in Baghdad and not much else.

“I am sitting behind my desk and I am protecting the sites,” the force’s commander, Brig. Gen. Najim Abdullah al-Khazali, said with exasperation. “With what? Words?”

looting in the desert at Dhahir

The failure to staff and use the force — and the consequent looting — reflects a broader weakness in Iraq’s institutions of state and law as the American military steadily withdraws, leaving behind an uncertain legacy.

Many of Iraq’s ministries remain feeble, hampered by corruption, the uncertain divisions of power and resources and the political paralysis that has consumed the government before and after this year’s election.

In the case of Iraq’s ancient ruins, the cost has been the uncountable loss of artifacts from the civilizations of Mesopotamia, a history that Iraq’s leaders often evoke as part of the country’s once and, anticipating archaeological research and tourism, future greatness.

“The people who make these decisions, they talk so much about history in their speeches and conferences,” said the director of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, Qais Hussein Rashid, referring to the plight of the new police force, “but they do nothing.”

The looting today has not resumed on the scale it did in the years that immediately followed the American invasion in 2003, when looters — tomb raiders, essentially — swarmed over sites across the country, leaving behind moonlike craters where Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian and Persian cities once stood.

Even so, officials and archaeologists have reported dozens of new excavations over the past year, coinciding with the withdrawal of American troops, who until 2009 conducted joint operations with the Iraqi police in many areas now being struck by looters again. The antiquities police say they do not have the resources even to keep records of reported lootings.

Here in Dhahir, the looting is evident in the shattered bits of civilization — pieces of pottery, glass and carved stone — strewn across an expanse of desert that was once a Sumerian trading town known as Dubrum.

The bowls, vases and other pieces are destroyed and discarded by looters who seek gold, jewelry and cuneiform tablets or cylinders that are easy to smuggle and resell, according to Abdulamir al-Hamdani, a former antiquities inspector in Dhi Qar Province. The nearest city, Farj, is notorious for a black market in looted antiquities, he said.

“For me, for you, it is all priceless,” he said, “but for them it is useless if they can’t sell it in the market.”

The Dubrum site — which stretches for miles in a sparsely populated region — is pocked by hundreds of trenches, some deeper than 10 or 12 feet. At the bottom of some is the brickwork of tombs, marking the area as a cemetery. Mr. Hamdani said tombs were the most highly valued targets — of archaeologists and looters alike.

The headquarters of the antiquities police in Baghdad. The force has barely enough people to protect its own headquarters.

Many of the trenches date to the postinvasion chaos, but others have been freshly dug. Just last month someone used a bulldozer and plowed a two-foot-deep gash in the desert, unearthing the brick and bitumen remains of a stairway possibly leading to another cemetery. The materials dated it to the Babylonian period in the seventh century B.C.

The precision of the new looting indicates expertise. “The thief is in the house,” Mr. Hamdani said, suggesting that many of those involved worked on the sites years ago when legitimate archaeological excavations took place, before the war that toppled Saddam Hussein.

A Bedouin reported the new excavation to the local police in Dhi Qar, but officers there could do little except to draw public attention to the problem.

Mr. Hamdani’s successor as antiquities inspector for the province, Amir Abdul Razak al-Zubaidi, said he did not even have the budget to pay for gas to drive to the sites of new looting.

“No guards, no fences, nothing,” Mr. Hamdani said. “The site is huge. You can do whatever you want.”

Until the creation of the antiquities police in 2008, responsibility for protecting archaeological sites rested with the Federal Protection Police, created, equipped and trained by the American military. The federal police, however, also guard government officials and buildings, like schools and museums. The ruins, some just desolate patches of desert, slipped down the list of priorities.

Rather than filling the gap, the creation of the antiquities police deepened it. Iraq’s various military and police forces simply left the issue to an agency that effectively still does not operate, nearly two years later.

Mr. Rashid, director of the antiquities board, also said his agency’s request for a $16 million budget in 2010 had been slashed to $2.5 million. The police officers promised by the Ministry of the Interior simply have yet to materialize, despite an order last year from Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

“Not everything the prime minister requests from his ministers is obeyed,” he said. A spokesman for the Interior Ministry declined to comment on the status of the antiquities police.

Mr. Rashid went on to complain that the looters in some southern provinces — including Dhi Qar and Wasit — operated with the collusion of the law enforcement authorities. “The hand of law cannot reach them,” he said.

