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A tour of the Egyptian Exhibition at Highclere is part of our Britain's Downton Era program.
A Lady Almina and the 5th Earl of Carnarvon in Egypt.

Highclere Castle, on the Hampshire/Berkshire border is the family seat of the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon. They have opened an Egyptian Exhibition throughout the cellars of the Castle, but what, you may ask, is their connection with Egyptian antiquities? Famously, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert was patron of the Egyptologist Howard Carter and together they discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922!.

Today’s Countess of Carnarvon has recalled: ‘He always had an interest in collecting ancient objects. His father, the 4th Earl, a famous politician who served as a Minister for Disraeli, was President of the Society of Antiquities. ‘My great-grandfather’s goal was to find a beautiful object that no one else had yet found. Of course, he found them in spades in the end.’

The 5th Earl of Carnarvon first travelled to Egypt in 1898. From 1906 he spent many winters in Egypt, and not merely as a traveller as he was an enthusiastic amateur Egyptologist. He acquired concessions to excavate over 16 years near Luxor in the Valley of the Queens, the Valley of the Nobles, the Valley of the Kings, and in the Nile Delta near Alexandria.

 

Photograph taken of the tomb of Tutankhamun during the 1922 excavations
The most famous archaeological discovery of all time - the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922.

Working in Egypt at the time was the French linguist and archaeologist, Gaston Maspero, Director of the Antiquities Department. In 1907, the Earl approached him to seek advice for the use of an expert to head his planned archaeological expedition to the Valley of the Kings. Maspero introduced Howard Carter to Carnarvon to ensure that Carter imposed modern archaeological methods and systems of recording on the proposed excavations.

Howard Carter undertook the supervision of Carnarvon's sponsored excavations and, by 1914, had secured some antiquities for his patron's personal collection. But his real dream was to find the tomb of an ancient young pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, a glorious period of Egyptian history.

Carnarvon financed Carter's work in the Valley of the Kings to 1914 when excavations and study were interrupted by World War I. At the end of the war, Carter aggressively resumed his work again in 1917. After several years of finding little, Carnarvon became dissatisfied with the lack of results. In 1922 he informed Carter that he had only one more season of funding to search the Valley of the Kings and find the tomb.

Carter was devastated and pleaded with Carnarvon to reconsider, even offering to pay for the dig himself. Eventually Carnarvon relented and reportedly, while excavating the very last plot, the water boy discovered a step that appeared to be part of a tomb.

 

The death mask of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun.

Carnarvon and his daughter, Evelyn, watched nervously as Carter made a hole in the first plaster-sealed entrance. Placing a candle through the opening, he was stunned by what he saw: an antechamber filled with all sorts of Royal possessions, including amazing golden chariots and other 'wonderful things' to take the Pharaoh to his afterlife.

 

Instead of immediately summoning the authorities, as was Egyptian law, Carnarvon persuaded Carter to make a small hole in the next chamber. He found an intact burial chamber and realised that he had finally found his own Holy Grail - the last resting place of Tutankhamun, the 14th-century BC boy pharaoh.

 

It was the extraordinary relationship of these two men, the unwavering determination of the Egyptologist and the trust bestowed by his patron, that produced the most famous archaeological discovery of all time; the tomb that would be considered the best preserved and most intact pharaonic tomb ever found in the Valley of the Kings. The discovery of the tomb on November 4, 1922 exposed treasures unsurpassed in the history of archaeology and Carter became world famous. The ultimate prize that Howard Carter had sought all his adult life yielded more than he could ever imagine: thousands of priceless artefacts, eventually crowned by the solid gold coffin and death mask of Tutankhamun.

 

The Pharaoh's body was inside 3 coffins with a stone sarcophagus surround and 4 gilded shrines. The weight of the coffin was so heavy it took 8 men to lift it. It was only when the layers were removed that the second coffin revealed itself to be solid gold. The mummified corpse also had a separate gold mask. But the king's embalmed organs were stored apart in a nearby shrine. In all, some 150 items of gold or decorative ornament were removed from the mummy. The treasure included vast quantities of gold or gold inlaid items - a gold dagger, gold sandals, a wooden gold decorated inlaid throne, gold statues, carved cosmetic jars, ivory game board set, chests, boxes and various pectorals of mixed types.

Lord Carnarvon had previously both discovered and purchased Egyptian artefacts but the tomb discovery allowed him to create one of the most extraordinary Egyptian collections in the world, with unique and exquisite works of art. Following his death in 1923, the collection was sold by his widow to the Metropolitan Museum of New York in order to pay death duties.

Palmolive Advertisement c1922.

Perhaps by comparison with some of the works of art sent to New York, the remainder seemed less significant to the family. They were tucked away in cupboards in Highclere Castle until re-discovered by the family in 1987. Today they constitute part of their Egyptian Exhibition, along with statues and antiquities which had originally been lent by the Carnarvon family to the British Museum and Newbury Museum and now lent back.

 

The discovery was a major event in the history of taste and design and provoked a craze for Egyptian artefacts. ‘Egyptomania’ affected cinema, fashion, jewellery and architecture. In particular, the exquisite artefacts of Ancient Egypt were among the major influences on the Art Deco style of design. Look for these influences in Downton Abbey especially in the furniture, furnishings, accessories and fashion; not to mention Julian Fellowes’s nod to this incredible story, the names of Lord Grantham’s Labradors, Isis and Pharaoh !

Archaeologist and Program Leader Dianne Harlow will be leading our Iberian Discovery tour this September, which you can read about here.

Click here to visit our YouTube channel to view several short films, including the Egyptian connection to Highclere, a documentary on the curse of Tutankhamun, a short film on London's hidden Egyptian influences, and images of 1920's Egyptomania.

Find out about our 19 day tour of Britain's Downton Era departing August 2015 . One highlight of the program is a guided tour of Highclere including its fascinating Egyptian Exhibition.

Visit Get Up & Go magazine for your chance to win two places on this unique tour !

 

 

 

 

 

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