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21 June 2021 THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY: UNCOVERING TUTANKHAMUN’S TOMB by Candace Fleming, Scholastic Focus, September 2021, 304p., ISBN: 978-1-338-59661-8


“From life-sized Pharaonic busts to finely painted copies of their treasured grave goods, Egypt has inaugurated a factory dedicated to making high-quality replicas of ancient Egyptian artifacts, available to tourists for purchase...Among the factory’s most expensive products are life-sized replicas of King Tutankhamun’s ceremonial chair...as well as his gold-painted mask.”

-- PressTV.com (6/13/21)


“King Tut (King Tut)

Now when he was a young man

He never thought he’d see

People stand in line to see the boy king

(King Tut) How’d you get so funky?

(Funky Tut) Do you do the monkey?”

--Steve Martin, “King Tut” (1978)


I remember the song from Saturday Night Live, and I recall some ancient Egypt basics I learned, long ago, in a high school World History class. But in the hands of Candace Fleming, the tale of locating and excavating the boy king’s tomb is a whole ‘nother story. THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY is breathtaking. Admittedly, it was a bit freaky to be reading about the supposed curse at four in the morning. But I just couldn’t put this book down.


In large measure, THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY is the story of Howard Carter, the man who was hired to lead the excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb. When we first meet him, we learn that, 


“Howard Carter arrived in Egypt from England in 1891. Just seventeen years old at the time, he had little schooling, no money, and no training in Egyptology. He did, however, have a knack for sketching and painting.”


And once in Egypt, making sketches for a British Egyptologist, Howard Carter lucked out big-time:


Flinders Petrie, the man who invented the idea of archaeology as a science and today is known as ‘the father of archaeology,’ noticed the boy’s keen eye. He asked Carter to join his excavation team. Soon, the teenager was sketching by day and studying by night. From Petrie, he learned...everything! How to deal with ancient, fragile textiles; how to date a pot based on its style; how to move boulders; how to read the gorges and sand dunes; how to keep tunnels from collapsing; how to keep from being eaten alive by the sand fleas. Most importantly, Petrie taught him the study of ‘unconsidered trifles.’ At that time, most diggers cared only about big finds--tomb paintings, sculptures, or jewelry. But Petrie advocated something new: ‘the observation of small things...The science of observation, of registration, of recording.’ Nothing escaped Petrie’s eye. Unlike other Egyptologists, he took note of a single bead or amulet, corroded coins, and other fragments of the ancient Egyptian’s everyday life. He sifted through sand. He sifted through rubble. He collected every shard of pottery, then pieced them together like a huge jigsaw puzzle. And while some Egyptologists laughed at his methods, Carter listened and learned. Within two years, and under Petrie’s close eye, he himself was searching for clues in the sand.”


Fast forward a few years, and lightning strikes again: A British earl--super-wealthy with a new Egyptology hobby--goes shopping for an archeologist to lead his dig in the “City of the Dead,” and is given Howard Carter’s name. And that’s how Carter came to employ Flinders Petrie’s careful, exacting methods in excavating King Tut’s tomb and providing information that drastically expanded what the world knows about the everyday lives of ancient Egyptians. 


In addition to the century-old debate about the curse, there are fascinating tangents regarding colonialism, the dismissal of Carter by the upper class Brits, and much more. But the focus is primarily on Howard Carter’s careful excavation and evaluation of the treasures of the boy king. 


Candace Fleming has quite the ability to paint vivid word pictures, such as when we read about Carter hanging upside down by his ankles for hours, carefully preparing to remove objects without damaging those “small things” that his mentor taught him to pay attention to.


THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY is engaging narrative nonfiction at its best. It’s certainly another Sibert Medal contender for Ms. Fleming.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com






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