The extent and lasting impact of the looting in sites like Dubrum may never be known, since they have never been properly excavated to begin with.

Mr. Zubaidi, the inspector in Dhi Qar, compared the current crisis to the looting of the National Museum in Baghdad, a convulsive ransacking that shocked the world into action. The museum’s fate continues to attract far more attention from the government and international donors.

“Most of the pieces that were stolen from the National Museum will come back,” Mr. Zubaidi said. “Each piece was marked and recorded.” Nearly half the 15,000 pieces looted from the museum have been returned. “The pieces that were stolen here will never be returned,” he said. “They are lost forever.”

From New York Times

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Roman sculptures withdrawn from Bonhams’ auction

Four Roman sculptures are to be withdrawn from auction tomorrow  (28 April) amid claims that they were stolen from archaeological sites overseas.

Photographs seized by police suggested that the sculptures – funerary busts and a marble statue of a youth from the second century AD – were illicitly excavated, archaeologists told the Guardian.

A spokesman for Bonhams auctioneers said: “Whenever a serious question is raised about an item’s provenance we withdraw it from sale pending an internal investigation. We take rigorous care to ensure that we only sell items that have a clear provenance.”

Dr David Gill, reader in Mediterranean archaeology at Swansea University, said that the four antiquities bore soil traces that indicated they were excavated during illegal digs. Images in the Bonhams auction catalogue show the same sculptures cleaned and restored.

Archaeologists remain concerned about illegal trading of antiquities and some believe insufficient checks are carried out into their provenance.

Lord Renfrew, the eminent Cambridge archaeologist, warned that “such sales are maintaining London’s reputation as a clearing house for looted antiquities”.

Gill said the withdrawal was the latest in a series of such incidents in London.

Christos Tsirogiannis, a researcher at Cambridge University and formerly an archaeologist with the Greek ministry of culture, uncovered the evidence suggesting that the sculptures had been illegally excavated. They had been moderately valued, at about £40,000, but he is concerned about the impact of illicit excavations.

He said: “The destruction leaves objects out of context. Even if [an object] is a masterpiece, our duty is to give people history.” It is a view shared by most archaeologists.

Since 2003, it has been a criminal offence to deal in “tainted cultural objects”, punishable by up to seven years in prison. Renfrew called for auction houses to identify the vendors of antiquities. “That would be a step towards clarifying the problem,” he said.

The style of the Roman busts suggests they are of eastern Mediterranean origin and were possibly dug up in Syria or northern Greece. The marble statue probably originates from Italy, archaeologists said.

The Bonhams spokesman said that the firm sends its catalogues for scrutiny to the Art Loss Register – a computerised database – to ensure that only items with clear provenance are sold. “If they raise issues, we also withdraw items,” he said.However, Dr Gill said that the Art Loss Register only dealt with stolen items, and not antiquities that may have come from illegal excavations.

From Guardian

Rome wants the “looted” Etruscan artefacts back from UK

Ministers have been condemned for forcing through the sale of up to 1,000 antiquities allegedly stolen from Italy, in order to pay the debts of a bankrupt private collector.

The Home Office has sparked outrage by allowing Roman bronzes, Etruscan gold and other treasures to be placed on the market by liquidators acting for the government in an attempt to recover unpaid taxes from the former owner, Robin Symes, a dealer with alleged links to the smuggling trade and a UK prison record.

Lord Renfrew, a Cambridge archaeologist, described the handling of the case as a “scandal” and called for action to end London’s reputation as “a clearing-house for looted antiquities”.

The controversy comes after officials from 20 countries met last week in Egypt to discuss how to recover ancient treasures that may have been stolen or looted. Britain has been involved in long disputes with Egypt and Greece over artefacts held in the British Museum.

In documents seen by the Observer, Paolo Giorgio Ferri, the relevant prosecutor in Rome, has repeatedly asked Britain to return the Symes antiquities to their “rightful owner”. The UK government has caused fury by stating that the antiquities could instead be bought.

Lord Renfrew

Symes’s collection includes objects dating back 3,000 years, which Rome says form a vital part of Italian heritage. Ferri said: “It’s like the Italian government making a profit from the mafia selling drugs.”

Renfrew said: “These illicitly exported objects are being sold to pay Robin Symes’s debts, which means that they are being sold for the benefit of the British government. This does reflect unfavourably on the British Treasury and Revenue and Customs, as they are encouraging the sale of material that the Italians say is looted.

