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Discovering King Tut’s Tomb: Oxford Exhibition Challenges Euro-Centric Narratives

On the 100th anniversary of the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in Upper Egypt, the University of Oxford opened a new exhibition to highlight the Egyptian workers who helped find it.

In a simplified Western version of the discovery story, the British Egyptologist Howard Carter and his team arrived in Luxor in 1922 and nigh single-handedly brought to light the iconic remains of the once-forgotten boy king, who reigned from around 1332 to 1323 B.C.E.

The exhibition includes photographs that depict and lend credit to local Egyptian workers whose contributions have too often been overlooked.

The new exhibition, “Tutankhamun: Excavating the Archives”, held in collaboration with the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries, challenges that narrative. It puts the focus on the many skilled Egyptian workers whose contributions were key to the tomb’s discovery and 10-year excavation.

The exhibition features Carter’s own letters, plans and drawings, alongside pictures by the photographer Harry Burton. Many of Burton’s photographs depict local Egyptian workers who assisted during the 10-year excavation, giving them credit that has too often been overlooked.

One dramatic image shows two foremen and a young boy carefully taking down a partition wall to open up the burial chamber. Others show many of the dozens of local workers and children who helped excavate the site.

Gallery: Testimony in Photographs

Along with Carter’s writings, which named and thanked four Egyptian foremen, the exhibition highlights the collaboration and provides a counterpoint to the Western vision of exoticism and adventure that is often associated with this discovery.

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By criticising and interrogating the prevailing narrative, it also helps rewrite history.

Tutankhamun: Excavating the Archives is on view through February 5, 2023, at the University of Oxford’s Weston Library.

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