The Sacred Vessel in King Tut’s Tomb
Even though the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb by Howard Carter happened almost a century ago, it continues to fascinate. The nearly intact chambers, and their contents, hidden for over three thousand years, were once again able to be seen after its unearthing in November 1922. The tomb contained over 5000 objects of immense value. Not merely of a monetary value, but an extreme worth to help further understand, learn from, and appreciate the history and culture of the time.
One of the treasures from this exploration, however, is not able to be displayed behind glass cases and is, therefore, sometimes missed. It is a prize of knowing the perseverance and strength it took for its eventual find by Howard Carter. I admire this part of the story as much as I do the prizes found under the sands. It offers encouragement and stands as demonstration that if you truly believe in something, don’t ever give up. Treasures do await and can be recognized in so many ways.
I recently had the wonderful opportunity to visit the exhibition of this incredible tomb’s treasures, and listen to a lecture by Zahi Hawass, Egyptian archeologist and former Minister for Antiquities. Dr. Hawass spoke of his passion for protecting treasures, like the relics found in King Tut’s tomb, and others. He shared current progress happening towards continued excavations, mentioned work being done to preserve future (and past) artifacts unearthed, and offered his opinion on various theories, beliefs, and concerns surrounding Egyptian archeology.
He also spoke briefly on Howard Carter. Although I was familiar with Carter’s dedication to finding the boy king’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings, when I heard Dr. Hawass tell the story during his lecture, something struck deeper. Maybe it was the veneration for Carter in Hawass’ voice that helped me fully grasp how remarkable the discovery actually was, and how it almost didn’t happen.
It’s a story of courage, hope, belief, definitely persistence, and then, only after much frustration, struggle, heartbreak, and failure, finally success.
A journey few have the strength to continue to the end.
Carter’s story resonates with Medieval Grail Quests, and what I find amusing is a ‘Sacred Vessel’ within the tomb was found and cherished by Carter. It was one of his favorite pieces and could be seen as a reward for enduring the quest to find the vault. He had this ‘Grail’s’ inscriptions placed on his tombstone (more below).
Carter believed, without support, that he could find a royal tomb, intact, still in the Valley of Kings. It was believed by others the area was exhausted at the time, and he was thought foolish by his peers for spending so many seasons digging there.
He had the opportunity to yield, and quit his mission, when after years of searching, Lord Carnarvon, who supplied the funds for Carter’s works, had said he was tired of his fruitless digs and wasn’t going to invest in them anymore. Carter could have walked away, gave up, but he was determined, and told Lord Carnarvon if he wouldn’t fund him, he would fund the next season himself. Carter was that certain a tomb was there to be found.
During Hawass’ speech that night, I listened to everyone, and myself, laugh when Hawass continued with the story. He said, Lord Carnarvon, exasperated and after hearing Carter’s reply, then decided to pay for one more season of digging, but only for the reason he was afraid Carter would actually find a tomb without him.
But think about that statement. Carter must have conveyed a strong enough conviction to Lord Carnarvon that he would find a tomb. His belief, hope, and determination, overcame feelings of discouragement and doubt. This faith was felt by his investor, Lord Carnarvon.
Year after year, of sifting through the sands, nothing but more sand and ordinary rock appeared. But then, on November 4th, 1922, just when lost hope for a find was being felt by searchers, possibly even by Carter, an extraordinary rock was uncovered.
The circumstances around the find of this rock is remarkable. A young boy, who brought water in jars to the site each day, needed to create a small hole in the newly excavated sands for the pointed bottom of the jars to sit upright in. Doing so the morning of the 4th, the boy, Hussein Abdel Rasoul, noticed a flat stone after digging. This stone turned out to be the first step of the stairway down to King Tut’s tomb hidden below.
Carter telegraphed Lord Carnarvon, who was back home, to tell him of the discovery and then waited for him to arrive to open the tomb’s door.
On November 24th, seals of Tutankhamun were noticed on the doorway, and on November 26th, a small hole was chiseled through the door by Carter so he could look inside. Lord Carnarvon, his daughter Lady Evelyn, and an assistant, Arthur Callender, were with Carter. The famous question was asked by Lord Carnarvon as Carter peered in;
“Can you see anything?” and the unforgettable reply by Carter;
“Yes, wonderful things.”
Excavations continued. The most complete and spectacular treasures were brought to see the light and are cherished by all who see them today.
As mentioned above, one of Carter’s most special finds, however, was a Goblet formed from Alabaster with incised inscriptions painted in blue. These inscriptions were later placed on his gravestone because he loved them so. He called the vessel ‘the wishing cup’ after the following words on his precious vessel:
“May your spirit live, may you live one million years, one who loves Thebes and dwells in it, your face towards the northern wind; may your eyes see the good place.”
The cup is in the shape of a lotus, and symbols on the cup represent rebirth and everlasting existence. Each time the King would drink from the flower formed vessel, he was believed to be receiving ‘life’.
It is a ‘Holy Grail’ in form, symbolism, and in appropriate prize for Carter’s journey.
Carter’s steadfastness is a quality to greatly admire and contemplate. What if he would have stopped? It’s a question we will never know the answer to because he kept on. But when thinking upon this, it leads to the reverse situation and what can haunt us. It is realizing we would never know the answer to those situations where we don’t keep on, and stop. What if we kept on?
The inspiration we can gain from deeply considering that question, and knowing the stories of treasures found when one keeps on, helps us all to continue on our own journeys. The discovery of King Tut’s tomb is one of Carter’s greatest achievements, but it did not come easy.
Nevertheless, in the end he did find a treasure with values of the Grail and a feeling of contentment he took to the grave. He persisted, conquered fears, doubts, and obstacles, and reached his ambition.
A story for all of us to take hold of.
Best of luck with whatever you seek!