“Many of the antiquities are Etruscan and could only have been found in Italy. They left Italy illegally because they would require an export licence. I can’t see how the Home Office can dispute that.”

The Italians said that requests to the Home Office asking for details on how the antiquities arrived in Britain, which must be given under international law, have been frustrated by “unhelpful”, delaying responses. For its part, the Home Office has asked Italy for evidence that the artefacts “were in fact stolen”.

The Symes treasures include Etruscan gold and amber necklaces, lead figures of warriors and a bronze mask of Acheloos, a river deity. There is also an Attic cup decorated with dolphins and a Roman bronze statuette of a bull. Many are still soil-encrusted, a sign of recent illegal digs, according to the Italians. Some belong to important known pieces in Italy and offer “evidence” of smuggling. One of the fragments with the liquidators comes from a looted vase that has been returned to Italy by the Getty Museum – “an absurd situation”, as they belong together, Ferri said.

The collection is expected to raise well over £100,000.

Fabio Isman, an Italian authority on looted art, said: “These objects were excavated illegally and are now being sold. It’s terrible – terrible for culture and for the country from where the objects came. It’s a scandal.”

A controversial figure, Symes built up a dealing company once valued at £125m. Selling antiquities to collectors and museums, including the Getty in Los Angeles, he lived a life of luxury. He went bankrupt after a legal dispute with the family of his late business partner. Aged 65, Symes was sentenced to two years in prison in 2005 by a high court judge.

The liquidator, BDO Stoy Hayward, declined to comment. A Home Office spokesman said its policy is “to neither confirm nor deny the existence of a request to the UK, or to comment [on it]”.

SOURCE

British Museum under pressure to give up leading treasures

The demand, issued in Cairo at the end of a two-day conference, is addressed to every country that holds ancient relics.

Western museum hold most of the items listed by countries ranging from China to Mexico. The British museum is the principal target because of the prominence of the artefacts it owns.

Egypt wants returned include the Rosetta stone in the British Museum and the bust of Nefertiti in Berlin’s Neues Museum. Both the British and Neues Museum have rejected the demand.

The conference was hosted by Zahi Hawass, the head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, who has been an outspoken campaigner for the return of lost treasures.

Mr Hawass acknowledged that there was no international legal basis for the demands but said a united stand between affected nations would bolster the claims.

“Instead of Egypt fighting on its own, let’s all fight together. let’s all come out with a wishlist,” he said. “We need to co-operate all of us especially with that wish list. we need all of us to come with one list and fight until we return this artefacts back.

“Forget the legal issue,” he said. “Important icons should be in their motherland, period.”

A spokeswoman said the British museum had not received an official request from Egypt.

“The British Museum has not received an official request for the permanent return of the Rosetta Stone,” she said. “The Museum has received a request from the Supreme Council of Antiquities requesting the short term loan of the stone for the opening of the new museum in Giza in 2012 or 2013. The Trustees of the British Museum will consider this request in due course.”

It has faced a long running campaign by the Greek government for the return of the Elgin Marbles which were taken from the Parthenon at the outset of the 19th century.

Elana Korka, a Greek culture ministry official said the marbles were its prime concern. “We would like to see some good faith,” she said. “They are the Parthenon marbles and that is where they belong.”

International conventions written since 1954 prohibited wartime looting, theft and resale of artefacts but the agreements don’t apply to items taken abroad before national or global laws were in force.

Nigeria has listed its claims for the Benin bronzes, which are also housed from the British Museum. Mexico has demanded the return of a feathered headdress of a tribal warrior and China has sought the handover of astrological items looted from the Summer Palace in Beijing during the Second Opuim War.

Artefacts that are on the looted list:

1 Elgin Marbles

(British Museum)

Greece has long fought to reclaim the frieze stripped from the Parthenon at the behest of the 7th Earl of Elgin in 1801

2 Rosetta Stone

(British Museum) Egypt demands the return of the 2,200-year-old stone tablet that holds the key to translating ancient hieroglyphs

3 Summer Palace

bronzes (private French owner)

China claims bronze heads from a zodiac clock were stolen during the Second Opium War in 1860

4 Benin Bronzes (British Museum) Nigeria lays claim to the royal treasures of Benin, saying that they were seized by British troops in 1897

5 Queen Nefertiti (Berlin Neues Museum)

Egypt wants the 3,500-year-old bust of the wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten returned

SOURCE

Italian court demands Getty Museum return ancient statue

The Los Angeles museum said it would appeal the decision to Italy’s highest court and would “vigorously defend” its right to keep the bronze.

