Old World, New World: America Meets Tutankhamen

While the greatest archaeological find of the century helped spawn a fad, it also prompted Americans to examine their own culture and place in the world

by Mary Rekas

"No finer human interest story, no more thrilling drama, no greater archaeological revelations could be summoned from history or the most vivid imagination than is told by the mute objects in this tomb of King Tutankhamen--mute objects that speak with golden eloquence and whose message is now being revealed to the world."(1)


Howard Carter arrived in Luxor in late October, expecting to look for King Tutankhamen's(2) tomb, and not really expecting to find it. After all, he had searched the Valley of the Kings for six full seasons with no luck. Earl Carnarvon, who shared his interest in Egyptian archaeology, had financed Carter's excavation for one more short season in hopes of finding what they thought at the time to be the last undiscovered Pharaoh's tomb.(3) "We had almost made up our minds that we were beaten…and then--hardly had we set hoe to ground in our last despairing effort than we made a discovery that far exceeded our wildest dreams," Carter wrote a year later.(4) Carter and his team found the steps to Tutankhamen's tomb on Nov. 4, 1922.(5)

What happened from there was a sensational story--not only was the tomb a revelation in archaeology, but also to the world, as the media helped spread the story of Tutankhamen's tomb. The find culminated Americans' lengthy love affair with Egypt, and as a result, found an eager audience there. In the excavators' home country, England, however, the ensuing commercialization of Tutankhamen displeased Carter's and Carnarvon's countrymen, who were still reeling from the impact of World War I. Americans, free from such burdens, and not averse to commercialization--at least at first--embraced the Tutankhamen find as if it were its own. They were not completely wrong in thinking this, since many of the excavators who rushed to Carter and Carnarvon's aid were indeed American. Many workers from the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art helped catalogue the excavation. Even as American archaeologists helped at the site, American corespondents reported from it. The media, including movies and advertising, helped translate the find from a high culture event celebrated in scholarly circles to a popular sensation that affected the mass American culture. The influence Tutankhamen had filtered from the top down; while city newspapers such as the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times reported on the daily progress at the site, the only evidence it even existed in the Saturday Evening Post was Egypt-influenced advertisements published in the same months newspaper coverage reached its peak. The American fascination and involvement with Tutankhamen, informed by different forms of media and commercialism, drove Americans to compare the ancient Egyptian civilization to their own. The fad created by commercial interests involved Americans in a discourse about Egypt and America as well. More than just the latest in a line of "new national thrill[s]"(6) as Frederick Lewis Allen claimed in his book about the 1920s, Only Yesterday, the discovery of Tutankhamen allowed Americans to examine their place in the world.

The Boy King

When Carter discovered his tomb, Tutankhamen was probably the most famous son-in-law in ancient Egypt's history. At the time of the excavation, archaeologists believed the young pharaoh had married into the royal family through his union with Ankhesenpaaton, the daughter of Nefertiti and Akhenaton, and became king in 1334 BC.(7) Akhenaton was the first pharaoh to declare that his subjects worship one god, the Aten or (Aton),(8) and he began the Amarna period of Egypt, which was marked by great discontent among the people of Egypt, as well as deterioration of the Egyptian empire.(9) As the heir to Akhenaton, Tutankhamen was originally named Tutankhaten, but in a pivotal move returned his people to a polytheistic rule during his second year as pharaoh. Scholars now know that Tutankhamen was actually the son of Akhenaton and possibly another wife, Kiya.(10) Tutankhamen ruled for about nine years, although his relative Ay and the general Horemheb likely ruled for him most of the time, before he died at about 16 or 17.(11) By the time Carter and his team of excavators found Tutankhamen, he had been dead for over 3,000 years.

Metropolitan to the Rescue and the Culmination of a Long Love Affair

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)

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)

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, since 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)

The American involvement with the excavation would only set the stage and foreshadow the commercial and cultural impact Tutankhamen would have on America. It also gave the America media an important reason to cover the event and translate it to an American audience.

A Star Is Born

As the drama surrounding the discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb unfolded, the press coverage of the event became as much of a story as the tomb itself. While the both newspapers and magazines gave detailed accounts of events and treasure found in the tomb, particularly in the spring of 1923, it also reported on its own activity, due to its own intrinsic involvement as part of the narrative of the mass media. A May 1923 National Geographic Magazine article illustrated what life was like covering the tomb's discovery: "Two correspondents sat there and another roamed about waiting for news. For weeks they had waited under the glare of the sun, compelled by the force of circumstances to be detectives rather than scribes…Now and then some rumor would escape the portals, to be weighed and considered before it was put upon the telegraph wire or in the discard."(29) Maynard Owen Williams, the author, acts almost as if the press were the story--or even casts them as the archaeologists the story is about: "These were the men who were trying to give the news of this great discovery to the world."(30) The press was newsworthy in part because Carnarvon had signed a 5,000 pound contract with the London Times, plus 75 percent of all profits from the sale of Times articles to the rest of the world, for what turned out to be nearly exclusive coverage.(31) Other reporters had to scrounge to get enough information and find new angles for a story. As a result, the press got angry--and creative, and acquired many of the sensationalistic habits that plague the image of reporters today.

