A hundred years ago, archaeologist Howard Carter made an incredible discovery – he found the tomb of ancient Egypt’s King Tutankhamun. It had been 3,000 years since anyone had peeked inside this royal resting place, and they had no clue about what awaited them. From that moment on, Carter’s life changed forever, and so did the young pharaoh’s afterlife.
Howard Carter. National Photo Company Collection (Library of Congress).
Pharaoh Tutankhamun, known as Tut, ruled ancient Egypt from around 1333 to 1323 B.C. He became king at just nine years old, facing challenging times in Egypt’s history. Tut’s father, Akhenaten, aimed to change religious beliefs by advocating the worship of one god, the sun (Aten), which faced resistance from priests, elites, and the common people. After Akhenaten’s death, Tut took the throne, restoring old temples and traditional practices by commissioning new statues of the gods.
Tut’s reign was short-lived, as he died around 19 years old. The cause of his death remains a mystery, but traces of malaria parasites were found in his mummified remains in 2010, leading to speculation that malaria and Tut’s degenerative bone disease might have been the cause. With no heirs, his advisor Ay succeeded to the throne.
Tutankhamun’s golden funerary mask, one of the best-known symbols of ancient Egypt
Following his death, Tutankhamun underwent mummification in line with Egyptian religious traditions, which dictated that the bodies of royalty should be preserved and supplied for the afterlife. The embalmers carefully removed his organs and enveloped him in resin-soaked bandages. A magnificent 24-pound solid gold portrait mask was then placed over his head and shoulders. His final resting place consisted of a series of nested containers, starting with three golden coffins, followed by a granite sarcophagus, and finally, four gilded wooden shrines. The largest of these shrines barely fit into the tomb’s burial chamber.
The small size of the tomb suggests that King Tut’s death must have been unexpected, leading historians to suggest that his burial was hastily arranged or Ay possibly took Tut’s intended burial site. The tomb’s antechambers were filled to the ceiling with over 5,000 artifacts, ranging from furniture and chariots to clothing, weapons, and a collection of 130 walking sticks belonging to the lame king.
Over the years, archaeologists in the Valley of the Kings had found small items with Tut’s name but never his tomb or mummy. Most were confident that everything had been found, but British archaeologist Howard Carter believed Tut’s tomb was still waiting to be discovered.
The Valley of the Kings
In 1917, Carter and a wealthy Lord Carnarvon began their search. They meticulously dug in the sand, ensuring they wouldn’t miss anything. After years with no discovery, Carnarvon wanted to give up, but Carter asked for a few more months. Three days later, on November 4, 1922, they found steps buried in the sand, leading to a plaster doorway with Tutankhamun’s name.
The explorers were uncertain about what they’d find inside. Most tombs in the valley had been looted long ago, leaving little behind. The plaster showed signs of being broken and resealed, adding to their doubts.
The unbroken seal on the inner third shrine of Tutankhamun’s tomb. Photo by Harry Burton.
However, when they peered into the small hole, they were astonished to find an almost entirely intact tomb. Carter later described the scene, saying, “Details of the room emerged slowly from the mist…strange animals, statues, and gold—everywhere, the glint of gold.”
Carter spent nearly a decade carefully removing numerous objects from the tomb. The discovery and excavation captivated people worldwide, with newspapers and radio covering his work. However, another reason for the fascination was the unfortunate events that followed. Just six months after the tomb’s opening, Carter’s wealthy supporter, Lord Carnarvon, passed away due to an infected mosquito bite. Moreover, when Carter gifted an object from the tomb to a friend, the friend’s house burned down, was rebuilt, and then flooded. Some believed these events were punishment for opening Tut’s tomb, but Carter himself lived for another 17 years.
A reproduction of the Antechamber at the “Tutankhamun: His Tomb & His Treasures” exhibit in Cologne. Photo by Patty.
King Tut’s tomb remains the most well-preserved royal Egyptian tomb ever found, offering historians crucial insights into this ancient culture. Although the pharaohs who succeeded Tut attempted to erase his memory, he has become one of the most renowned ancient rulers in history.
Words of wisdom
“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” ―Mother Theresa
“You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.” ―William Faulkner
“He that can have patience can have what he will.” ―Benjamin Franklin
“When things go wrong, don’t go with them.” ―Elvis Presley