The Long Search

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Though several of the foremost excavators over the past century had declared there was nothing left to find in the Valley of the Kings, Howard Carter and his sponsor, Lord Carnarvon, spent a number of years and a lot of money searching for a tomb they weren't sure existed. In November 1922, they found it. Carter had discovered not just an unknown ancient Egyptian tomb, but one that had lain nearly undisturbed for over 3,000 years. What lay within astounded the world.

The Long Search

Howard Carter had worked in Egypt for 31 years before he found King Tut's tomb. Carter had begun his career in Egypt at age 17, using his artistic talents to copy wall scenes and inscriptions. Only eight years later (in 1899), Carter was appointed the Inspector-General of Monuments in Upper Egypt. In 1905, Carter resigned from this job and in 1907, Carter went to work for Lord Carnarvon.

George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert, the fifth Earl of Carnarvon, loved to race around in the newly invented of the automobile. Enjoying the speed his automobile afforded, Lord Carnarvon had an auto accident in 1901 which left him in ill health. Vulnerable to the damp English winter, Lord Carnarvon began spending winters in Egypt in 1903 and to pass the time, took up archaeology as a hobby. Turning up nothing but a mummified cat (still in its coffin) his first season, Lord Carnarvon decided to hire someone knowledgeable for the succeeding seasons. For this, he hired Howard Carter.

After several relatively successful seasons working together, World War I brought a near halt to their work in Egypt. Yet, by the fall of 1917, Carter and his sponsor, Lord Carnarvon, began excavating in earnest in the Valley of the Kings.

Carter stated that there were several pieces of evidence - a faience cup, a piece of gold foil, and a cache of funerary items which all bore the name of Tutankhamun - already found that convinced him that the tomb of King Tut had not yet been found.1 Carter also believed that the locations of these items pointed to a specific area where they might find King Tutankhamun's tomb. Carter was determined to systematically search this area by excavating down to the bedrock.

Besides some ancient workmen's huts at the foot of the tomb of Rameses VI and 13 calcite jars at the entrance to the tomb of Merenptah, Carter did not have much to show after five years of excavating in the Valley of the Kings. Thus, Lord Carnarvon made the decision to stop the search. After a discussion with Carter, Carnarvon relented and agreed to one last season.

By November 1, 1922, Carter began his final season working in the Valley of the Kings by having his workers expose the workmen's huts at the base of the tomb of Rameses VI. After exposing and documenting the huts, Carter and his workmen began to excavate the ground beneath them.

By the fourth day of work, they had found something - a step that had been cut into the rock.


Work feverishly continued on the afternoon of November 4th through the following morning. By late afternoon on November 5th, 12 stairs (leading downwards) were revealed; and in front of them, stood the upper portion of a blocked entrance. Carter searched the plastered door for a name but of the seals that could be read, he found only the impressions of the royal necropolis. Carter was extremely excited:

The design was certainly of the Eighteenth Dynasty. Could it be the tomb of a noble buried here by royal consent? Was it a royal cache, a hiding-place to which a mummy and its equipment had been removed for safety? Or was it actually the tomb of the king for whom I had spent so many years in search?2

To protect the find, Carter had his workmen fill in the stairs, covering them so that none were showing. While several of Carter's most trusted workmen stood guard, Carter left to make preparations. The first of which was contacting Lord Carnarvon in England to share the news of the find. On November 6th, two days after finding the first step, Carter sent a cable: "At last have made wonderful discovery in Valley; a magnificent tomb with seals intact; re-covered same for your arrival; congratulations."3

It was nearly three weeks after finding the first step that Carter was able to proceed. On November 23rd, Lord Carnarvon and his daughter, Lady Evelyn Herbert, arrived in Luxor. The following day, the workers had again cleared the staircase, now exposing all 16 of its steps and the full face of the sealed doorway. Now Carter found what he could not see before, since the bottom of the doorway had still been covered with rubble - there were several seals on the bottom of the door with Tutankhamun's name on them.

Now that the door was fully exposed, they also noticed that the upper left of the doorway had been broken through, presumably by tomb robbers, and resealed. The tomb was not intact; yet the fact that the tomb had been resealed showed that the tomb had not been emptied.

On the morning of November 25th, the sealed doorway was photographed and the seals noted. Then the door was removed. A passageway emerged from the darkness, filled to the top with limestone chips. Upon closer examination, Carter could tell that tomb robbers had dug a hole through the upper left section of the passageway (the hole had been refilled in antiquity with larger, darker rocks than used for the rest of the fill).

This meant that the tomb had probably been raided twice in antiquity. The first time was within a few years of the king's burial and before there was a sealed door and fill in the passageway (scattered objects were found under the fill). The second time, the robbers had to dig through the fill and could only escape with smaller items.

By the following afternoon, the fill along the 26-foot-long passageway had been cleared away to expose another sealed door, almost identical to the first. Again, there were signs that a hole had been made in the doorway and resealed.

We were firmly convinced by this time that it was a cache that we were about to open, and not a tomb. The arrangement of stairway, entrance passage and doors reminded us forcibly of the cache of Akhenaten and Tyi material found in the very near vicinity of the present excavation by Davis, and the fact that Tutankhamun's seals occurred there likewise seemed almost certain proof that we were right in our conjecture. We were soon to know. There lay the sealed doorway, and behind it was the answer to the question.4

Wonderful Things

Tension mounted. If there was anything left inside, it would be a discovery of a lifetime for Carter. If the tomb was relatively intact, it would be something the world had never seen.

