A Blog to Keep the Lizards Away. It's about posting and sharing the things I'm into. Hope you enjoy the show!

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Hangin' With Howard Carter

Sheik Hussein abd-er Rassul in 1999
holding a photo of him, as a boy in 1922, wearing Tutankhamen's Scarab Necklace

On my earliest trips to Egypt, I lived on the West Bank in Luxor and was a regular at the Ramesseum Resthouse, a comfortable lunchtime oasis located directly opposite Rameses 11's Mortuary  Temple, the Ramesseum. At the time, the Resthouse proprietor was an old gentleman Sheik Hussein, an original from the Qurna Village which nestled in the foothills of the Tombs of the Nobles. 

The Sheik was a descendant of the Rassul family and it was his infamous uncles who found the famous cache of Pharaoh's mummies at Deir el-Bahari. In 1874, the three Rassul brothers found the royal mummies of virtually every 18th dynasty pharaoh in a tomb shaft, where they had been hidden from marauding grave-robbers thousands of years before. Their find was only discovered after precious items from the mummies started to turn up on the illegal antiquities market some time after.

For some reason Sheik Hussein took a shine to me and I was invited to stay at his house, meet his family and enjoy many meals and social occasions in their company. I am still good friends with his sons and their families.

Sheik Hussein had a million stories but my favourite was his description of being present at the discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb in the Kings Valley in 1922. As a 12 year old he was working, as a house-boy, in Howard Carter's house, which is located on the entrance road to the Valley and he often told me how Carter would bring pieces home to photograph, in a studio they had set up in the house.

Tutankhamen's Pectoral Scarab Necklace, now in the Cairo Museum collection

This led to to him showing me a prized photo of him wearing one of Tutankhamen's iconic Scarab necklaces. The Sheik had many other stories about Howard Carter and what life was like back then, some more believable than others, but all were very entertaining.

Howard Carter in 1930

Sadly Sheik Hussein passed on eventually taking all those memories with him. When he died the abandoned Carter house had been securely closed for many years and almost in a effort to collaborate his stories I went to the derelict house one evening and persuaded the guardian to let me in for as few minutes. Sure enough it was all there exactly as the Sheik had described. I felt guilty at ever having doubted him.

Not long after, at a New Years Eve function,  I was talking to a Tourism minister and suggested they should restore the Carter house as it was back then and the obvious attraction it would be for tourists. I'm sure I was not the first person to have such an idea, but I took some satisfaction from attending the official opening of the restored Carter Dig House last year.

Carter's Office in his King's Valley Dig House

Of even greater interest was the bedroom quarters of Lord Carnarvon, Carter's benefactor. I can't imagine how the Lord adjusted to such spartan conditions after being accustomed to the grand proportions of Highclere Castle, his magnificent home in Scotland. [recently featured in the television series Downton Abbey.]

Lord Carnarvon's Bedroom in the Carter Dig House

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