Carter and Mace themselves noted the effect the media had on their work in their account of the excavation:



"Archaeology under the limelight is a new and rather bewildering experience for most of us," Mace and Carter wrote in 1923. "All of a sudden we find the world takes and interest in us [archaeologists], an interest so intense and so avid for details that special correspondents at large salaries have to be sent to interview us, report our every movement, and hide around corners to surprise a secret out of us."(32)



Journalists hounded Carter and Carnarvon. Carter was "weary of telegrams and sick to death of reporters…he wanted to avoid being followed by gentlemen of the press."(33)

The National Geographic coverage also reveals the attraction journalists had to ferreting out secrets. Once a press photographer hung around at "the mouth of the silent tomb, hoping that some secret would be revealed that day… anxious reporters …had for so long put up a nerve-racking fight to get the news…"(34) Williams argued that "the sway of Tutankhamen still grips the world,"(35) but it also gripped the reporters. They were forced to find more angles to cover the story in addition to the Times stories that were fed to newspapers. The sense of secrecy and mystery conveyed through their writing probably attracted more readers than straight event coverage, making the discovery more than just a musty scholarly event. The coverage of the excavation helped popularize it.

The media's own articles acknowledged the work of journalism in spreading the word. "Through the discovery of the tomb and the enterprise and efficiency of modern journalism, the most widely acclaimed of all the long line of pharaohs [became] a household word all over the civilized world."(36) Journalists could fulfill a need for the newly urban readers in the 1920s. During the decade, circulation soared to unprecedented numbers, with a major share of the success due to tabloid newspapers.(37) Carter had his own opinions about the 1920s press: "The Press is a great and necessary force in modern civilization, but it is occasionally eager for more news than actually exists. It is, too, exceedingly competitive."(38)

Whatever Carter's misgivings, the newly modernized media was able to undertake coverage of the events at the tomb as never before. The word was spread through "techniques that had barely existed before, the miracle of modern communications, including telegraph and telephones at the tomb itself, and the first minute-by-minute photographs and moving film footage ever undertaken in the history of archaeology."(39) Americans could still the power of the Tutankhamen legend in the 1970s, when the tomb's treasures toured the United States for three years, drawing seven million people.(40)

By examining articles in the New York Times, a prime carrier of Tutankhamen news since the city's own museum was heavily involved in the excavation, we can see the hype and self-hype that the public faced--and devoured. Even though many stories were covered by the London Times because of an exclusive contract with Carnarvon, the New York Times cabled in their own coverage of the tomb discoveries through telegraphs almost daily, particularly during February of 1923, when excavators began to open the inner tombs. Although not the most popular newspaper in New York, by 1920 the New York Times daily circulation was 343,000.(41) In Michael Schudson's book, Discovering the News, the author showed that the New York Times was in many ways a conservative paper. "The Times attracted readers among the wealthy and among those aspiring to wealth and status, in part, because it was socially approved. It was itself a badge of respectability," Schudson said.(42) "It presented articles as useful knowledge, not as revelation."(43) In other words, the New York Times was the kind of paper to report such high culture events--but it was also the kind of paper that wanted to increase its readership. The New York Times, even as a conservative paper in its day, commercialized the high culture of archaeology for its readers through its coverage of Tutankhamen. In many ways, the Times coverage itself represented a nation struggling to define what it meant to be American.

Several New York Times reports played up natural elements as if they were supernatural. The early coverage started rather benignly, if dramatically--a rainstorm threatens to flood the tomb. "If water enters, the result might be catastrophic from an archaeological point of view."(44) The Times' job was to make it catastrophic from the reader's point of view. The day the tomb was opened, one reporter said, archaeologists found serpents in the crown of a statue. That same day at dinner, Carter and some guests heard a commotion outside. A similar kind of serpent on the statue "grabbed the canary." Even though they killed the serpent, the canary died "probably from fright. The incident made an impression on the native staff, who regard it as a warning from the spirit of the departed King against further intrusion on the privacy of the tomb."(45) The correspondent later reported, "Already in this land of superstition myths are beginning to grow up….out of [the canary's death] the most fantastic stories are being manufactured…so it has been easy to weave a legend that brought in the little bird, which in some ways symbolized the modern spirit of civilization, and the cobra, which stood for the powers of old dynasties…"(46) The Los Angeles Times, not averse to the new journalism which injected the reporter into the report, also chimed in with its own superstitions. "No matter how little superstitious a man may be, the act of breaking the rest so carefully guarded through the centuries must cause an emotion which time can never efface," said one L. A. Times correspondent.(47) Another reporter said he felt "pity" for the "ordeal" the mummy faced.(48)

With Carnarvon's death in April of 1923 of an illness apparently brought on by an insect bite, the press helped spread rampant rumors about a curse. "Those most intimately connected with [the tomb] during the last few months suffered in some way or other. Even the journalists who covered the story have felt the reaction. Three of them have been ill…"(49) During the course of the excavation the New York Times also ran articles with headlines like "SAYS PHARAOH'S KA GUARDS THE TOMB/French Egyptologist Urges Efforts to Propitiate Tut-Ankh-Amen's 'Double.' LISTS MYSTERIOUS DEATHS/ He Also Thinks That Malignant Germs Lie Waiting for Those 'Profaning' the Sepulchre."(50) Newspapers blamed Carnarvon's death on a curse.(51) The press indisputably affected public opinion, and how they viewed Tutankhamen. "Several American politicians went so far as to call for an investigation of mummies to determine whether or not these possessed the same medical dangers as those thought to be apparent in the tomb."(52) This kind of coverage gave drama and excitement to what once might have been considered a scholar's work and brought the high culture event to a mass audience primed to accept what it read.

