“I broke King Tut’s mask” — Lessons learned from making mistakes at work

Eight Cairo museum workers have been referred to prosecution and trial for “gross negligence.” Their crime?  They broke the beard off the famed golden burial mask of King Tut and then further scarred the piece with a super-glue repair job.

The 3,300 year-old mask is a symbol of Egyptian wealth and power. The ancient Pharaohs were considered gods and the mask was placed on the face of the body of Tutankhamun, who died at the age of 19.

It was discovered in 1922, leading to a century-long fascination with archaeology and ancient cultures.

Photo by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen, Wikipedia CCLI
Photo by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen, Wikipedia CCLI

Apparently, when the beard broke off, the eight conspired to cover up the mistake.

It was most likely an accident – as no one would purposely deface the treasure. Like other employees — maybe even you — it was a big mistake. The crime wasn’t in the accident, it was in the coverup.

Duct tape or Glue? The choice was obvious

You can almost envision the panic that ensued when they realized that one of the world’s most valuable artifacts was broken.

The eight likely gathered in a quiet corner and started their plan. One of the options was to tell the boss – but they opted instead to try to hide the damage. Egyptian men are like American men – they turned to one of two options, Duct tape or Super glue.

Ruling out the first option, someone ran down to the local hardware store and bought a tube of epoxy. I can see the eight, gathered around the surgical table. With shaking hands, one man was charged spread the liquid and fastened the beard.

But when the glue dried, there was some residual. One of the men used a scraping spatula to peel back the glue and that’s when the real damage occurred.

“Ignoring all scientific methods of restoration, the suspects tried to conceal their crime by using sharp metal tools to remove parts of the glue that became visible, thus damaging the 3,000-year-old piece without a moment of conscience,” prosecutors said in a statement, according to Daily News Egypt.

The mask was put back on display last month after a team of specialists removed the epoxy and reattached the beard using beeswax as an adhesive.

Owning up to my mistakes

Over the course of decades on the job in various positions, I’ve made plenty of mistakes. And there have been some doosies, causing my employer public embarrassment, loss of customers, and money. I’ve handled some of them with honor and humility, coming forward with my error before they could be found.

I’ve handled other mistakes shamefully, scrambling to cover them up.

I’ve never ruined a piece of antiquity, but I’ve ruined my reputation by hiding, covering up my mistakes.

In retrospect? The best way is to step up, admit the problem, and take my lumps. In the end, my mistakes were generally granted grace because of my integrity.

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