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The Intimate Bond

We know a great deal about Howard Carter, the artist and archaeologist who carried out the painstaking dissection of the pharaoh’s burial and treasures, but his partner and sponsor, the Fifth Earl of Carnarvon, remains somewhat in the background. It was he who gambled enormous sums on Tutankhamun, and won, yet did not. So does the young king, who remains a shadowy figure after nearly a century of research.  Lord and Pharaoh casts light on these two pivotal figures in a short book that attempts summary biographies of both of them. There are surprising parallels in their lives, despite the more than 3,000 years that separate them. Both were born to high privilege, both were brought up in cloistered isolation, had poor health, and strong senses of entitlement. Both appear to have died from an infected mosquito bite. The narrative begins with two general background chapters, describes some of the compelling figures that worked in the Theban Necropolis and the Valley of the Kings. We then alternate between Tutankhamun and Carnarvon as they grow up, before telling the story of the king’s burial and the discovery of the tomb in 1922. The story ends with the opening of the Burial Chamber, Carnarvon’s death, and the troubled aftermath. Lord and Pharaoh isa microcosm of archaeological discovery, but it’s also an account of a changing Egyptological scene. When Carnarvon arrived, wealthy benefactors like the American Theodore Davis employed archaeologists and shared in the finds. Carnarvon had the same expectation of rich spoils. Then Tutankhamun came along at a time of rising Egyptian nationalism, and the archaeological world changed too. Institutions replaced individuals; wealthy patricians no longer received ancient treasures. These developments ushered in the Egyptology of today, as much concerned with conservation as discovery. The closing chapter is something completely different--an essay aimed at archaeologists about the challenges of writing a book like this.