Howard Carter holds keys while Egyptian guards surround ancient sepulchre
Luxor, Feb. 16, 1924 — The situation existing in the Valley of the Kings has no precedent in the annals of Egyptology. The differences between Howard Carter and the Egyptian authorities have placed Tutankhamen’s tomb virtually in no-man’s land, for Mr Carter holds the keys to the wooden-steel gates while the Egyptian government has put the tomb out of bounds by announcing that the officials of the antiquities department have the right to call upon the armed police on duty in the valley to repel any attempts to enter it.
A permanent watch has been established by three native inspectors of the department of antiquities to see that these orders are enforced. Direct telephonic communication has been established between the valley and the headquarters of the chief inspector of antiquities for upper Egypt, situated outside of Luxor on the Karnak road, the telephone box being within 100 yards of Tutankhamun’s tomb. The chief inspector, who is an Englishman and whom the government has entrusted with the execution of its orders, is thus in immediate contact with the tomb guards.
In recognition of the fact that the present situation is wholly untenable, the general expectation here is that the Egyptian government will claim to exercise its rights under contract with Mr Carter and take over the tomb and complete the work of exploration. In such an event, it is assumed, the excavators will resort to legal proceedings to determine whether the government is entitled to exercise this right.
Luxor is buzzing like a beehive, for every foreign excavator fears the Egyptian government may make the present incident the occasion for revising the whole system under which foreigners are granted license to dig. For many years, the situation by which the bulk of excavation in Egypt has been done by foreigners with foreign capital and taking a share of the findings as a reward, has created constant friction between the government and the excavators.
The brunt of these troubles have fallen inevitably upon the department of antiquities, the head of which, under the Franco-British agreement regarding Egypt, is always a Frenchman aided, however, by a staff of British chief inspectors.
As the official advisers of the government in the dispute are Europeans, impartial observers deprecate any attempt to represent as a European versus Egyptian controversy what actually is an old question that has become acute — partly through the operation of the late Lord Carnavon’s newspaper contracts and partly through the accession to power in Egypt of a strong nationalist government, extremely sensitive in its national dignity.
In all this quarreling, Tutankhamen lies in the quarantined tomb in his golden mummy case under glass, almost forgotten. Whatever may be the outcome of the controversy, it seems highly unlikely that any further work will be done on the tomb this year beyond reclosing the lid of the sarcophagus and removing to the Cairo museum the objects already packed and awaiting removal.
The Egyptian government’s action regarding Tutankhamen’s tomb, it is declared here, will be based entirely upon the terms of Howard Carter’s concession and the agreement of February 7 governing the admission of visitors to the tomb, of which Mr Carter was a signatory, and the government will act entirely within its legal rights.
Every measure will be taken to preserve the valuable treasures of the tomb. Premier Said Zagloul Pasha, it is said, endorses the decision of the ministry of public works.
Visitors cause of trouble
The Egyptian legation today made this explanation of the much-discussed incident of the closing of Tutankhamen’s tomb:
“According to an understanding in which Howard Carter participated, the Egyptian government decided to regulate the visits to the tomb. Wednesday, February 13, was reserved exclusively for the press.
“Mr. Carter asked permission for a certain number of his personal friends to visit the tomb on that day. The Egyptian government refused his request in accordance with the agreement, and Mr Carter, not satisfied with the refusal of the government, threatened to take legal proceedings and closed the tomb.
“The Egyptian government could not allow defiance of its authority and took steps to have the laws and regulations respected.”