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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Egyptologist digs her work

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Staff Writer

On Nov 22, 1922, Egyptologist Howard Carter made a discovery that changed history forever. "What do you see?" asked the English Lord Carnavan (George Herbert), as Carter peered through a small hole leading into an ancient tomb in Egypt. "I see wonderful things," said Carter. The wonderful things Carter saw were the contents the Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamen's tomb, the only pharaonic tomb discovered in the Valley of the Kings undisturbed.

"Carter's careful documentation and excavation (of Tut's tomb) have been invaluable in teaching us how Egyptians viewed their king and his importance to them in the afterlife," said Egyptologist Tammy Hilburn.

Hilburn talked about King Tut and her theory about his tomb at the Spring River Gem and Mineral Club meeting May 6 at the Omaha Center.

Hilburn, a Batesville native, said Tut's tomb served as a holographic or virtual reality chamber after his death. The chamber's purpose was to depict the pharaoh fighting chaos -- an element in nature the ancient Egyptians believed affected the cycles of their livelihood, the sun.

The ancient Egyptians believed the they had to protect the pharaoh's tomb so he could protect the living in the afterlife.

According to Hilburn, the tomb is set up on an axis parallel to sunset and sunrise. Hilburn said as the sun set behind Tut's sarcophagus or coffin, his spirit would rise and begin to battle chaos, represented by a snake. The battle would continue until the pharaoh killed chaos. After the battle the pharaoh and other Egyptian gods would cut up and eat the snake. The ritual would end with the sun coming up in front of the entrance to the tomb.

Hilburn said she came up with her theory by accident. "I came to Egypt to study Akhenaton, King Tut's father. He fascinated me because he was a monotheist in a polytheistic world and he depicted his body in real terms, not in idyllic terms like the other pharaohs," she said.

One area of interest for Hilburn was the unusual shape of Akhenaton's stomach. "I became mired in guts," she said. Hilburn's research led her to the coptic funerary jars used to hold the pharaoh's small intestines, lungs, liver and stomach after his death.

Inside of the jars Hilburn said she discovered spells written in hieroglyphics to be used by the pharaoh in the afterlife. The spells, taken as a collection, read like the chapters of a book. On the outer rim of the jars the letters "nnhdget" were carved which means "eternity" in ancient Egyptian, she said.

Hilburn said this information along with the knowledge that the Egyptians believed their memory is stored in their stomachs led her to believe that these spells were part of the pharaonic ritual of fighting chaos for all of eternity.

The ancient Egyptians believed if these spells were tampered with the pharaoh's power would leave him and curses would be put on those who tampered with pharaonic tombs, she said. Stories about the curse of King Tut prevailed in the media in the years after Carter completed his excavation.

Hilburn said her theory has been scrutinized by historians but is now considered historical fact.

"Studying in Egypt was the biggest and coolest experience of my life," she said

Hilburn, who graduated from Arkansas State University in 1994 and got her master's degree in Egyptology from the University of Memphis in 2001, said she's going back to Egypt to work on an IMAX film detailing the life and reign of Tutankhamen. The film will run at museums around the country.

Gem and Mineral Club president Mary Kocz said Hilburn is working on a dig in the Cushman area and is starting to work on her PhD Kocz said Hilburn is slated to give a speech on Egyptian art in October.

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