Archeologist Reeves Reveals Tutankhamun’s Last Secret
Next week, October 9: Beneath the Sands of Egypt: An archaeologist explores the Valley of the Kings, with Donald P. Ryan, Ph.D., of Pacific Lutheran University.
This was the thrust, then carefully proved—as best one can after 3,000 years—by archeologist Nicholas Reeves, Ph.D., Tuesday night at Town Hall. Titled Tutankhamun’s Last Secret, this was the first of a series of seven in the Ancient Egypt Distinguished Speakers Lecture Series presented this fall at Town Hall by the Pacific Science Center in conjunction with its ongoing exhibition Tutankhamun, The Golden King and the Great Pharoahs (through January 6, 2013).
Dr Reeves is associate curator in the Department of Egyptian Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The content of his hour-long lecture was so absorbing and the slides so fascinating that his unemphatic delivery and his reading of his lecture didn’t matter much.
Reeves put Tutankhamun’s tomb into context by describing the discovery by Howard Carter, his team, and his patron, the Earl of Caernarvon, on Sunday November 26, 1922, after years of dedicated and enthusiastic tomb exploration in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings had failed to find anything new which had not already been vandalized by tomb robbers over the past millenia. This tomb had never been found, as was shown by the unbroken seals on the entrance.
Tutankhamun was a shortlived pharoah who died in his teens. The puzzle is that his tomb is small, just four rooms, but in it was found a multitude of every item a king could need on his funerary journey, much of it sublime works of art in gold.
Reeves showed some of these, but zeroed in on the gold death mask, a gorgeous item which weighs in at ten-plus kilos. Pointing out that just before Tutankhamun’s reign it had recently been turbulent times in Egypt, and that the king had apparently died suddenly, he described some of the discrepancies in the mask. The gold of the surrounding headpiece is better quality than that of the face. The blue stripes in the head piece are glass, in the face (such as the eyebrows) the blue is lapis lazuli. The entire mask is made up of eight pieces riveted together and maybe it was originally built for a woman, maybe Nefertiti, as decided by tiny holes for earrings which had been covered up with gold leaf, with just the face replaced with Tut’s. Nefertiti’s tomb has never been found.
It’s history and mystery together, with science playing an increasing role in deciphering the mysteries.
Reeves’ talk ended with question time and in each answer he brought out more fascinating details. The last question came from a small boy, who wanted to know how the brain got removed in embalming. Reeves informed the child and the audience that the Egyptians didn’t consider the brain of any importance or realize it had anything to do with thinking, that to them the heart was the center of every thought. Then he described the messy procedure of how they extracted the brain after death without damaging skull or face.
The audience was not large for this first lecture in the series, but will likely increase as word gets around. They are all on Tuesdays, with three more in October, and after a two-week hiatus, three more in November.