Finding Tutankhamun’s Tomb and Elliot Smith

Grafton Elliot Smith was involved in attempts to preserve and analyse (eg by X-ray, a technique he had pioneered) the recently discovered Tutankhamun’s mummy. Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon’simg004 excavation of the tomb had fascinated the world. Eliot Smith wrote and spoke much about the circumstances and significance of the finds. His newspaper articles were collected into a popular book published in 1923 entitled Tutankhamun and the Discovery of the Tomb.

Has T. S. Eliot’s Prophecy Come True?

In his The Idea of a Christian Society (1939) T. S. Eliot warned:

“We are being made aware that the organization of society on the principle of private profit, as well as public destruction, is leading both to the deformation of humanity by unregulated industrialism, and to the exhaustion of natural resources, and that a good deal of our material progress is a progress for which succeeding generations may have to pay dearly”.

Was he right?

He added: “..a wrong attitude towards nature implies, somewhere, a wrong attitude towards God”.

Are Archaeologists Autistic? Howard Carter and Elliot Smith

If you’ve been watching the SBS series Tutankhamun it is pretty obvious that Howard Carter has at least a degree of Asperger’s syndrome (a form of autism). So in my opinion did Grafton Elliot Smith, another Egyptologist, famous for dissecting thousands of mummies from the Valley of Kings. As his friend Wood Jones observed: “more than any man that I have ever met, he was indifferent to his surroundings…it might be said with truth that he carried his own environment with him…The only local incidents that affected him were the material objects, such as anatomical subjects, libraries and museums, that happened to be within his reach.” Jones comments that he was not under any romantic spell of Egypt (on which he wrote many works),  but was fascinated “rather because Egypt furnished him with skulls and skeletons and mummies”. When camping out in the desert sands he was completely oblivious to trying conditions such as the flies and heat. He was engrossed in the theoretical implications of his findings for his emerging theory of cultural diffusion. [See Paul Crook, Grafton Elliot Smith, Egyptology and the Diffusion of Culture, especially pp.11-12 on his autism].

ps:  to be fair he was not strictly an archaeologist, but an anatomist with archaeological interests.

T. S. Eliot on Isolation and Separation from Everything

The famous poet and critic T. S. Eliot wrote to his friend and publisher Geoffrey Faber around 1927 about the sense of horror that sometimes overcame him when he felt that he was separated from all enjoyment, “from all things of this earth, even from Hope; a sudden separation and isolation from everything; and at that moment of illumination, a recognition of the fact that one can do without all these things, a joyful recognition of what John of the Cross means when he says that the soul cannot be possessed of the divine union until it has divested itself of the craving for all created beings”.

Is this true?

Dissecting Pharoahs: Elliot Smith in Egypt in the 1900s

Grafton Elliot Smith (1873-1937) is a great forgotten Australian – a world authority on brain anatomy and human evolution, and a controversial amateur anthropologist/archaeologist, whose theory of cultural diffusion caused a great stir. He was in Egypt as professor of anatomy when teams of famous archaeologists (including the Hearst expedition. George Reisner, even Flinders Petrie) were excavating the Valley of the Kings. From 1900 to 1909 he dissected thousands of mummies, especially “dessicated brains” found in Egyptian skulls, work never done before (too gruesome!)People he worked with included the psychologist/anthropologist W. H. R. Rivers and the discoverer of Tutankhamun’s tomb Howard Carter. Have you been watching the TV miniseries Tutankhamun? seems reasonably accurate (minus the romantic bits).

For more on all this read my book Grafton Elliot Smith, Egyptology and the Diffusion of Culture (Sussex, 2012).

The Mummy in the Taxi: Elliot Smith and Howard Carter in 1903

When Grafton Elliot Smith was in Cairo in 1903 he was asked by Gaston Maspero, Egyptian director-general of antiquities, to medically examine the mummy of a Pharaoh, Tuthmosis, before a distinguished audience at the Cairo Museum, which included Lord Cromer and Howard Carter (then inspector of antiquities). After this Elliot Smith did a thorough lab examination of the king in private. In order to estimate his age, etc, he wanted an X-ray photograph of the body, the first mummy ever to be so examined. He later recalled how he and Carter took the rigid Pharaoh in a cab to the only radiographical apparatus in Cairo, in a nursing home. One can imagine the mummy sitting rigidly in the back seat while Grafton and Howard chatted about archaeology on the way!

I discuss this in my book Grafton Elliot Smith, Egyptology and the Diffusion of Culture (p.9).. GES was a great, but now forgotten, Australian. I doubt he gets a mention in the TV miniseries Tutankhamun.