Howard Carter Finds King Tut's Tomb
Every archaeologist who has dug in the sands of Egypt, in the Valley of the Kings, has dreamed of finding the tomb of a king. Many did, only unfortunately, the tombs they found were empty. The tombs had been robbed a very long time ago. By the 1900s, most people had given up finding a new tomb to discover in the valley. But one man did not agree. He believed there was at least one tomb left to be discovered, that of the boy king Tutankhamen. That archaeologist was a man named Howard Carter.
Howard Carter was only 17 years old when he first went to Egypt in 1891. His father was quite successful as a portrait painter in England. Howard had a great deal of artistic talent, but he did not want to become a portrait painter like his father. He wanted adventure. With his father's help, he got a job with an archaeologist who was on his way to Egypt. This was a exciting opportunity for young Howard Carter.
In Egypt, Carter worked as an artist for some of the best Egyptologists of his time. An Egyptologist is an archaeologist whose focus is learning about ancient Egypt. Carter's job was to copy drawings and inscriptions on paper so they could be studied. (See emails at the bottom of this page.) Carter was very good at his job. It was not long before Howard Carter was quite well known among Egyptologists, not only as an artist but also for his knowledge about ancient Egypt and his knowledge about archaeology. As his fame grew, so did the importance of his jobs. For a while, Howard Carter was the Inspector General of the Monuments of Upper Egypt, supervising and controlling archaeology along the Nile River.
While he was Inspector General, Howard Carter installed electric lights in the Valley of the Kings. The lights allowed archaeologists and diggers to better see what they were doing. The lights also brought in the tourists. Some tourists were respectful and careful. But some were not careful at all. One day, Howard Carter had an especially loud fight with some very careless tourists. As a result, Howard Carter resigned as Inspector General. But he did not leave Egypt.
Carter continued to work as an artist. He also became an antiques dealer. Whenever he found funding, he worked as an excavator. (He did not call himself an Egyptologist.) Over time, he became convinced that the Egyptologists working in the valley had somehow overlooked the tomb of the boy king Tutankhamen. Some things had been found with Tutankhamen's name on them - a cup. some jars, and even some thin sheets of gold. But all of these items had been found quite close to the empty tomb of another king. People thought that even if King Tut's tomb was somewhere in the valley, it had already been robbed long ago, as evidenced by the few items found hidden in the sand, no doubt dropped by thieves in their haste to get away.
Howard Carter wanted to hunt for King Tut's tomb, but that took men and money. Howard finally got lucky. Lord Carnarvon was a very rich man. Lord Carnarvon allowed Howard Carter to hire 50 men to help him search for Tut's tomb. One day, they found the remains of some stone huts, but they were empty. It was hard work, digging. The men had to fill baskets with sand, then carry the baskets away, dump the contents, and return to fill their baskets again. Still, because Howard was extremely stubborn, and Lord Carnarvon was extremely rich, Howard and his men dug for years.
Finally, Lord Carnarvon, who had become Howard's good friend by then, gave up. He told Howard to give up. Howard begged for one last chance. Howard had not dug under the stone huts he had found. Lord Carnarvon agreed. Under the stone huts, Howard and his men found a stone step leading down. They dug around the step, and uncovered more steps. By the time they were done, they had dug out a long stairway leading down to a secret door. Howard wanted to open that door so much. But instead, he sent a message to Lord Carnarvon in England. Lord Carnarvon hurried to Egypt. In 1922, the trip from England to Egypt was not easy. Lord Carnarvon had to take a ship, then a train, then another ship, then another train, and finally a donkey ride. It took Lord Carnarvon two weeks to reach Howard Carter.
In November 1922, by the light of a candle, Howard Carter cut a hole in the secret door. Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter carefully peered through the hole. They did not want to open the door until they were sure the room was not already inhabited by a nest of vipers or other dangerous critters. What they saw through the peephole was amazing! They could not believe their eyes! The room was filled with treasures - couches shaped like animals, jeweled chests, vases, statues, and even chariots, all glittering with gold. It took months to move the many treasures they found in the first room alone before they could open the doors in that room that led to other rooms! In other rooms, they found the chair King Tut had used as a small child. They found a pair of sandals and other goods that the young king loved. And they found Tut's coffin. The coffin was made of 200 pounds of gold! In the coffin, they found King Tut's mummy. His face was covered with a mask made of gold. The tomb was an incredible find, not only for its monetary value but also for its history. Historians learned so much about the people who lived over 3,000 years ago, about their culture and beliefs and daily life, from the objects found in King Tut's tomb.
King Tut's tomb had been overlooked because it was such a small tomb. Tut had died very young. His people did not have time to build a huge tomb. So they built a little one. But that little tomb was packed with treasure! Howard Carter became world famous. (As did King Tut's tomb.)
Are there any more tombs yet to be discovered in the Valley of the Kings? Egyptologists are quite sure they have found everything in the valley. But then, that's what they said before Howard Carter found King Tut's tomb.