Metropolitan Connections

Metropolitan House

Room in Metropolitan House

Carter and Carnarvon had stumbled upon a discovery greater than their wildest dreams--and they needed help. Carter was a friend and fellow archaeologist of the men at the Metropolitan House, the Museum's Egyptian headquarters in Thebes from which they conducted excavations.(12) Carter had gone to Herbert Winlock, a member of the Museum's Egyptian Expedition, to convince Carnarvon to finance one more season at the Valley of the Kings.(13) Now, Carter needed help in excavating and cataloguing his find, and Albert Lythgoe, founding curator of the Metropolitan's Egypt Department, was all too willing to help. Lythgoe sent a telegram to Carter saying he could borrow any member of his staff at the Metropolitan House.(14) The most important staff member, Harry Burton, an Englishman, photographed over 1800 black and white pictures of the excavation and treasure found in the tomb.(15) Arthur C. Mace, the Metropolitan's Associate Curator, also an Englishman, helped co-author the official account of the find.(16) The Americans Walter Hauser and Lindsley Foote Hall helped draft plans of the tomb and scale drawings, respectively.(17)

Metropolitan House Staff

The Metropolitan's interest in Egyptian antiquity was fairly recent. It began collecting in 1886, but did not establish an Egyptian Department until 1906.(18) However, the American love affair with ancient Egypt began immediately after the French Revolution, when travelers first brought antiquities to England, and eventually to America.(19) By the 1830s and 40s, "Every self-respecting bookcase then contained at least one book on Egypt."(20) Americans were also inspired by Egyptian architecture, as the Medical College of Virginia at Richmond, completed in 1844 and designed by Thomas S. Stewart showed.(21) New York City's Halls of Justice and House of Detention--known as the "Tombs"--also reflected an Egyptian-style influence in 1838.(22) Egyptology became a university discipline in 1895 with James Henry Breasted's arrival at the University of Chicago.(23)


The rise of Egyptology as an institution of the American museum rose in connection with the rise of the rich patron of the museums. J.P. Morgan hired Lythgoe and was a major patron of the Egyptian Department.(24) He even underwrote the Metropolitan House--in fact it was originally called Morgan House--until the department learned the Morgan had only loaned the money, and later paid himself back with museum funds.(25)

Letter to Carter

For Carter and Carnarvon, the Museum was also a force they wanted on their side. According to Lythgoe, Carnarvon said he "intend[ed] to see that the Metropolitan is well taken care of!"(26) He had every reason to have the Museum with him in Egypt--the staff was irreplaceable, and the Museum could put political pressure on the Egyptian government to keep it from changing their laws regarding division of antiquities.(27) As of 1922, the law stated that goods in tombs that had been broken into would belong to the excavator. However, if the tomb was untouched, the Egyptian government could have the antiquities. There was some contention over which standard applied to Tutankhamen's tomb, Arthur Macesince robbers had broken into the tomb shortly after the burial, and had only taken a few goods, and never even reached some of the inner chambers. The Metropolitan was a crucial ally, therefore, for Carter and Carnarvon. Before and after their deaths they rewarded the museum with some of the only goods to escape the Egyptian government.(28)

Harry Burton Burton Taking Photos


Even though the British undoubtedly discovered Tutankhamen's tomb, Americans often thought of Carter as an American. Current Opinion in March(128) and the Literary Digest called Carter an American in a 1923 issue,(129) but a July Scientific American clarified that he was in fact, an Englishman.(130) Still, even when Carter lectured in New York, Americans were surprised to find that the excavator wasn't one of their own.(131) Despite Carter's fin, however, Americans still prided themselves with being number one in the field: Hall"With Americans sending out more expeditions than all other countries put together," one New York Times report said, "we are in the lead archaeologically."(132)

Full footnotes and paper.

Uncovering Tutankhamen I The Boy King I Buried Treasure I Metropolitan Connections I Cinematic Contributi ons I Stop the Presses I Literary Illusions I Fashion is King I Americans Abroad I Main