Archaeology - Howard Carter &
The tomb of Tutankhamun
Howard Carter was born on March 9th, 1874 in Kensington, London, and grew up
in Swaffam, a town in north the county of Norfolk, England, as
the youngest son in a family of eight children.
He received little in the way of formal education although his
father, Samuel Carter, an artist and illustrator, trained him in the fundamentals of drawing and
Although Carter developed a well above average skill, he had no
ambition to continue the family business of painting portraits of pets and
families for the local Norfolk landowners. Instead, he sought the
opportunity to go to Egypt and work for the Egyptian Exploration Fund as a
tracer, a person who copies drawings and inscriptions on paper for further
studying. In October of 1891 at the age of 17, he set sail for
Alexandria, Egypt, which was his first journey outside of Britain.
Howard Carterís first project
was at Bani Hassan, the gravesite of the Sovereign Princes of Middle Egypt
during 2000 B.C. Carterís task was to record and copy the scenes from the walls
of the tomb. At this early age, he proved to be a diligent worker with much
enthusiasm often working the day through and then sleeping with only the bats for company in the
In 1892, Carter joined Flinders
Petrie, at El-Amarna. Flinders was a strong field director and one of
the most credible archaeologists of his time. Petrie believed Carter would never
become a good excavator, but Carter proved him wrong when he unearthed several
important finds at the site of el Amarna, the Capital of Egypt during the
sovereignty of Akhenaten.
Under Petrieís demanding tutelage, Carter became an archaeologist, while keeping
up with his artistic skills. He sketched many of the unusual artifacts found at
Carter was appointed Principle
Artist to the Egyptian Exploration Fund for the excavations of Deir el Babri,
the burial place of Queen
Hatshepsut. This experience allowed him to perfect his drawing skills and
strengthen his excavation and restoration technique. In 1899, at the age of 25,
Carterís hard work paid off, when he was offered the job of First Chief
Inspector General of Monuments for Upper Egypt by the Director of the Egyptian
Antiquities Service, Gaston Maspero. Carterís responsibilities included
supervising and controlling archaeology along the Nile Valley.
Carterís employment at the
Egyptian Antiquities Service came to an end in an unfortunate incident between
the Egyptian site guards and a number of drunken French tourists. When the
tourists became violently abusive to the guards, Carter allowed the guards to
defend themselves. The French tourists, enraged, went through some high
officials including the Egyptian Consul General Lord Cromer and called for
Carter to make a formal apology. Carter refused, standing by his belief that he
made the right decision. The incident gave Carter a bad name and caused him to
be posted to the Nile Delta town of Tanta, a place with very little
archaeological involvement. This forced Carter to resign from the Antiquities
Service in 1905.
From 1905-1907, Carter sustained
a hard existence after resigning from the Antiquities Service. He had to make a
living by working as a commercial watercolorist or sometimes a guide for
tourists. In 1908 Carter was introduced to the fifth Earl of Carnarvon by Gaston
Maspero. The partnership proceeded happily, as each partnerís personality seemed
to compliment the others. The prodigiously rich Earl had come to Egypt to better
recover from a serious automobile accident. Once in Egypt a desire for distraction
led to a serious interest in Archaeology which the Earl was prepared to pursue with
his money as well as his time.
Lord Carnarvon was able to secure official licencing that allowed archaeological
digging to take place and Carter became the Supervisor of
the Excavations funded by Carnarvon in Thebes and by 1914 Carnarvon owned one of
the most valuable collections of Egyptian artifacts held in private hands.
However, Howard Carter had still more ambitious aspirations. He had his eye on
finding the tomb of a fairly unknown pharaoh at the time, King Tutankhamun,
after various clues to its existence had been found.
With benefit of the continued substantial funding provided by
Lord Carnarvon, Howard Carter continued to work in the field with
Lord Carnarvon in the west of the Valley of the Kings at the tomb of Amenophis III in 1915 and in
the main Valley of the Kings from 1917-1922. Carter excavated in the hope of discovering
Tutankhamunís burial place and had marked out a triangle of terrain on the map of the valley that
he considered to be the most promising area for investigation by excavation.
Such excavation required the disturbance of
many tons of debris that had been left in ther valley by other archaeologists, (and by the multitudes of
grave robbers of ancient and more recent times), in order to reach the bedrock into which such a tomb would have been hewn.
Over some six years digging season after digging season
produced little more than a few artifacts. Carnarvon was becoming dissatisfied with
the lack of return from his investment and seemed to be on the point of withdrawing his support for
the project. In 1922, at an interview in Carnarvon's Highclere Castle in England Carter exhorted his
patron to continue to hold the licence that allowed archaeological investigation to take place
such that he,
Carter, could personally fund the one more season of investigation that was necessary to complete
the investigation of the triangle of terrain as initially projected. In response Lord Carnarvon agreed but insisted that he be the one to fund
this last season of digging.
Carter was confident and the
challenge went on as work began on November 4, 1922. It took only three days
before the top of a staircase was unearthed. Almost three weeks later the
staircase was entirely excavated and the full side of what seemed to be an intact
plaster block wall was
By November 26, the first plaster block was removed, the chip filling
an ensuing corridor was emptied, and a second plaster wall was ready to be broken through. At
about 4 P.M. that day, Carter broke through this second plaster block and made
one of the discoveries of the century, the tomb of King Tutankhamun.
This discovery of a comlete and undisturbed tomb where the mummified remains of an actual
Pharaoh of ancient Egypt had been interred with associated ceremony, rich artefacts, many wrought of gold, and with lavish
decoration of the tomb proved to one of immense archaeological and cultural significance.
often took themselves off to the Valley of the Kings to see something of what had been discovered for themselves. Lord Carnarvon's habit of frequently bringing people on site increasingly led to an estrangement betwen Carter and
The tombís artifacts took a
decade to catalogue. During this time, Lord Carvarvon died in Cairo of
pneumonia. After the media got wind of the treasures of King Tutankhamun and the
death of Lord Carnarvon, the hype about a mummyís curse set the media on a course of
lurid speculation about a "Curse of the Pharaoh's Tomb".
Finally, the artifacts were sent
to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and the corpse of the young king was studied and
laid back to rest. After his work was done with King Tutankhamun, Carter no
longer worked in the field. He retired from the archaeology business. He took up
the pursuit of collecting Egyptian antiquities and, indeed, became a very
successful collector. Often, toward the end of his life, he could be found at
the Winter Palace Hotel at Luxor, usually sitting by himself in isolation. He
died in Albert Court, Kensington, London on March 2, 1939.