The “Victorious Youth” statue, which dates from 300-100BC, was pulled from the sea by Italian fishermen in 1964 off the eastern town of Fano, near Pesaro.

The Italian government, which has been on an international campaign to reclaim looted antiquities, says it was brought into Italy and then exported illegally.

The Getty Museum maintains Italy has no claim to the bronze and says it bought the statue in good faith in 1977 for $4 million (£2.5m).

In announcing its appeal, the Getty Museum said the ruling by the Pesaro court was flawed procedurally and substantively, noting that a previous case involving the statue was thrown out after the judge held, among other things, that the statute of limitations had expired.

“In fact, no Italian court has ever found any person guilty of any criminal activity in connection with the export or sale of the statue,” the museum said in a statement.

The statue, nicknamed the “Getty Bronze,” is a signature piece for the museum.

Though the artist is unknown, some scholars believe it was made by Lysippos, Alexander the Great’s personal sculptor.

In recent years Italy has successfully won back artefacts it says were looted or stolen from the country and sold to museums and private collections worldwide.

In 2007, the Getty, without admitting any wrongdoing, agreed to return 40 ancient treasures in exchange for the long-term loans of other artefacts. Similar deals have been reached with other museums.

Under the 2007 deal, the two sides agreed to postpone further discussion of “Victorious Youth” until the court case was decided.

The Culture Ministry hailed Thursday’s ruling with “great satisfaction” and said it hoped it would lead to serious reflection on the part of the Getty about returning the statue.

The bronze is believed to have sunk with the ship that was carrying it to Italy after the Romans conquered Greece.

SOURCE

Did Howard Carter steal from The Tomb?

Howard Carter, the British explorer who opened the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922, will forever be associated with the greatest trove of artifacts from ancient Egypt. But was he also a thief?

Dawn was breaking as Howard Carter took up a crowbar to pry open the sealed tomb door in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. With shaking hands, he held a candle to the fissure, now wafting out 3,300-year-old air. What did he see, those behind him wanted to know. The archaeologist could do no more than stammer, “Wonderful things!”

This scene from Thebes in November, 1922, is considered archaeology’s finest hour. Howard Carter, renowned as the “last, greatest treasure seeker of the modern age,” had arrived at his goal.

Carter obtained about 5,000 objects from the four burial chambers, including furniture, jars of perfume, flyswatters, and ostrich feathers — the whole place was a dream of jasper, lapis lazuli, and turquoise. He even discovered a ceremonial staff adorned with beetles’ wings.

The “unexpected treasures,” as Carter described them, suddenly brought to light an Egyptian king previously almost unknown — Tutankhamun, born approximately 1340 B.C., who ascended the throne as a child. A statue shows the boy king with chubby cheeks and a delicate face. Tutankhamun later married his older sister and conceived two children with her, both born prematurely. The fetuses were found in small but magnificent coffins.

The king died at the age of 18. An ardent racer — six of his chariots were also discovered in the tomb — who often went ostrich hunting in the Eastern Desert with his dog, Tutankhamun may have suffered a chariot accident and died of subsequent blood poisoning.

Lotus Flowers and Nightshade Berries

Interest in the young Egyptian monarch remains high today. An exhibit of replicas currently on show in Hamburg has drawn 150,000 visitors to date. Nothing even nearly comparable has ever been recovered from these earliest periods of human culture. With 27 gloves, 427 arrows, 12 stools, 69 chests, and 34 throwing sticks, the sheer volume of objects is breathtaking.

When Carter first opened the cavern, it still smelled of embalming oil. Lotus flowers and nightshade berries still rested on the coffins.

The grandeur of the find rubbed off on its discoverer. Carter was awarded an honorary doctorate and US President Calvin Coolidge invited him to tea. Horst Beinlich, Egyptologist at Würzburg University, calls him a “thoroughly honest man full of idealism.”

It appears, however, that this isn’t quite true. Documents show that the hero of the tombs cheated on many counts, manipulating photographs, forging documentation on the discovery and deceiving the Egyptian Antiquities Service.

