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How a 10-YO Boy Discovered Tutankhamun’s Tomb and Was Never Recognized

Por: Rodrigo Ayala Cárdenas 21 de enero de 2023

The discovery of the mythical pharaoh, whose location was unknown for some 3,300 years, is one of the great achievements of world archaeology.

Tutankhamun awoke from his long slumber in the desert sands of Luxor in 1923, the date his chamber was opened after his passing in 1327 B.C. A group of British archaeologists, surrounded by various journalists and experts gathered there to witness one of the most important events in archaeology, moving the last slab that had held the mythical pharaoh in darkness for some 3,300 years.

“At first I could not see anything as the hot air coming out of the chamber made the candle flame flicker; but then, as my eyes became accustomed to the light, the details of the interior of the room slowly emerged from the darkness: strange animals, statues and gold, everywhere the glitter of gold,” wrote Howard Carter, the leader of the group of archaeologists, in his memoirs where he recounted the process of the discovery.

Once through the main entrance to the burial chamber, Carter advanced a few meters until he was face to face with the gold-plated sarcophagus of Tutankhamun. In it rested the remains of the man who lived in Egypt’s 18th Dynasty and didn’t live past 20 years of age. “A magnificent sarcophagus of admirable craftsmanship, carved from a massive block of the finest yellow quartzite, it measured 2.75 m long, 1.47 m wide, and 1.47 m high,” Carter recalled. Next to the coffin were the protective deities Isis, Nephthys, Neith, and Serket carved in high relief in the corners with their wings outstretched and their arms open in a protective embrace.

Howard Carter was sweating not because of the stifling heat of the millenary tomb but because of the excitement of finding the remains of one of the most emblematic pharaohs of Ancient Egypt. At that very moment, one of the most important episodes in Egyptology was being written. Carter arrived in Egypt at the age of 17 from his native London to join the excavations that were taking place in the North African country, a destination that had attracted his attention since his childhood. In 1891, the English government’s interest in Egypt led the Egypt Exploration Fund to send Carter to copy the hieroglyphs and decorations of a group of Middle Kingdom vaults at the Beni Hasan site.

Carter was a fairly skilled draftsman who learned with pleasure and interest the profession of an archaeologist. He would never have believed that a few years later, he would be the protagonist of one of the most important discoveries not only in Egypt but also in archaeology worldwide. But the story about the discovery throws even more surprises: Carter was the one who entered the pharaoh’s chamber and the first man to open the golden sarcophagus, but he was not exactly the one who found the tomb of the great Tutankhamun.

The First Discoverer of the Pharaoh

This merit belongs to Husein Abdel Rasul, who at the age of ten, while carrying water to the archaeologists commanded by Howard Carter in the Valley of the Kings, was the one who found by chance, on November 4, 1922, the first step leading to the chamber. When he unloaded the water vessels from the donkey on which he was carrying them, he dug into the sand to place them, finding a step that had not been known about until then.

The child gave notice to the foreigners who were digging the area and that same day, Carter’s team continued cleaning the area, until they uncovered about 16 more steps from the one found by Husein Abdel Rasu, which would lead them in the following months to discover Tutankhamun. However, the boy’s discovery and his name were not mentioned in Carter’s memoirs; he was about to abandon the area, believing it to be deserted, and under pressure from his patron Lord Carnarvon, who accused him of spending money without obtaining any results.

It is more than likely that the “wonderful things” that Carter discovered a couple of months later would not have been possible without the presence of Husein Abdel Rasu, a simple boy who earned his living carrying water to archaeologists studying Egypt’s past. In the present, his grandson Mohamed Abdel Rasul, owner of a small tavern at the gates of the Ramesseum, the temple of the great Ramses II, wishes to vindicate the memory of his grandfather and reminds us that after his important find that led to the discovery of one of the most famous archaeological sites in history, “he had a normal life.”

He owned some land and continued to work on archaeological missions. Any foreign Egyptologist who came to Luxor came to visit him. He earned his living as a rais (foreman) of excavations. He was good at directing the workers.” Husein Abdel Rasu died peacefully in 1996, forgotten in the history books that have Carter as the ‘sole’ discoverer of the tomb.

The story of Hussein Abdel Rasu is one of many that remain hidden by being omitted by those who want to cover themselves with glory. Carter’s excavation work is certainly worthy of recognition, for he gave the world one of the most important historical gifts of all time that allowed Egyptology to expand its knowledge. But what would have happened if little Hussein Abdel Rasu had not been present working in the Valley of the Kings that day? Would Tutankhamun have been awakened from his millennial sleep?

Story originally published in Spanish in Cultura Colectiva

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