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Press release

Photographs of the Discovery of Tutankhamun's Tomb on Display at Metropolitan Museum

Exhibition dates: December 19, 2006 – April 29, 2007
Exhibition location: The Howard Gilman Gallery, second floor

An exhibition of vintage photographs celebrating one of the most memorable episodes in the history of archaeology – the discovery and exploration of the tomb of the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun (Dynasty 18; ruled ca. 1336-1327 B.C.) – will be on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art beginning December 19. The photographs, documenting every stage in the process of the excavation, were taken by the renowned archaeological photographer Harry Burton, who was a staff member of the Metropolitan Museum Egyptian Expedition when he was "lent" to Howard Carter, the famed excavator of Tutankhamun's tomb. Discovering Tutankhamun: The Photographs of Harry Burton features his spectacular black-and-white images of the entrance passage to the tomb, the opening of the sealed chambers inside, the first view of the contents and removal of the objects, and the beautifully made and decorated treasures that were found. The four chambers of the tomb were crammed with objects such as gold-covered chariots; elaborately inlaid furniture and chests; a vast array of the king's personal belongings, including jewelry; a series of shrines and coffins that protected the king; and the famous solid-gold mask that adorned his mummy – the last, among the most iconic examples of ancient Egyptian art ever to have come to light.

The exhibition is made possible by The Friends of Isis, Friends of the Department of Egyptian Art.

On November 4, 1922, after a seven-year search, the British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamun. On November 24 in the presence of his sponsor, Lord Carnarvon, he opened the tomb and found "wonderful things." Carter soon realized the enormous task that lay ahead in removing, recording, and preserving the thousands of objects that filled the four chambers of the tomb. He sought the assistance of The Metropolitan Museum of Art and its Theban Expedition, which generously lent several staff members, including the photographer Harry Burton. Over the next ten years Burton would photograph many of the more than 5,000 objects found in Tut's tomb, both in situ and in his studio, on some 1,400 glass-plate negatives. In addition to his work in black and white, Burton also photographed many objects in color and made movies of the objects as they were removed from the tomb. All the gelatin-silver photographs in the exhibition are by Burton. Portions of the early film footage taken by Burton in the 1920s will also be included in the exhibition.

Harry Burton (1879-1940) was trained in art photography in Florence, Italy. In 1914 he went to Egypt to photograph the Theban tombs for the Museum. His masterful use of natural and artificial light, as well as his experience and high standards, make the photographs not only valuable scientific records but also works of art. Burton remained in Egypt after the Metropolitan ceased excavating in 1935, and continued to record the monuments. He died there in 1940 and is buried in the American cemetery in Asyut.

"Howard Carter realized immediately the importance of a comprehensive photographic record of this extraordinary discovery," commented Susan J. Allen, the Metropolitan Museum's Senior Research Associate in the Department of Egyptian Art, who is also curator of the exhibition. "He was fortunate in having Harry Burton, who brought the highest levels of photographic skill and aesthetic sense to the task and produced beautiful photographs that both tell the story and serve as an historical record."

The exhibition is accompanied by the publication Tutankhamun's Tomb: The Thrill of Discovery, published by the Metropolitan Museum and distributed by Yale University Press, and available in the Museum's book shops in hardcover ($24.95).

The exhibition is organized by Susan J. Allen. Exhibition design is by Michael Langley, Senior Exhibition Designer; graphics are by Norie Morimoto, Graphic Designer; and lighting is by Clint Ross Coller and Richard Lichte, Senior Lighting Designers, all of the Metropolitan Museum's Design Department.

A variety of educational programs will be offered for Museum visitors.

The exhibition is featured on the Museum's Web site (

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December 15, 2006

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