The discoveries in that tomb set in motion a power struggle that has been only partially uncovered. Carter wanted to send as much of the treasure as possible to England and the United States. This plan quickly met with resistance. Egypt had been a British protectorate since 1914, but the administration of antiques lay in the hands of a particularly intractable Frenchman.

In the end, Carter’s entire scheme went awry and the pharaoh’s golden treasures remained in Cairo, marking the end of an era of ruthless appropriation of cultural assets. Carter and his team went away empty-handed.

Pocketing This and That

Or at least, that was the official word. Secretly, however, the Carter team helped themselves, despite lacking authorization. Objects in several museums have now been revealed to belong to Tutankhamun’s treasures.

The most recent example is a small ushabti, or servant for the dead, made of white faience and standing in the Louvre. On a recent visit to the Paris museum, Egyptologist Christian Loeben couldn’t believe his eyes. “Tutankhamun’s throne name is written on the figure,” he explains. “It can only have come from his tomb.”

Forbidden treasures in the form of two golden hawk’s heads were also found in Kansas City. Examination revealed them to be part of a collar that had lain directly on the mummy’s skin, which was coated with 20 liters (5 gallons) of embalming oil. The jewelry broke when it was pulled away, and Carter collected the pieces to give as a present to his dentist.

Objects of Tutankhamun’s have also wound up in Germany. A museum director in the state of Saxony, who wishes to remain anonymous, confessed to SPIEGEL that he is in possession of several blue faience beads. “Carter pocketed them as the tomb chambers were being cleaned and later gave them to his secretary,” he says. The museum director came across these dubious items through an auction house.

‘Unstamped Things’

Such handling of foreign property only serves to strengthen a suspicion Thomas Hoving, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, raised in the 1970s. Based on internal file notes, he documented cases in which Carter and his partner, the English Earl of Carnarvon, allowed their fingers to wander. They gave a clasp that showed the pharaoh on a war chariot as a present to Egyptian King Fouad I, for example. American oil baron Edward Harkness received a gold ring.

Carnarvon himself was looking for a fresh supply of such treasures. He wanted “unstamped things,” he wrote from Highclere Castle to Thebes on December 22, 1922, meaning pieces without a cartouche containing a name, so that they would be difficult to identify.

Carter was only caught in the act once. He’d slipped a painted bust of the young pharaoh into a side chamber, without a registration number. Inspectors discovered the bust, a “masterpiece of antique sculpture” in Hoving’s words, in a wine crate. The archaeologist talked his way out of the situation, and the scandal was never made public.

Most of the time, Carter’s subterfuge worked. A series of mostly small objects disappeared. Who stole what when — and where the pieces ended up — remains one of Egyptology’s greatest mysteries.

Ancient Tomb Robbers?

What’s known for sure is that the Metropolitan Museum of Art alone contains around 20 objects presumed to have originated from KV 62, Tutankhamun’s tomb. These include a small dog made of ivory, a gazelle, rings, a splendid painter’s palette, and even two silver coffin nails.

The Brooklyn Museum has in its possession, among other things, a statue of a girl, an ointment spoon, and a blue glass vase. A cat carved from black hematite turned up in Cleveland. The owners release very little information on the disputed objects.

“Nobody likes to talk about these unpleasant things,” explains Loeben, the Egyptologist. In England, Carter is known as a brilliant counterpart to Heinrich Schliemann, the German archeologist who excavated ancient Troy. That Carter earned his money through antique dealing, though, is normally hushed up.

The most recent allegations go further. Carter is said to have fudged archaeological facts, leading generations of researchers astray. The focal point of the criticism is Carter’s theory that the tomb had been looted multiple times in antiquity.

Thieves broke into the sanctuary “immediately following the burial rituals,” Carter wrote. Backed up by corrupt necropolis officials, they ransacked all the tomb’s chambers, he claimed, and other bandits later came and stole cosmetic oils.

The archaeologist gave signs of a break-in as proof, saying he had to force his way through a series of doors that had been broken open and then re-sealed by necropolis guards, all in ancient times.

Robbers With a Thing for Small Jewelry

Carter described the robbers’ destruction in vivid detail. Chests had been rifled through and stoppers pulled from alabaster vases and thrown to the ground, he said. The robbers had torn ornamentation made of precious metals from the furniture and chariots, as well as stealing a 30-centimeter (12-inch) solid gold statue.

