On November 4, 1922, a young Egyptian boy named Hussein Abdel Rasoul was unloading water jars from his donkey. He was in the Valley of the Kings, in the Egyptian desert far up the Nile River, working as part of the expedition organized by Howard Carter, in their search for the tomb of a lost pharaoh. He swept away some sand so the water casks would stand upright. In doing so, he exposed a flat stone surface. He informed others of his find. They soon realized it was a stone step, the first in a series of steps, leading down into the sands of the Valley of the Kings. It must have been an electrifying moment. What the boy had discovered by accident, turned out to be the greatest archeological discovery of the 20th century — the tomb of King Tutankhamun, the boy pharaoh. Howard Carter wired Lord Carnarvon, who was financing the expedition, that he should book passage right away from Scotland to Alexandria, and then up the Nile to the burial site in the Valley of the Kings. Friday, November 4 marks the centennial of that discovery.

Believe it or not, there is a roundabout local connection to that amazing discovery 100 years ago. My father was born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1918. My mother was born in 1917 in Faiyum, Egypt, near the Nile, about 360 miles downriver from the Valley of the Kings. They were both children of Presbyterian missionaries in Egypt. As a child, my mother would sometimes go to the Valley of the Kings with her parents and brothers. She was five years old when they uncovered the entrance to tomb. I regret that I never asked her much about her experience with the great discovery. She contracted Alzheimer’s syndrome in the late 1980s and was in decline until she died in 2005. I’m pretty sure she got to see the site and some of the treasures that were brought out of the tomb.

My father was a precocious four-year-old when the discovery was made. His mother, my grandmother, died when I was an infant, so I never knew her — but stories about her told of a brilliant and ambitious woman. After hearing about the discovery, she also learned that it was customary for Scottish aristocrats traveling abroad to make courtesy calls on Presbyterian missionaries. This sparked an idea. When Lord Carnarvon’s ship docked in Alexandria, she sent an invitation to the Scottish lord to join the Jamisons at their home for tea. When he replied in the affirmative, and a date was set, my grandmother immediately set about in a whirlwind of cleaning, getting their home ready for the arrival of the Scottish aristocrat. In her rushing about making the place acceptable, she kept saying in partial explanation to my father and his brother, that, “the lord is coming!” The great day finally arrived, and when the doorbell rang, my father ran and opened the door for Lord Carnarvon, saying, “Hello, God!”

In 1977, the Egyptian Organization of Antiquities announced that there would be an exhibition of the treasures of Tutankhamun at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. My father was sitting in a chair in the living room of our Jacksonville home reading a book, when I asked him if he was planning to go to Chicago to see the Tut exhibit. He looked up from his book and gazed at me over his glasses, with a little twinkle in his eye, and said, “I’ve already seen it.”

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