Even before Carnarvon's death, the discovery along with the press had created a kind of worldwide hype unprecedented prior to the 1920s. Carter and Carnarvon received a stream of letters and telegrams from around the world requesting artifacts, photographs, seeds from the tomb, designs, and descriptions of shoes for shoemakers. The New York Times also reported requests from motion picture industry workers and requests for souvenirs.(53) The renewed interest in Egyptian artifacts also drew Americans to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. When the Museum displayed one of Tutankhamen's rings in 1923, the Times reported that thousands had visited the museum before even the ring came due to the "interest heightened by cabled accounts of the discoveries of the tomb."(54) The Times, in fact, seemed proud of its massive role in the popularization of Tutankhamen. "PRESS AIDS WORLD HOUSTON DECLARES/Speaker says Times Performed a Great Service Through Photos of Work on Tut-Ankh-Amen's Tomb" blared one headline.(55) "Egypt seemed to live again and pass before our eyes," the publisher of the World, Herbert S. Houston said. "That, ladies and gentlemen, is some measure of the great service which the press is always doing for us."(56) The press viewed its role as a social service to people, enlightening them to events that otherwise might go over their heads. At least one editorial writer agreed: "Hitherto the news of such events was pretty well confined to a little circle of experts and professionals. Now the press has changed all that. It assumes that many people want to know, and it takes care that they shall have the opportunity to do so."(57) The New York Times, in other words, had helped bring high culture to the "people"--not just the academics.

The attention the tomb garnered from the media in turn helped create the latest rage--Tutankhamen was the latest fad. It's hard to say if the public or the media helped build hype for the dead king, but papers reported Americans' interest avidly.



"All the district is his court," said one New York Times article. "There is only one topic of conversation…One cannot escape the name of Tut-Ankh-Amen anywhere. It is shouted in the streets, whispered in the hotels, while the local shops advertise Tut-Ankh-Amen art, Tut-Ankh-Amen hats, Tut-Ankh-Amen curios, Tut-Ankh-Amen photographs, and tomorrow probably genuine Tut-Ankh-Amen antiquities. Every hotel in Luxor today had something a la Tut-Ankh-Amen…There is a Tut-Ankh-Amen dance tonight at which the piece is to be a Tut-Ankh-Amen rag."(58)



The largest archaeological find in history had become the best way to make money. First, the tomb benefited the locals in Luxor. The discovery helped transport owners, hotels, liveries and shopkeepers. One tradesman said to a reporter: "'Insh Allah [Please God], they find a new tomb next year also.'"(59) From there, the sensation spread like wildfire. In the same day that the Times reported that a New Yorker had bought the rights to filmed tomb scenes,(60) the newspaper also reported that Washington D.C.'s Patent office received a flood of applications for the use of Tut-Ankh-Amen as a trademark--objects chiefly for "women's use."(61) In fact, commercially, Tutankhamen made the biggest impact on women's fashion.

Egypt had been "advertised almost to the point of saturation," but the new interest manifested mostly with dress styles, according to one Art and Archaeology article.(62) "Printed materials sometimes of frightful vividness attempt to reproduce the scenery of Egypt with patterns of sphinxes, camels and palm trees. Dangling earrings and colored sandals help to complete the oriental picture."(63) For better or worse, Egyptian motifs had invaded America. "What was worn in the days of the Pharaoh was made to seem new," said another Art and Archaeology article.(64) The first signs that the fashion industry would pick up on the trend came as designers examined works at the Metropolitan Museum to glean ideas for designs.(65) Just days later the Egyptian influence exploded at the Hotel Savoy's design show by the Fashion Review of United Cloak and Suit Designers' Association of America. Designers used the show as a chance to remark on their superiority to European fashion: "'America is in a better mood to produce styles today than Europe'" because they are "'war mad.'"(66) One designer also said that the "Egyptian trend in clothes was on before the discovery of the tomb of Tut-Ankh-Amen."(67) The Americans were determined not only to show their strength in the fashion world, but thought Tut-Ankh-Amen was the way to do it. Fashions, for the moment, shifted strongly toward Egyptian styles.

By February 26, 1923, H.R. Mallinson and Co., a silk firm, probably motivated by its own desire to expand, predicted that the discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb would change furniture, decorations, jewelry and women's dress. Furthermore, the firm said that the tomb could possibly lead to a more extended revival--"a distinct epoch of Egyptian fashions, the adoption of flowing robes, a complete change in our jewelry, furniture and decorations."(68) The Chairman of the Dress Fabric Association, a silk group, said in July that the Egyptian fashions had created "through publicity an entirely new silk season…one of the liveliest the silk business has experienced in years." Yet alas, the chairman, F. B. Patton, dismissed the vision of a permanent Egyptian epoch envisioned by H.R. Mallinson and Co. The Egyptian fad, Patton said, was now a "thing of the past."(69)

Others seemed to agree that Tutankhamen's time in the fashion world had come and gone like his short reign in Egypt, even before it was over. Art and Archeology's readers learned from the magazine that "fortunately for the true lover of art all this is but a passing fancy rather amusing while it lasts."(70) The National Geographic Magazine affirmed this opinion: "It is unlikely that the comparatively small tomb itself will have more than passing interest."(71) Still others deplored that the king was being used by entrepreneurs as a commercialized fad. "It is pathetic to think that the man who once ruled …is today but a mummy, a centre of acute interest…in a phrase, a 'new stunt.'"(72) Englishmen, in particular, for reason mentioned previously, were disgusted by the commercialism surrounding the find. "It is vulgar…for a man to aim do laboriously at carrying beyond the grave the magnificence of life. But it is at least as bad to exploit this old vulgarity of pride in the interests of the new vulgarity of commercialism."(73)