That scenario represents the prevailing opinion today. In his standard work “The Complete Tutankhamun,” British Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves accepts the figure that 60 percent of the tomb’s small ornaments and jewelry were lost. But is it true? No independent witnesses were present when Carter first entered the tomb.

It’s also clear that he lied on at least a few points. Alfred Lucas, one of Carter’s employees, revealed that his boss secretly broke open the door to the burial chamber himself, afterward relocking it with deceptive authenticity using an antique seal, to hide his transgression. That report appeared in 1947, but only in a little-read scientific journal in Cairo. Hardly anyone took notice.

‘The Break-In Was Faked’

Hoving’s revelations in the 1970s similarly attracted little interest. Many saw him as fouling the nest.

But suspicions continue to grow, especially among German Egyptologists, who doubt that the looting of the tomb in antique times really played out the way Carter described. “Much of the story is exaggerated,” Loeben believes. His colleague Rolf Krauss goes further and says, “The break-in was faked.”

Feeding these suspicions are articles 9 and 10 of the excavation license, which allowed goods from a tomb to be contractually divided up only if it had been previously robbed. If a pharaoh’s tomb was found intact, all its contents would go to Egypt.

“Under these conditions, it’s clear the discoverers must have tried construe the state of their find in their favor,” is Krauss’ analysis. This casts a dubious light on the man considered a leader in his field.

The Ambitious Young Carter

The son of an artist known for his portraits of animals, Carter arrived in Egypt in 1891, when Victorian-era colonialism was at its height. The young man developed a knack for finding hidden burial chambers. Before hitting it big with Tutankhamun’s tomb, Carter had already found three other royal tombs — all of them empty. He liked being connected to the powerful, working intermittently for American millionaire and amateur archaeologist Theodore Davis.

The young Carter was somewhat awkward in his personal interactions. After coming to blows with some French tourists, he lost his job as inspector for the Egyptian Antiquities Service. Carter was stubborn and hot-tempered, Hoving says, adding, “Few people could be around him for an extended period without being driven up the wall.” But his knack for finding tombs is undisputed. Starting in 1907, Carter began his obsessive pursuit of the child pharaoh whose corpse had never been found, hunting every possible clue.

Eventually he defined a triangle in the Valley of the Kings. The untouched sanctuary would be found there, he believed, somewhere under the mounds of detritus.

Carter quickly found a sponsor for the plan, although dozens had failed before him in the same pursuit. Lord Carnarvon was in poor health after a serious car accident, but the nobleman dandy, who had once circumnavigated the globe, had a mania for eerie shrines to the dead and embalmed mummies.

The Path to Tutankhamun

During the Tutankhamun project, Carnarvon’s teeth fell out one after another, and he died of an inflamed mosquito bite five months later — the beginnings of the myth of the “curse of the pharaoh.”

Carter didn’t have an easy time either. Oppressed by the heat and buffeted by dusty winds, he urged on a team of local laborers. One unsuccessful season followed another. After four years, the group was only a few centimeters from the discovery site. Suddenly, though, the boss withdrew his workers and continued the dig elsewhere.

There is a strong case for the theory that Carter had tracked down the entrance to the tomb at this point, but kept silent for tactical reasons, keeping a trump card up his sleeve. It can be said, at the very least, that when Carnarvon wanted to cut off funds in the summer of 1922, things moved surprisingly fast. Carter returned to Britain and begged for financial backing for one last campaign.

‘A Magnificent Tomb With Seals Intact’

Hardly had he arrived back in Thebes, or so runs the legend, when an assistant dashed into the excavation tent and reported a sensational find — a buried set of stairs leading down to a sealed door. Was there intrigue behind this announcement? A half brother of Lord Carnarvon thought so. He claimed Carter had crept secretly into the underground chambers three months before.

The official story is that Carter, by his own account, felt “almost overwhelmed” by the urge to break open the irksome door, but resisted, and buried the stairs once again. The next day, November 6, 1922, he cabled Lord Carnarvon, “At last have made wonderful discovery in the Valley. A magnificent tomb with seals intact. Recovered same for your arrival. Congratulations.”

