Tutankhamun and the Petun

 In Opinion

Separated as they are by over 9,000 km of distance and several thousand years of time, there cannot possibly be any connection between the Pharaoh Tutankhamun who lived in 1332 BC and the Petun Indians of Ontario who lived in the Blue Mountains ca. 1575 to 1650 AD.

In 1923, William J. Wintemberg, archaeologist for the Victoria Memorial Museum in Ottawa, arrived in the village of Creemore at the edge of the Niagara Escarpment and the Petun country. 

He took up residence in the village’s most luxurious and therefor, likely the most expensive hotel, The Sovereign Hotel. 

From there he conducted what seems to have been a leisurely archaeological survey of Petun country. It is said that he spent 10 whole days in the Collingwood Museum, then housed in the basement of the Carnegie library, examining the artifacts collected by the Huron Institute. 

After he was finished with the Petun country, he did not return to Ottawa immediately but moved further west on to the Meaford Tank Range. There he was handicapped by the lack of residents to inform him of any archaeological remains and he even tracked some of them down to enquire if when they were removed they took some of the artifacts with them. But by this time, it didn’t seem to matter. Whatever the reason that the museum had for conducting an archaeological survey of the Petun country no longer seemed to apply. 

So the big question remains: Why? Grateful as we, later Petun researchers, are that the work was done, there seems no logical reason why the museum would take a sudden and expensive interest in the Petun in 1923 especially as money appeared to be no object. 

Certainly there was a huge contrast with Wintemberg’s next visit to the Creemore in 1926 to excavate the Sidey-Mackay site. In 1926, his accommodation was a tent and his sanitation a bucket. The museum policy had returned to frugality. It took little interest what he was currently doing and routinely forwarded artifacts to other museums and did not even plan to publish a report. (Fortunately, this was done posthumously by a colleague). It is as if Wintemberg was being punished for some perceived failure in 1923. What could this possibly have been?

I searched for a possible reason for the change in attitude by the museum and the reason for the survey but could find no answer. 

Then I realized that in November of the previous year (1922) the English archaeologist Howard C. Carter had discovered the long lost tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. 

Could this possibly have motivated the archaeological establishment in other countries to try to find something equally eye catching or headline making? 

I did not pursue this line of thinking further. In the 1970s, I asked the National Museum Archaeologist, Dr. James V. Wright, for his opinion. He was adamant that the archaeological policy of the National Museum of Canada couldn’t possibly be influenced by events in another country. I agreed with him.

Several decades later, I found myself standing in the burial chamber of Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings during an Ontario Archeological Society trip to Egypt. I looked down on the Pharaoh’s sarcophagus which still contained his mummified body and to my surprise I found my lips moving, “Thank you for your help with the Petun.” 

If I have seen events correctly it is entirely as result of the Pharaoh’s discovery in late 1922 that the Petun was surveyed in 1923.

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