Even as the New York Times reported the spread of the Egyptian motif in fashion, advertising copy in the 1920s shows how Tutankhamen influenced advertisers as well. In a series of advertisements in the Saturday Evening Post, Palmolive compared their product to that of Cleopatra's own beauty products.(74) The ads featured scenes of a queen and a king in full regalia, waited on by servants and dressed richly. An ad in the New York Times, placed next to an article about Tutankhamen, showed the latest fashions--"The decorative splendors of the Tut-ankh-amen period are reflected in the rich embroidery motif on this distinguished Wrap-Over Coat with its aristocratic collar of bisque squirrel."(75) Yet at $95, only the most elite could feel like a queen for a day. Still, these kind of clothing ads offered everyday people the dream of being royalty in a time long gone. Still other ads testified to the longevity of Egypt. "Achievements that endure are the milestones along the great highway of progress," said a typewriter company's ad in the Saturday Evening Post that featured a picture of a typewriter beside a pyramid.(76) The message was longevity, which Americans identified with Egypt rather than their own civilization.

The role of the visual and written media in the Tutankhamen coverage also made clear the continuing tension in an American society consistently shaped by technology. The 1920s and 30s had been coined the "Machine Age"(77) because of the vast technological changes in those years, and the tomb offered a set where these ideas could play out. While the latest technology was very much used in uncovering the story of the tomb, it was also used to propagate it. The interaction of technology and the mass media reveals the tensions of the time between mass production and authenticity provided by the tomb's art. The tomb and the excavation site became a place where the modern technology of mass media and society met ancient constructions that supported a country for thousands of years. Metropolitan Museum photographer Harry Burton used a nearby tomb for a dark room to develop his photographs.(78) The writer for National Geographic cracked, "in these days the Valley of the Kings' Tombs could almost advertise, 'All modern improvements' as several of the tombs have long been lighted for the convenience of visitors."(79) The New York Times covered the science involved religiously. In November, the newspaper reported such events as the institution of a telephone near the tomb,(80) electric lights,(81) opening the sarcophagus and filming it(82), and x-raying the mummy.(83) The infusion of technology into an ancient culture fascinated Americans.

At the same time, writers wanted to associate Egypt itself with modern technology and art. An article in Popular Mechanics explained that we can trace the "earliest known and simplest devices to which the name machine applied" to ancient Egypt.(84) Breasted wrote "in all ages the progress of mankind has been largely conditioned by his growing ability to produce devices for the application of mechanical power."(85) The ancient culture could teach America lessons from the mechanics of running a civilization to making art. "Nothing was made simply to be set up and looked at for the sake of its beauty; everything was made to be of use," Mrs. Schuyler Van Rensselaer wrote in the North American Review.(86) From Egyptian art, Americans could learn to make their art in service to a community and craftsmanship. "Both of these lessons we need to learn, we must learn, if in America good taste is to grow and great art is to develop."(87) Egypt was both a starting point for technology, and for some, an ending point in artistic culture.

Some of the discourse about the tomb revealed tension between "high" art and mass-produced art. As Carter describes the way Egyptians produced art, he could almost be talking about present day. The art was intended to be a "sincere expression of the national temper,"(88) but the "'accident,' far from 'intention' was the necessity of almost unlimited production, and thus the artist or sculptor often suffered by becoming more the manufacturer and purveyor, than a servant of the close and thoughtful study of nature."(89) Earlier in 1924, Carter wrote:



"In fact, modern progress in the mechanical sciences and industrialism generally are largely responsible for the complete eclipse of spontaneous and unconscious artistic production. If thereby we get such ultimate results as cubism and futurism, then archaeological research will show that the arts are best without our mechanical and industrial progress."(90)



Carter himself had become an unwitting manufacturer of Tutankhamen--his partner Carnarvon sold article rights, and he sold the idea to the media (too well, perhaps), and reserved the rights to sell the photographic rights as well.(91) A London Times editorial even equated Carnarvon's rules with a "monopoly…and 'commercialism'."(92) The London Star, quoted in Outlook, said "'There was something inherently indecent in the original idea of rifling a tomb and unwinding the mummy of a dead pharaoh in the interest ostensibly of science'" no less the "'commercial bargaining'" that came out of the find.(93)

Criticism also filtered into the U. S. press. The Los Angeles Times ran a cartoon depicting an excavator breaking into an Egyptian tomb: "The Scientific Grave Robber," the caption read.(94) Despite the precautions the Egyptians took to hide the tomb, said one reporter for the L. A. Times, "precautions against glass cases in mummy museums is one consideration they overlooked."(95) Not only did some members of the press view the expedition as over-commercialized, they thought Carnarvon himself helped make it so. When an American movie company arrived at the site of the excavation and attempted to film footage, workers hid the goods from view. Carnarvon intended to keep his film rights.(96) Ironically, after his mysterious death, a Berlin film company announced that it was working on a "mammoth Carnarvon picture entitled 'Pharaoh's Revenge.'"(97)

But the argument over mass produced art turned to movies naturally as well. At the time, movies were considered a mass-produced art, as an article from Art and Archaeology shows. "There must be a radical change if the cinematograph industry is ever to rise to the level of a national art institution," the writer said.(98) The article also pointed out that the latest William P. S. Earle production of "Tutankhamen" (eventually changed to "The Dancer of the Nile" because people were sick of the name(99)) attempted to raise the quality of the film through its accurate portrayal of the majestic Egyptian architecture and scenery. The filmmakers accomplished these special effects through painted-on-glass scenery. Art and Archaeology hailed this cheaper way of making dazzling effects because "if production cost less, perhaps producers might be tempted to present more often pictures which would satisfy the cultured public and, at the same time, help to elevate the taste of those who inhabit the small towns." (100) Art and Archaeology was indubitably a highbrow magazine, and the article showed its hope that the high culture event of the tomb would filter throughout American culture.

