Tutankhamun's Last Guardian? the Infamous Curse May Be Fantasy, but the Young Pharaoh Has Undoubtedly Gripped Peoples' Imagination and Changed Lives. as the King Tut Exhibition Opens in Greenwich, Desmond Zwar Looks at the Career of the Man Who Claimed to Have Spent Seven Years Living in the Tomb, Guarding It While Howard Carter Examined Its Contents

Article excerpt


AT THE END OF THE DAY just before Christmas 1968, a visitor was ushered into my office at the Daily Mail. A small man with a round head topped by white hair. He was clutching his hat and apologizing for being 'a trouble'. He arrived from the lift, seventy-ish, in threadbare black suit. He didn't want to be a bother, but he had just come from being with Prince Charles at Cambridge University. Richard Adamson explained that back in 1922 he had been in Luxor, Egypt with archaeologist Howard Carter, and he needed an important photograph he had taken at the time; he wondered if our newspaper could help?

Mr Carter had been picking over the last area he was to dig in Egypt's Valley of the Kings; searching for the boy king, Tutankhamun's tomb. I was at the time, a 23-year-old; I'd been a policeman in Cairo, well ... more than a policeman really.

Well, what was he?

He looked uncomfortable. He had actually been involved in 'security work' in Cairo, infiltrating the Wafd Party which was attempting to overthrow British rule in Egypt.

I had passed on information which led to the arrest of 28 Egyptians--four of them sentenced to death and the rest jailed, I was a marked man, and it was deemed advisable to send me away from Cairo.

The 'authorities' had bundled him off by train to Luxor to join Howard Carter and his patron, Lord Carnaryon, in the Valley of the Kings. Carter had agreed to employ the young military policeman to type up his notes on the daily dig.

Adamson now told me he had just come from an audience with Prince Charles, and the Prince had been so fascinated by what he had told him that he had extended a scheduled one hour's chat to four. Now Adamson had been invited to take part in a film to re-enact the discovery in the Valley of the Kings. This was why he was seeking my paper's help. 'I would like to get my photographs back from Cairo.' There were 'some hundreds' of his photographs the Egyptians were still keeping in the Cairo Museum: a collection officials were apparently reluctant to acknowledge even existed.


Why did he want his old pictures?

One picture is historic: it is a box-camera snap I took and showed to Carter the day before he uncovered the passageway to Tutankhamun's tomb. Just after I took the photo, the Egyptian workers covered over again what was later shown to be a step. I had photographed it.

Was this man in fact claiming that it was his own alertness and shrewdness that led to the tomb's actual discovery?

Well. shrugged my visitor, that step was the first leading down to the tomb. and had he not taken the "snap" and shown it to Carter. the deadline for the expiration of the dig licence would have passed, and Carter would have departed--after years searching--empty-handed.

He explained that he had taken this "snap" on November 3rd. 1922. almost the eleventh hour. he said. of Carter's exclusive digging rights in Egypt. Armed with an old John Bull box camera. Adamson had been "pottering about' taking snapshots of the excavations, having his film developed each night at the Winter Palace Hotel in nearby Luxor.

While he was 'pottering about', he recalled, he had noticed three Egyptian diggers uncover what looked like a large boulder near some workmens' huts.

I then saw them quickly cover up the boulder with rubbish they had taken from another spot, and start in a different direction.

But before they successfully hid what they had uncovered, the alert Adamson photographed it.

The next morning, Mr Carter arrived on the site at the usual time. There was only a short time of the concision left. 'Well, there's not far to go now,' Mr Carter said, and went on with what he was doing.

For seven backbreaking years, his health failing, Carter had tried, and he believed failed, to discover the last link in the pharaohs--the tomb of the boy-king Tutankhamun (133-323 BC) which he believed was somewhere in the arid valley. …


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