Breasted, Charles, B., Pioneer to The Past: The Story of James Henry Breasted, Archaeologist, Scribners, New York, 1943


transcription /facsimile book excerpt



"I could only utter one exclamation of amazement after another, and then turn again and shake Carter's hand," my father wrote afterward. "Emotion struggled with the habit of years to observe and to understand, a struggle in which my critical faculties were for the moment completely routed. All about us lay a totally new revelation of ancient life, transcending anything we had ever known before. Here was the magnificence which only the wealth and splendor of the Imperial Age in Egypt in the fourteenth century before Christ could have wrought or conceived--and as it at first seemed, with everything still standing as it was placed there when the tomb was last closed. Never was anything so dramatic in the whole range of archaeological discovery as this first view of what must surely be Tutenkhamon's tomb

"Against the rear wall of this first chamber--which was about 14 feet wide and approximately 26 feet long--and extending almost its entire length, were placed head to foot three magnificent couches all overwrought with gold. As one faced them they were breast high-- his majesty probably required some sort of portable step when he climbed into bed. The couch at the right was made in the form of a standing panther, the creature's head and legs forming respectively the bedposts at the head and the supports beneath the couch. The middle couch had the form of a mottled cow with four horns, while the third couch at the left was a grotesque typhon-like hippo with mouth open showing the grinning teeth.

"Under the couches were chairs and caskets, chests and boxes. On the inside of the back of the finest of these chairs there is a representation of the King and his Queen standing together. The work is executed in gold and silver with incrustation and inlay of semiprecious stones in bright colors. In art and craftsmanship it is one of the finest pieces of work now in existence from any age of the world.l

"In a corner at the right I knelt before a lovely casket containing part of the royal raiment. The outside of this casket was painted with scenes in miniature, representing the Pharaoh and the royal suite engaged in hunting and in war--a dying lion clutches with his mighty paw at an arrow which has entered his open mouth and hangs broken from his gnashing teeth, while his wounded jungle comrades lie about him in postures of pathetic suffering. The marvelous refinement of detail especially the depiction of the hairy manes, reminds one of similar work by Albrecht Durer.

"In the left corner of the front wall lay the dismounted wheels and other parts of a number of royal chariots. Like the back of the royal chair, and fully equal to it in art and craftsmanship, they were adorned with sumptuous designs in gold and with incrustation of semiprecious stones. The wheels bore traces of having been driven over the rough streets of Thebes. They were therefore not show pieces especially prepared for the King's tomb, but vehicles intended for actual use--and nevertheless, adorned like this! Not vulgar and ostentatious magnificence, but the richness of matured and refined art, formed the daily environment of these great rulers of the Nile in the fourteenth century before Christ.

The splendor of Nineveh and Babylon seems now but a rough foil for setting off the civilization of Egyptian Thebes, which could boast such craftsmen as had produced this royal furniture--men quite worthy to stand beside Lorenzo Ghiberti and Benvenuto Cellini. I felt the traditional `culture values' of the ancient world shifting so rapidly that it made me fairly dizzy!

"I aimlessly fingered notebook and pencil. Of what use were notes made in such a state of mind, with myriad details and whirling thoughts crowding to be recorded all at once? There, between two of the couches, stood four alabaster vases carved with open- work flowers growing on each side and forming the handles. No one had ever seen such vases before. Yonder was a casket of jewelry, and under one of the couches lay a courtier's magnificent baton with a superb handle of gleaming gold, the designs being done in filigree and lovely chevrons made up of tiny spheres of gold, laid--scores of them to the inch--on a background of sheet gold.

"Just beyond this casket was a door in the back wall of the chamber, opposite the chariots and accessible only by crawling under the lefthand couch. Carter handed me a portable electric light, and I crawled under the tall couch to peep through the door. It had originally been sealed with masonry like the other doors, and like them had been broken through at the bottom. Beyond this breach, I could see a second room which Carter had christened 'The Annex.' This was so filled with royal furniture, it was impossible to enter the place without injury to its contents.

"Leaning against the wall to the right, and immediately beside the door as one entered the antechamber, was a large, now brown and desiccated bouquet of what on the burial day had been exquisite, gaycolored flowers.

"Farther to the right, and facing each other like silent sentries on either side of a still unopened sealed doorway in the right end- wall of the chamber, stood two life- size statues of the King, each resting upon a reed mat. Each wore a regal kilt overlaid with gold, a crown of gold, and massive golden sandals. From the forehead of each rose a royal asp of shining gold, each held in its right hand a baton of gold, and in its left a golden staff. The statues themselves were of oiled wood, blackened with age. In spite of their sumptuous gilding, oxidation had invested the royal figures with something of the 'somber livery of the burnished sun' under which the King had lived.

"A second glance had quickly dispelled my initial impression that the royal tomb equipment had never been disturbed: evidences of disturbance and robbery were unmistakable. Openwork designs in heavy sheet gold which had filled the spaces between the legs of the finer chairs had been wrenched out and carried away. The chariots had suffered similarly, and when the robbers had finished with them, they had thrown the parts aside in disorder. They had also left the inner or 'Annex' chamber in great confusion. One of two shrines under the right hand couch had been broken open, and when the robbers found that the statuette of the serpent goddess within was not of solid gold, they had troubled neither to reclose the tiny double doors, nor to open its companion shrine of identical design and size, upon the doors of which the clay seal remained unbroken.

"As the robbers left, they found in their way a common couch for ordinary household use. They tossed this hastily aside--possibly as they hurriedly escaped from the tomb, where they may have been interrupted at their work--and it still lies on top of the couch resembling a cow, with one of the cow's horns sticking through the plaited thongs which had been tightly stretched across the couch frame. The marauders must have taken with them many vessels and other objects made entirely of gold.

"It was now important, besides being a 'Sherlock Holmes' task of unusual interest, to determine who these early tomb robbers were, or at least to gain some rough approximation of the date when they forced their entrance. The holes they had made in the two outside doorways to the tomb had not been large. Carter had of course carefully preserved the plaster with its precious seal impressions, which had covered the masonry closure. When I mentioned this problem to him, he urged me to return the next day for an intensive study of the seals."

As Carter had forewarned us, the air in the tomb, heated by almost thirty- three centuries of Egyptian sun, was insufferably hot. But so exhilarating had been this amazing experience that when we emerged into the cool air of the oncoming twilight we were unaware of being utterly wilted and weary, and conscious only of a sense of elation and of moving in a dream as we returned in the dusk over the cliffs and across the plain and the river to Luxor. I kept remembering that evening years before when as a small boy almost dead for sleep, I had ridden home along this same route from my first visit to The Valley....."