Another lesson Americans could learn from Egyptians was how to establish lasting monuments from a culture whose lasting output has been architecture. "After all, the old East has much to teach the raw West in municipal construction and the value of permanent monuments which, founded on Faith, stand forever as a memorial to the past glory, of man reflecting the divine guidance of the Omnipotent."(101)

Tutankhamen also created a starting point for Americans to think about religion in America. Since Tutankhamen had returned the Egyptians to a polytheistic society, some Americans thought he could be the persecutor of the Jews described in Exodus.(102) A novelization of Tutankhamen's life in 1923 by Archie Bell put forth the idea that Moses (Mesu in the book) had influenced his father, Akhenaton, to worship one God.(103) The connection between religion and art during Tutankhamen's reign also influenced people to look again at spirituality. After all, Egypt in part held such fascination with Americans because of its place in the Bible.(104) The arts and crafts of Egypt held lessons of "spiritual worth" as well as "material value." Dudley Corlett argued that "the mighty lesson that Art founded on Religion endures forever"--as opposed to, say, art founded on machinery.(105) T. George Allen agreed that the freedom from deities in Tutankhamen's father's period mimicked a freedom in art.(106) Allen viewed the find as a recreation of the earliest achievements in "spiritual and artistic freedom."(107)

In this portrayal of Tutankhamen as a religious find, some shaped the story of Tutankhamen's religion to their own ends. One Rabbi wanted people to look at Moses, rather than the richer Tutankhamen.(108) In yet another view, Dr. Kaufman Kohler suggested that we look on the lesson of Tutankhamen's father: "no man on earth, however wise and powerful, could invent a new religion and impose it on the people…religion must emanate form the soul of a people."(109) Tutankhamen had become the latest bible lesson. When a reporter asked Thomas Edison, then 76, about Tutankhamen, a staff member said "'now wait a minute…You are not about to ask Mr. Edison any questions about religion.'" Edison said it was good that the ancients were being talked about in papers, but newspapers should also look at the work of modern scientists.(110)

While there wasn't a direct response to Edison, at the least the newspapers addressed the modern even as they examined the old--or they recorded the modern interpretations everyday readers made about Egyptians. Objects from Tutankhamen's tomb "'helps us to visualize,'" Carter wrote, "'that the young king must have been very like ourselves.'"(111) Coverage of the tomb shows that Americans very much tried to identify with the characters of ancient Egypt. Princeton Egyptologist David Paton compared General Allenby's Egyptian campaign to an ancient Egyptian king's campaign. "He shows that the actors and events were much like those of our own time."(112) Other connections to the past were more innocuous. One New York Times story reported finding the first evidence of "Pharaonic underwear." "It probably fitted loosely, else he was hugely built," the Times correspondent wrote.(113) This kind of everyday detail appealed to the everyday reader; he too was like the pharaoh. Americans could be kings in their own rights, if not through wealth, then through the progress of civilization. Still other comparisons showed the social tensions of the 1920s. "A man's social position might be measured by the magnificence of his coffin"(114)--or car--then and now. According to one report, mummies often had to be moved because crooked builders told robbers about the location of treasure, or even robbed it themselves. The "crooked building contractor is one of the earliest figures in history or fiction."(115) When explaining how the undertakers rushed the job, the reporter wrote they "failed to supervise their men with the result that as often happens today in similar cases of lack of control the work was rushed."(116) Here the Times betrayed its conservative readership: only a superior could groan about the inferiority of a rushed job. In a report that mirrored the obsession with the stockmarket for Americans of the 1920s, a Johns Hopkins math professor estimated what the Tutankhamen tomb's treasures would be valued at had they been "put in safe 6 per cent. bonds and compounded" from 3,400 years ago to the present day.(117)

Even before Tutankhamen was making headlines, Americans looked to the past for answers to the controversy surrounding the 1920s "new woman." A French Egyptologist revealed in June 1922 that the "skirt controversy" was over 40 centuries old. He had found statuettes that showed two dress lengths.(118) In April, Scientific American, writing about the latest American excavation, described "a young queen who would look all right today with her bobbed air and her pet dog sitting under her chair." Ancient Egyptian women's bobbed hair became nothing less of an obsession for Americans, as the media portrayed it. As a woman visited the Metropolitan Museum to examine the artifacts, she exclaimed, "'So they had bobbed hair then, too!'"(119) In a poem published in The New York Times, the author wrote "Tut-ankh-Amen,/Still our life here/Goes on much the same…That dear child-wife--/Was she heavenly fair?/Did she want to dance a wild life?/Would she bob her hair?"(120) Tutankhamen's widow's attempts to get remarried soon after his death also struck a chord with 1920s Americans: "She was hardly a widow before she wanted a new king," said one Times article.(121) Another article quoted an expert that said that divorces were quite usual in ancient Egypt. The press coverage allowed those fearful of the new woman to think that after all, nothing was new about her. In this way, Americans could relieve some of their anxiety about their current social problems through realizing that even an ancient people had to deal with such issues.

