The 16th February 2013 marked the 90th anniversary of Howard Carter’s historic unsealing of the royal burial chamber of Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings. He had been searching for the tomb for many years, with the financial backing of Lord Carnarvon, and its discovery was not only the greatest achievement of his career but also the greatest archaeological find of modern times.
Howard Carter’s personal diary and journal (now held at the Griffith Institute, Oxford) provide a fascinating account of how the tomb was finally discovered in November 1922. On Sunday the 5th November, he sent the following telegram to Lord Carnarvon
At last have made wonderful discovery in Valley a magnificent tomb with seals intact recovered same for your arrival congratulations
It took several months to record the hundreds of wonderful objects stored in the antechamber before the team could proceed to investigate the sealed burial chamber. Lord Carnarvon travelled from England to witness the event on 16th Feb 1923 and the world press descended.
The following clip from Gaumont Graphic Newsreel includes Howard Carter showing Lord Carnarvon and others around the site in early March 1923. A month later, Lord Carnarvon died suddenly from blood poisoning which originated from a mosquito bite and rumours began to circulate about the curse of Tutankhamun.
Tutankhamun ruled Egypt between 1336 and 1327 BC and was a Pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty. Although his tomb was relatively small for an Egyptian Pharaoh it was of enormous significance because very little looting had occurred and the burial chamber was still sealed. HV Morton, the only journalist allowed into the tomb, wrote vividly of astonishing sights which included not only magnificent treasures but also stores of food, perfumed face creams and withered garlands of flowers. The King had been buried with everything he could conceivably need to sustain him in the afterlife.
Carter was famous for his systematic approach to recording archaeological artefacts, ensuring the context of an object was recorded in addition to information about the object itself. His team used Carter’s own card system to record the contents of Tutankhamun’s tomb and he employed Harry Burton to photograph the excavation as it progressed, providing an invaluable visual record of the tomb in situ.
The discovery of Tutankhamun captured the imagination of the public at a time when such exciting events could be watched on early newsreels as well as being reported in print. This was to have a big impact on archaeology and the way in which it was communicated to a new audience. Brian Hope-Taylor talks about this in the following film called ‘The Investigators’ and discusses how archaeologists are equally concerned with finding out about the lives of ordinary people as well as royal ones.
Egypt’s tourist industry boomed as the media fuelled public interest in Egyptology. Take your own tour of Aswan, Luxor and the Valley of the Kings by watching this 1959 Roving Report presented by the famously combative George Ffitch.
Until the 1960’s all artifacts from Tutankhamun’s tomb were housed in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. As a result of political change it was made possible for the major items to be exhibited throughout the world and they still continue to travel the globe .
‘The Treasures of Tutankhamun‘ came to the British Museum in 1972 and was their most successful ever exhibition attracting over 1.6 million people. Click on the image below to watch an ITV news clip broadcast on the eve of its opening.
Tutankhamun has drawn people to Egypt for decades. Click on the image below to watch ITN footage of the Princess of Wales visiting Cairo and the Valley of the Kings in 1992. She was lucky and did not have to queue in the heat to see all his splendours.
We now know much information about the boy king as a result of modern technology. There have been many theories about Tutankhamun’s early death at around 19 years of age and many believed he had been murdered (evidenced by a skull injury). In 2005 the king’s mummified remains were scanned and results indicate it is much less likely that he was deliberately killed. DNA testing in 2010 shows he probably suffered from malaria which would have resulted in a weakened constitution. Death most likely occurred as the result of a leg injury which failed to heal properly. You can follow this story and find out more about his parentage and physical condition by clicking on the image below:
Recent work on the analysis of mummies has given us valuable information about our own health. This Lancet article shows that evidence of atherosclerosis existed in a third of the mummies which were examined, suggesting that modern lifestyle factors are not completely to blame for an individual’s predisposition to heart attack and strokes. Instead it’s possible atherosclerosis may be linked more directly to the human ageing process.
Controversies continue to follow Tutankhamun. There are problems concerning the deterioration of the King’s remains following their removal from the protective atmosphere of his sealed burial chamber, as well as the condition of the tomb itself. In addition there are the ethics of displaying a dead body, stripped of all the objects with which it had been buried. Many will argue this is preferable to the looting which would have taken place once the location of the tomb was known, though some believe mummies should not be disturbed.
The legend of Tutankhamun, who died over 3,000 years ago and was sent into the afterlife with treasures beyond imagining, continues to fascinate us and even now he still holds on to many of his secrets.
- Tutankhamun: Anatomy of an Excavation The definitive archaeological record for Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon’s discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun.
- ‘Tomb of Tutankhamun’ by Howard Carter Read on Google Books
- BBC History
- Howard Carter’s Obituary in the New York Times
- The Theban Mapping Project Plans of Tutankhamun’s tomb
- Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge: Egyptology Resources
- National Geographic ‘King Tut Revealed’
- National Geographic ”Tut DNA’ Article by Zahi Hawass on what we can learn fromTutankhamun’s DNA test results
- BBC News: Tutankhamun Tomb : Human breath wreaks havoc in Egypt
- The Getty Conservation Institute : Conservation and Management of the Tomb of Tutankhamun
- IMPACT Radiological Mummy Database