Howard Carter found the tomb of Tutankhamun on 22nd November 1922. I know that date well because it’s my birthday. It’s also the day the ancient pharaoh became a superstar thousands of years after his death.
Alina Cohen wrote about Tutankhamun’s tomb and its legacy as a multimillion dollar industry. It also led to the infamous curse of King Tut:
Carter’s discovery was just the beginning of King Tut mania. Herbert died in 1923, shortly after entering the tomb—most likely from an infected mosquito bite—and a series of people connected with him and Carter suffered mysterious traumas. Rumors of King Tut’s curse circulated.
Since then, his tomb and its contents have toured the globe in numerous exhibitions. But there have been questions of looting from Egypt, centring on a sculpture that had the features of Tutankhamun. The country tried to stop auction house Christie’s from selling it, alleging it had been stolen from the Temple of Karnak in Luxor in 1970. Christie’s disagreed.
According to them, the statue was in the private collection of Prinz Wilhelm von Thurn und Taxis by the 1960s. Christie’s went ahead with the July auction and sold the disputed object for nearly $6 million. Days later, Egypt sued Christie’s. The ongoing brouhaha typifies the disagreements that still pervade the market for Egyptian antiquities.
Subsequent sales of King Tut antiques have garnered huge prizes in auctions. His likeness warrants big bucks. The deeper implications of this—making money from a person of colour (I won’t get into the debate of racial identity in Ancient Egypt but knock yourself out) after death—isn’t addressed in the article and it probably wasn’t the place to do so. But it’s something that should be analysed overall, especially when we see how quickly the death of a Black person like Breonna Taylor can turn the victim into a meme and a painting before her murderers see the inside of a courtroom (if they do).