While many of the articles in the New York Times attempted to equate aspects of Egyptian culture with American culture, the Los Angeles Times ran an entire feature on the similarities between Hollywood--one city--and Egypt. The title of the article, "Ancient Egypt Lives Again in Hollywood: Even the Bobbed Hair Reincarnated From the Flappers Who Lived When Tombs Were Built"(122) explains a lot of what the story claimed. Grace Wilcox wrote, "Is modern Hollywood with its bobbed-hair beauties linked in some mystic bond with ancient Egypt in the days when King Tutankhamen walked the earth in stately splendor?"(123) In the article, Wilcox interviewed Dudley Corlett, an agricultural expert for the British government in Egypt and India. Corlett claimed that there were similarities between the "artistic colony" of Hollywood and ancient Egypt. Wilcox theorized, "It will probably show us that, without knowing it, we have taken up the torch thrown down by dead and forgotten leaders of ancient thought in ways that we do not dream of."(124) In his interview, Corlett rattled off a number of similarities supposedly unique to Hollywood and Egypt: sun worshipping, wearing scarab jewelry, bobbed hair, similarly colored makeup, fashions, nutrition and architecture. Corlett even claimed that the faces of people in Egypt reminded him of those in Hollywood. Wilcox wrote: "We are apparently [mimicking Egyptians] just through sheer instinct--obeying a strang [sic] mystic impulse that we only half understand."(125) In the land of dress-up, Hollywood dwellers wanted to feel as if they played the part of the Egyptian.

While not as dramatic as the Los Angeles Times story would have described it, Tutankhamen's tomb presented a battleground where the modern and ancient civilizations could meet. Standing at the door of Tutankhamen's tomb, American Egyptologist James Henry Breasted looked at the seals on the door: "Only the soft rays of the electric light suggested the modern world into which these amazing survivals from a past so remote had been so unexpectedly projected."(126) When Carter was confronted with the paradox between the ancient and modern world, he saw the ancient world as superior. "We find that culture in the way of intellectual development, and the arts in general, were in those ancient times, in many ways, higher than they are today."(127) Americans struggled to bridge the gap between the Egyptian "high" culture and their own culture, and even attempted to bring the excavation closer to home.

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: "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)

The young American civilization was on a mission to prove itself to an ancient culture that lasted thousands of years. Through the Metropolitan Museum staff in Thebes, America could attempt to connect the two civilizations. As a New York Times correspondent described the venture the staff undertook in excavating the tomb, he revealed the romantic drama they were playing out. The Metropolitan staff, "as the representatives of the youngest civilization in the world, [are] today rendering incalculable assistance in preserving these treasures from the world's oldest known civilization now being taken from the tomb."(133) The article seemed to suggest that the staff, through their own contribution to the excavation, had now achieved a kind of legitimacy for their own civilization.

Magic of Egypt

"Egypt has continued to be a word of magic," one editorial proclaimed. "Accounts of successive revelations yielded by excavation have seemed more alluring than any romance."(134) The allure of Tutankhamen was not lost on Americans. Americans in the 1920s--the "Ballyhoo Years"--took in the Egyptian pharaoh and the excavation to find him as part of their own scheme. The discovery of Tutankhamen came as the mass media flowered due to advancing technology. Even as archaeologists studied Tutankhamen for science, Americans studied his culture as a model for their own, and a reflection on how far they had come. As the western-most civilization, Americans felt this comparison acutely and strove to connect their own time with a civilization long dead. The American civilization, too, would be as great as the Egyptians, the media seemed to declare--just give it a little time to, as one editorial writer for the New York Times wrote--"[work] out the complete design."(135)

1.

1.

"Times Man Views Splendors of Tomb." New York Times. 22 Dec 1922: 1+.

2.

2.

Tutankhamen is spelled several different ways throughout the paper by different sources; the ancient Egyptian language didn't spell out vowels.

3.

3.

Howard Carter and A.C. Mace. The Tomb of Tutankhamen. New York: George H. Doran Company, 1923. 131-132.

4.

4.

Carter and Mace, 131.

5.

5.

Carter and Mace, 132.

6.

6.

Frederick Lewis Allen. Only Yesterday. New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1931. 69.

7.

7.

A.C. Mace. quoted in Wonderful Things: The Discovery of Tutankhamun's Tomb. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1976. xx.

8.

8.

Nicholas Reeves. The Complete Tutankhamun. London: Thames and Hudson, 1990. 18.

9.

9.

Mace, xx.

10.

10.

Reeves, 24.

11.

11.

Reeves, 24.

12.

12. Charles Wilkinson. quoted in Wonderful Things: The Discovery of Tutankhamun's Tomb. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1976. xiii.

13.

13.

Ibid.

14.

14.

Wilkinson, xiv, xv.

15.

15.

Wonderful Things: The Discovery of Tutankhamun's Tomb. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1976: 4.

16.

16. Wonderful Things: The Discovery of Tutankhamun's Tomb, 5.

17.

17. Wonderful Things: The Discovery of Tutankhamun's Tomb, 9-10.

18.

18. Mrs. Schuyler Van Rensselaer. "Ancient Egypt in America." The North American Review 218, July 1923: 121.

19.

19.

18. Van Rensselaer, 117.

20.

20. Van Rensselaer, 118.

21.

