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Reading Tut "TutWatch"
March 25, 2005

Overviews, the excavation, mystery, fringe, and fiction


Type "Tutankhamun" into the search box on the Barnes & Noble or Amazon website, and you'll find a couple hundred books about the boy king. Here's a look at some that, while not comprehensive, may be useful if you want to learn more about him and the discovery of his tomb (or want to know what to avoid!).

Nicholas Reeves book


The best single volume in the moderate price-range is Nicholas Reeves' The Complete Tutankhamun (Thames & Hudson 1990; $24.95, paperback $19.95). It has the historical context, the discovery, and the tomb contents--lots of information and lots of illustrations. For a bit more money, there's the oversize coffee-table (more like dining-room-table) book Tutankhamun by T.G.H. James, former head Egyptologist at the British Museum, with exceptional photographs (Freidman/Fairfax 2000). This book will impress your guests and establish you as a Tut connoisseur if nothing else will. My copy set me back $60 when I bought it at the Border's bookstore at the World Trade Center some years ago. If that price won't stretch your budget too much, track this book down and buy it (withhold your children's allowance if necessary).

T.G.H. James book

If you own both of the above, or if you are seriously hooked on ancient Egypt, you might as well go for the massive Tombs. Treasures. Mummies. Seven Great Discoveries of Egyptian Archaeology (KMT Communications 1998). Written by Dennis Forbes, editor of the Egyptological quarterly KMT, it has a 200+ page overview of Tut plus sections on the royal mummy caches, the tomb of Yuya and Thuya (Tut's grandparents), and Tomb 55 (with Tut family remains).

Publications accompanying the exhibition will include two books by Zahi Hawass, the catalog Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs and a children's book Tutankhamun: The Mystery of the Boy King (both by National Geographic and due out this June).

Howard Carter on the excavation

Howard Carter published his account of the discovery of Tutankhamun in three volumes with the overall title The Tomb of Tut.ankh.Amen (1923, 1927, and 1933). These have been reprinted at various times, notably in a single volume as The Tomb of Tutankhamen (E.P. Dutton, 1972) and as inexpensive paperbacks now available from Dover ($11.95) and National Geographic ($14.00), and in facsimiles by Duckworth, the third volume, The Annexe and Treasury, appearing in 2000. While Carter's account is interesting, the average Tut enthusiast will probably be better served by one of the overviews mentioned above. For those who want more, these reprints are worth obtaining, and perhaps another volume that Carter first published privately: The Tomb of Tut.ankh.amen. Statement, with Documents, as to the Events which occurred in Egypt in the Winter of 1923-24, leading to the ultimate break with the Egyptian Government. A compilation of documents and correspondence, it details the real and perceived slights and obstacles Carter faced during study of the tomb and his unfortunate lack of flexibility and a sense of compromise in dealing with them, all of which led to the breach referred to in the pamphlet's title. It has been reprinted as Tut.ankh.amen. The Politics of Discovery (Libri 1998), with an introduction by Nicholas Reeves that provides the context of the dispute, plus translations of those documents that are in French.

Tut as Mystery

Several books purporting to solve, or at least investigate, the mystery of Tut's death have appeared over the years. These are based on the assumption that Tut was indeed murdered, and that if we squint really hard we might be able to spot a clue that will reveal the assassin. Bob Brier's Murder of Tutankhamen (Berkley Trade, $14.00) was the best of the bunch, but it's now dated, since the recent scan discredited what appeared to be x-ray evidence that the pharaoh had been struck on the back of the head. But the book still has useful background information. Less reliable is Michael King and company's Who Killed King Tut?: Using Modern Forensics to Solve a 3300-Year-Old Mystery (Prometheus, $25.00), which could equally have been titled Gumshoes Stumble through the Land of the Pharaohs.

Tut's Hidden Knowledge, Carter's Conspiracy

The questions, when did Carter and Carnarvon go into the tomb and burial chamber and did they pilfer anything, have been addressed in the overviews noted above and by Thomas Hoving in Tutankhamun: The Untold Story (Cooper Square Press, $18.95). Beyond using hints of conspiracy as a marketing technique, there are the real fringe Tut books, such as Maurice Cotterell's Tutankhamun Prophesies ($15.99): "Like Lord Pacal, leader of the Maya, Tutankhamun encoded the super-science of the sun into his treasures, as a message to future generations - The Book of Revelation in the Bible, the decoded treasures of Tutankhamun and those of Lord Pacal all tell the same story. This ancient knowledge is known and thrives today, concealed in sacred geometry, cherished by the Church and the higher orders of Freemasonry. For the first time ever, Maurice Cotterell reveals the reasons for the secrecy, reasons which affect the future of us all." And Gerald O'Farrell's The Tutankhamun Deception ($13.95), which claims Carter and Carnarvon entered the tomb years before they announced its discovery, and a series of "secret murders" were carried out by "authorities" to "ensure that the secrets of the hidden papyri were never revealed." Carnarvon was, the author suspects, among the first to be eliminated. (See The Antiquity of Man for a debunking of the latter.)

Tut in fiction

We know just enough about Tutankhamun to make him an ideal historical figure on which authors (talented or not) can build their literary castles (or split-levels, or shacks). We have the intriguing views of his life provided by artworks from his tomb, we have his mummy, and there is the unanswered question about how he died. Dominic Montserrat, in his Akhenaten History, Fantasy, and Ancient Egypt (Routledge 2000), p. 145, notes that Egyptological fictions "peak in the 1920s--at the time of the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb and wide press coverage of Amarna--and in the 1970s, during the international exhibition of Tutankhamun's funerary equipment." He describes Archie Bell's novel King Tut-Ankh-Amun, as "unburdened by historical accuracy." Other works with Tut that Monteserrat mentions include Simeon Strunsky's King Akhnaton, A Chronicle of Ancient Egypt (1928) in which Tut is oddly enough an "efficient middle-aged bureaucrat" and Agatha Christie's play Akhnaton, written late 1930s. In addition to historical fiction, Tut's discovery also led to a wave of mummy novels, such as Mary Gaunt's The Mummy Moves (1925). These, says Bob Brier in his Egyptian Mummies (William Morrow 1994) were generally hastily written, and F.M. Pettee's The Palgrave Mummy (1929) wins the palm as "the most contrived of the sorry lot." So, watch out for the next flood of Tut-inspired pot-boilers, for surely they are on the way.


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  • For more on Tutankhamun and the exhibition, see TutWatch.

© 2005 by the Archaeological Institute of America