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Theodore Davis's Gilded Age in the Valley of the Kings

By John M. Adams

Pub Date: June 25th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-250-02669-9
Publisher: St. Martin's

Long before Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter discovered King Tut’s tomb, Theodore Davis (1837–1915) was the driving force in the exploration of the Valley of the Kings. Adams vividly portrays the unlikely robber baron who set the standards for archaeology.

The author intersperses a simple biography of the man in this chronicle of Davis’ 18 major tomb finds. His account of the drive for wealth illustrates the connivance and brutality that were the M.O. of 19th-century American tycoons. While Davis never approached the wealth level of his fellow industrialists, he certainly matched them for ruthlessness, lack of scruples and downright dishonesty. He was a man who saw opportunity and grabbed it, and he watched and learned as lawyers cheated his stepfather of his copper leases, vowing to become as rich and merciless as they. He eventually controlled mineral rights to 400,000 acres in Upper Michigan, and he then set out to “collect” great riches; Egypt became his “project.” Archaeological digs in that era were unscientific and often more destructive than productive, but Davis put his money to work clearing the valley from end to end. His finds included the complete tomb of Tut’s great-grandparents and a gold tomb that was the richest collection to date. More importantly, he published numerous books about his findings, sharing his methodology with the scientific world. Alas, King Tut’s tomb was so magnificent that it relegated Davis’ finds, and the man himself, to the back of the history books.

Adams presents Davis warts and all, as a callous, scheming tycoon who amassed a fortune and then did an about-face and behaved with honesty, responsibility and generosity as he transformed archaeology from glorified grave robbing to a science.