Then he waited more than two weeks, ostensibly without taking any action, for his chain-smoking sponsor to arrive. Carnarvon traveled to Luxor by ship, railroad, and steamboat on the Nile. Together with his daughter Evelyn, then 21, he alighted at the glamorous Winter Palace Hotel and rushed, having barely slept, to the Valley of the Kings. Not until then did the men open the sealed door, whose mortar showed clues of a previous break-in.

Behind it lay a corridor filled with rubble.

By afternoon on November 26, the workers had removed the debris and exposed a further walled-in doorway. Carter managed to clear a peephole in the blockade, and caught a glimpse of the “wonderful things” in the antechamber.

Again and again, authors have attested to this “solemn moment,” in which the archaeologist looked in on that “eternal place,” dazzled, spellbound, awed — yet managing to keep his head. Then, according to the excavation leader, he stopped, in order to notify the Egyptian inspector general as duty required.

Carter’s words: “We had seen enough. We plugged the hole again.”

Lord Carnarvon’s Alternate Story

All that is a lie. What really took place can be gathered from a report — to this day never published, but studied in detail by Hoving — that Lord Carnarvon wrote shortly before his death. Instead of waiting dutifully as regulations required, the party forced its way through the narrow opening right away.

Using tallow candles and a weak electrical lamp, the interlopers first entered the antechamber. Golden beds and beautifully carved chairs were piled up in the narrow room, as well as gaming tables and precious vases. Oval basins held food for the dead pharaoh.

Animal figures shone from the posts of gilded litters, monstrous in the weak cone of light from the lamp. The explorers moved chests, trampled brittle woven baskets, and pocketed perfume jars, opening chests in the side chamber as well.

But the most important question remained: Where was the mummy? At last the intruders discovered another bricked-in entranceway, framed by two life-sized black sentinels. Although being found out would have cost them their license, the group broke blocks of stone away from the door. And everyone pushed their way through.

Now they stood inside the room with the four gilded wooden shrines, each inside the next, with four coffins nested inside. In the innermost of these lay the mummy, with a beaded skullcap on its shaved head. Carter rattled the outermost door and the hinges sprang open, creaking. It wasn’t until yet another seal obstructed his progress that he paused, with a shiver.

A Holy Mess

The conspirators left the underground tomb chambers hours later. Overwhelmed and blissful, they rode home by donkey in the wan moonlight, agreeing to keep silent about their activities. Only Lady Evelyn hinted at the events of that night in a letter, thanking Carter for taking her into that “most holy place.”

The negative scientific consequences of those nighttime misdoings are still felt to this day. No one knows how the tomb really looked in its untouched state. Carter always attributed this to the barbarism of ancient thieves — but the chaos in the tomb could just as well have been caused by Carter himself.

In any case, he exaggerated the damages, asserting for example that seals were already broken off the jugs of wine. But where, in that case, are the remains of those seals? Carter also claimed that objects had been stolen out of the chests. “But that can’t be substantiated using the content labels attached to the chests,” Loeben says.

Loeben also considers the claim that previous thieves had broken off golden figures from the wagons absurd: “That kind of ornamentation didn’t even exist.”

Thus the suspicion remains that the tomb’s discoverer systematically lied and misled. He wanted to present Tutankhamun’s tomb as already defiled, hoping in this way to obtain permission to remove half of the finds from the country, in accordance with the license agreement.

That the British explorer left empty-handed after all had to do with Carnarvon’s untimely death in April 1923. With Carnarvon went the excavation license, and the cards were reshuffled. Even the US State Department intervened — on Carter’s side — in the political and legal tug-of-war that ensued.

In the end, Egypt won. Carnarvon’s heirs received £36,000 (about $137,000 at the time) in compensation for costs incurred by the excavation.

‘The Very Footprints…’

It can hardly be denied any longer that antique dealer Howard Carter grabbed Tutankhamun’s valuables and helped himself to artifacts from the 3,300-year-old tomb. The details of the swindle, however, have only come to light in bits and pieces.

Carter’s theory of grave robbery in ancient times has also lost most of its clout. It has become increasingly clear that his arguments are often based on exaggerations — or are simply nonsense.

The British archaeologist claimed, for example, to have discovered “the very footprints of the last intruder” on a white bow case.

Krauss, the German Egyptologist, examined the photographic evidence from the 1920s. “A footprint is indeed visible in the photograph,” he explains, “However, it was made not by Egyptian sandals, but by modern shoes with heels.”

His suspicion? “They could be Howard Carter’s own prints.”

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