21. Bruce G. Tigger. "Egyptology, Ancient Egypt, and the American Imagination." The American Discovery of Ancient Egypt. Ed. Nancy Thomas. New York: Henry N. Abrams, Inc., 1995. 27.

22.

22.

Tigger, 26.

23.

23.

Tigger, 29.

24.

24.

Thomas, Nancy. "American Institutional Fieldwork in Egypt, 1899-1960." The American Discovery of Ancient Egypt. New York: Henry N. Abrams, Inc., 1995. 60-61.

25.

25.

Thomas, 61.

26.

26.

Thomas Hoving. Tutankhamun : The Untold Story. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978. 142.

27.

27.

Ibid.

28.

28.

Hoving, 350-351.

29.

29. Maynard Owen Williams. "At the Tomb of Tutankhamen." National Geographic Magazine XLIII: 5, May 1923: 469.

30.

30.

Williams, 474.

31.

31. Hoving, 154.

32.

32. Carter Mace, 199.

33.

33. James Henry Breasted. "Some Experiences in the Tomb of Tutankhamon." Art and Archaeology XVII:1,2, Jan-Feb. 1924: 8-9.

34.

34.

Williams, 477.

35.

35. Williams, 492.

36.

36. Mitchell Carroll. "The Story of Tutankhamen." Art and Archaeology 15, April 1923: 187.

37.

37.

Catherine L. Covert and John D. Stevens, Ed. Mass Media Between the Wars: Cultural Perceptions of Cultural Tension, 1918-1941. Syracuse University Press, 1984. 57.

38.

38.

Howard Carter. The Tomb of Tutankhamen Volume II. New York: George H. Doran Company, 1927. 123-124.

39.

39. Hoving, 12.

40.

40. Ibid.

41.

41. Michael Schudson. Discovering the News: A Social History of American Newspapers. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1978. 114.

42.

42.

Schudson, 117.

43.

43. Schudson, 119.

44.

44.

"Excavations at Thebes Threatened By Flood." New York Times. 16 Dec. 1922: 15.

45.

45.

"Times Man Views Splendors of Tomb of Tutankhamen." New York Times. 22 Dec. 1922: 1+.

46.

46. "Carnarvon Tells of Beauties Found in Tomb." New York Times. 31 Jan. 1923: 1+.

47.

47. H. V. Morton. "Tomb Open at Luxor." Los Angeles Times. 17 Feb. 1923: 1+.

48.

48. Arthur Weigall. "Pity Felt for Pharaoh." Los Angeles Times. 19 Feb. 1923: 1+.

49.

49. "Carter Ignores Curse Idea." New York Times. 14 April 1923: 4.

50.

50. "Says Pharoah's Ka Guards the Tomb." New York Times. 6 Feb. 1924: 4

51.

51. Hoving, 226.

52.

52. Hoving, 228-229.

53.

53. "Tutankhamen Died While Still a Boy, His Tomb Discloses." New York Times. 7 Feb. 1923: 1+.

54.

54. "Tutankhamen Ring at Museum of Art." New York Times. 7 Feb. 1923: 3.

55.

55. "Press Aids World, Houston Declares." New York Times. 20 Feb. 1923: 5.

56.

56. Ibid.

57.

57.

Letter by C. R. Williams, New York Times. 24 Feb. 1923: 10.

58.

58.

"Tomb Treasures of Tut-Ankh-Amen Beyond Reckoning." New York Times. 18 Feb. 1923: 1+.

59.

59.

"Tomb Treasures Revise Our Ideas of Ancient Egypt." New York Times. 21 Feb. 1923: 1+.

60.

60.

"Buys Pharaoh Film." New York Times. 23 March 1923: 21.

61.

61.

"Seek Tut-Ankh-Amen's Name," New York Times, 23 March 1923: 21.

62.

62.

Kate Denny McKnight. "The Persistence of Egyptian Traditions in Art and Religion after the Pharaohs." Art and Archaeology 17, Jan-Feb. 1924: 43.

63.

63.

Ibid.

64.

64.

Mary McAlister. "Ancient Costume and Modern Fashion." Art and Archaeology 15, April 1923: 167.

65.

65.

"Crowds at Museum See Egyptian Tombs." New York Times. 5 Feb. 1923: 3.

66.

66.

"Egypt Dominates Fashion Show Here." New York Times. 25 Feb. 1923: 12.

67.

67.

Ibid.

68.

68.

"Sure Tomb Designs Will Set New Rules." New York Times. 27 Feb. 1923: 6.

69.

69.

"Credits Big Season to Tut-Ankh-Amen." New York Times. 18 July 1923: 25.

70.

70.

McKnight, 43.

71.

71. Williams, 463.

72.

72. "Tomb Treasures of Tut-Ankh-Amen Beyond Reckoning." New York Times. 18 Feb. 1923: 1+.

73.

73.

E.T. Ramond, quoted in "Methods and Morals of Modern Tomb Discoveries." Literary Digest. 24 March 1923: 28.

74.

74.

For example, Saturday Evening Post. 3 Feb. 1923: 68-69.

75.

75.

New York Times. 25 Feb. 1923: 6.

76.

76. Saturday Evening Post. 6 Jan. 1923: 110.

77.

77. Michelle Herwald. "Anticipating the Unexpected." Mass Media Between the Wars: Cultural Perceptions of Cultural Tension, 1918-1941. Ed. Catherine L. Covert and John D. Stevens. Syracuse University Press, 1984. 39.

78.

78.

Williams, 485.

79.

79. Ibid.

80.

