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Photography and antiquity in the archive, or how Howard Carter moved the road to the Valley of the Kings.

Riggs, Christina (2016) 'Photography and antiquity in the archive, or how Howard Carter moved the road to the Valley of the Kings.', History of photography., 40 (3). pp. 267-282.


A single glass plate negative formerly in the collection of Howard Carter (most famously the excavator of Tutankhamun’s tomb) and now in the archives of the Griffith Institute, Oxford University raises a number of questions about photography, archaeological practice, and the creation and use of excavation archives. By following this negative, known as Negative VIII, on five of its trajectories through time, media, and space, I argue that the reproducibility of the photographic image creates a distinct set of issues within archaeology, which has preferred to emphasise photography as a unique record of the destructive excavation process. Tracing the genealogy of a photographic image (rather than the biography of a singular photograph) allows us to consider the circulation of photographs as physical objects and through public dissemination, as well as the relationship between an image’s content and its use. The parallel existences of Negative VIII highlight the pitfalls and potentials of archival research, where – unless adequately recognised – the apparent banality of certain photographs, and their replication in multiple forms, may stubbornly confound attempts to deconstruct and decolonise the knowledge formations on which nineteenth-century Egyptology was built.

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Publisher statement:This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercialNoDerivatives License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.
Date accepted:No date available
Date deposited:10 March 2020
Date of first online publication:13 September 2016
Date first made open access:10 March 2020

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