80.

"Phone Now Reaches Valley of the Kings." New York Times. 7 Nov. 1923: 36.

81.

81.

"Light For Pharaoh's Tomb." New York Times. 9 Nov. 1923: 3.

82.

82. "Start Dismantling Shrines of Pharaoh." New York Times. 1 Dec. 1923: 1+.

83.

83. "Americans May See Pharaoh's Mummy." New York Times. 2 Dec. 1923: 1+.

84.

84. James Henry Breasted. "Feats of the Old Egyptians Rival Modern Works of Engineers." Popular Mechanics 42, Sept. 1924: 404.

85.

85.

Breasted, 403.

86.

86. Van Rensselaer, 123.

87.

87. Van Rensselaer, 128.

88.

88. Carter, 47.

89.

89. Ibid.

90.

90. Howard Carter. "Explorations at the Tomb of Tutankhamon." Current History Magazine 1924: 361.

91.

91.

""Protests Fail Against Carnarvon." New York Times. Feb. 12, 1923: 15.

92.

92. "Praises Carnarvon's Work." New York Times. 17 Feb. 1923: 2.

93.

93.

"Tomb of a Pharaoh." The Outlook. 28 Feb. 1924: 390.

94.

94.

Gale. "The Scientific Grave Robber." Los Angeles Times. 20 Feb. 1923: 1.

95.

95.

H. V. Morton. "Mummy to Be Left in Own Tomb?" Los Angeles Times. 21 Feb. 1923: 1.

96.

96.

"Protests Fail Against Carnarvon." New York Times. Feb. 12, 1923: 15.

97.

97.

"German Tut-Ankh-Amen Film." New York Times. 11 April 1923: 23.

98.

98. Dudley S. Corlett. "Art on the Screen: or the Film of Tutankhamen." Art and Archaeology 16, Dec. 1923: 240.

99.

99.

Corlett, 239.

100.

100.

Corlett, 231.

101.

101. Corlett, 235-236.

102.

102.

"Expect New Facts From Inner Tomb." New York Times. 17 Feb. 1923: 2.

103.

103. Archie Bell. King Tutankhamen: His Romantic History. Boston: St. Botolph Society, 1923. 62.

104.

104. Tigger, 23.

105.

105.

Corlett, 240.

106.

106.

T. George Allen. "Discoveries at the Tomb of Tutankhamen." Current History Magazine 20, June 1924: 366.

107.

107.

Allen, 373.

108.

108. "Moses Eclipses Pharaoh." New York Times. 19 Feb. 1923: 2.

109.

109.

"Judeans Honor Scholars." New York Times. 30 April 1923: 9.

110.

110. "Edison at 76, Talks of Tut-Ankh-Amen, Also Ruhr and Girls." New York Times. 13 Feb. 1923: 1+.

111.

111.

Howard Carter, quoted in Tutankhamun. Oxford: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1976. 48.

112.

112.

"Allenby's Egyptian Campaign Fought Out On Same Lines Before Tut-Ankh-Amen's Time." New York Times. 25 March 1923: IX:4.

113.

113.

"King's Tomb Yields More Treasures." New York Times. 4 Jan. 1923: 3.

114.

114.

"Crowds at Museum See Egyptian Tombs," New York Times, 5 Feb. 1923: 3.

115.

115.

"Eager to Find Body of Tut-Ankh-Amen." New York Times. 11 Feb. 1923: II:7.

116.

116.

"Pharaoh's Joiners Negligent in Tomb." New York Times. 15 Jan. 1924: 23.

117.

117.

"Compound Pharaoh Riches." New York Times. 24 Feb. 1923: 3.

118.

118.

"Skirt Controversy Forty Centuries Old." New York Times. 20 June 1922: 12.

119.

119.

"Museum Throng Sees Tut-Ankh-Amen Ring." New York Times. 19 Feb. 1923: 2.

120.

120.

J.W.C. "To Tut-ankh-Amen." New York Times. 9 Feb. 1923: 14.

121.

121.

"Widow of Egypt's Boy King Soon Sought a New Husband." New York Times. 11 Feb. 1923: VIII: 3.

122.

122.

Grace Wilcox. "Ancient Egypt Lives Again in Hollywood." Los Angeles Times. 4 Feb. 1923: III: 9+.

123.

123.

Ibid.

124.

124.

Ibid.

125.

125.

Ibid.

126.

126.

James Henry Breasted. "Some Experiences in the Tomb of Tutankhamon." Art and Archaeology 17.1, 2, Jan-Feb. 1924: 16-17.

127.

127. Howard Carter. "Explorations at the Tomb of Tutankhamon," Current History Magazine. 1924: 361.

128.

128.

"New Marvels Are Unearthed in Egypt." Current Opinion 74, March 1923: 336.

129.

129.

"The Stupendous Find in Egypt." Literary Digest 76, 20 Jan 1923: 30.

130.

130.

"King Tut-Ankh-Amen's Treasure." Scientific American 131, July 1924: 24.

131.

131.

Hoving,. 327.

132.

132. "Americans Now in Lead in Unraveling the Past." New York Times. 28 Jan 1923: VIII, 3.

133.

133. "Americans Saved Tutankhamen Treasures Halting Their Own Work to Serve Science." New York Times. 25 Jan. 1923: 1.

134.

134.

"Magic of Egypt." New York Times. 16 Feb. 1923: 12.

135.

135.

"Leading Archaeologically." New York Times. 28 Jan. 1923: II: 6.