With trembling hands I made a tiny breach in the upper left-hand corner. Darkness and blank space, as far as an iron testing-rod could reach, showed that whatever lay beyond was empty, and not filled like the passage we had just cleared. Candle tests were applied as a precaution against possible foul gases, and then, widening the hold a little, I inserted the candle and peered in, Lord Carnarvon, Lady Evelyn and Callender standing anxiously beside me to hear the verdict. At first I could see nothing, the hot air escaping from the chamber causing the candle flame to flicker, but presently, as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues, and gold - everywhere the glint of gold. For the moment - an eternity it must have seemed to the others standing by - I was struck dumb with amazement, and when Lord Carnarvon, unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, "Can you see anything?" it was all I could do to get out the words, "Yes, wonderful things."5

The next morning, the plastered door was photographed and the seals documented. Then the door came down, revealing the Antechamber. The wall opposite the entrance wall was piled nearly to the ceiling with boxes, chairs, couches, and so much more - most of them gold - in an "organized chaos."6

On the right wall stood two life-size statues of the king, facing each other as if to protect the sealed entrance that was between them. This sealed door also showed signs of being broken into and resealed, but this time the robbers had entered in the bottom middle of the door.

To the left of the door from the passageway lay a tangle of parts from several dismantled chariots.

As Carter and the others spent time looking at the room and its contents, they noticed another sealed door behind the couches on the far wall. This sealed door also had a hole in it, but unlike the others, the hole had not been resealed. Carefully, they crawled under the couch and shone their light.

In this room (later called the Annexe) everything was in disarray. Carter theorized that officials had attempted to straighten up the Antechamber after the robbers had plundered, but they had made no attempt to straighten the Annexe.

I think the discovery of this second chamber, with its crowded contents, had a somewhat sobering effect on us. excitement had gripped us hitherto, and given us no pause for thought, but now for the first time we began to realize what a prodigious task we had in front of us, and what a responsibility it entailed. This was no ordinary find, to be disposed of in a normal season's work; nor was there any precedent to show us how to handle it. The thing was outside all experience, bewildering, and for the moment it seemed as though there were more to be done than any human agency could accomplish.7

Be Careful!

Before the entrance between the two statues in the Antechamber could be opened, the items in the Antechamber needed to be removed or risk damage to them from flying debris, dust, and movement. Documentation and preservation of each item was a monumental task. Carter realized that this project was larger than he could handle alone, thus he asked for, and received, help from a large number of specialists.

To begin the clearing process, each item was photographed in situ, both with an assigned number and without. Then, a sketch and description of each item was made on correspondingly number record cards. Next, the item was noted on a ground plan of the tomb (only for the Antechamber).

Carter and his team had to be extremely careful when attempting to remove any of the objects. Since many of the items were in extremely delicate states (such as beaded sandals in which the threading had disintegrated, leaving only beads held together by 3,000 years of habit), many items needed immediate treatment, such as a celluloid spray, to keep the items intact for removal. Moving the items also proved a challenge.

Clearing the objects from the Antechamber was like playing a gigantic game of spillikins. So crowded were they that it was a matter of extreme difficulty to move one without running serious risk of damaging others, and in some cases they were so inextricably tangled that an elaborate system of props and supports had to be devised to hold one object or group of objects in place while another was being removed. At such times life was a nightmare.8

When an item was successfully removed, it was placed upon a stretcher and gauze and other bandages were wrapped around the item to protect it for removal. Once a number of stretchers were filled, a team of people would carefully pick them up and move them out of the tomb.

As soon as they exited the tomb with the stretchers, they were greeted by hundreds of tourists and reporters who waited for them at the top. Since word had spread quickly around the world about the tomb, the popularity of the site was excessive. Every time someone came out of the tomb, cameras would go off. Owing to remembered images of the recent war, more than one witness thought the items brought bandaged and upon stretchers from the tomb looked like the wounded from World War I.9 The image must have been especially acute when the life-size statues were removed upon stretchers.

The trail of stretchers were taken to the conservation laboratory, located at some distance away in the tomb of Seti II. Carter had appropriated this tomb to serve as a conservation laboratory, photographic studio, carpenter's shop (to make the boxes needed to ship the objects), and a storeroom. Carter allotted tomb No. 55 as a darkroom.

The items, after conservation and documentation, were very carefully packed into crates and sent by rail to Cairo.

It took Carter and his team seven weeks to clear the Antechamber. On February 17, 1923, they began dismantling the sealed door between the statues.

Burial Chamber

. . . when, after about ten minutes' work, I had made a hole large enough to enable me to do so, I inserted an electric torch. An astonishing sight its light revealed, for there, within a yard of the doorway, stretching as far as one could see and blocking the entrance to the chamber, stood what to all appearances was a solid wall of gold. . . . It was, beyond any question, the sepulchral chamber in which we stood, for there, towering above us, was one of the great gilt shrines beneath which kings were laid. So enormous was this structure . . . that it filled within a little the entire area of the chamber, a space of some two feet only separating it from the walls on all four sides, while its roof, with cornice top and torus moulding, reached almost to the ceiling. . . . 10

The inside of the Burial Chamber was almost completely filled with a large shrine over 16 feet long, 10 feet wide, and 9 feet tall. The walls of the shrine were made of gilded wood inlaid with a brilliant blue porcelain.

Unlike the rest of the tomb whose walls had been left as rough-cut rock (unsmoothed and unplastered), the walls of the Burial Chamber (excluding the ceiling) were covered with a gypsum plaster and painted yellow. Upon the yellow walls were painted funerary scenes.

On the ground around the shrine were a number of items, including portions of two broken necklaces that looked as if they had been dropped by robbers and magic oars "to ferry the king's barque [boat] across the waters of the Nether World."11

To take apart and examine the shrine, Carter had to first demolish the partition wall between the Antechamber and the Burial Chamber. Still, there was not much room between the three remaining walls and the shrine.

As Carter and his team worked to disassemble the shrine they found that this was merely the outer shrine, with four shrines in total. Each section of the shrines weighed up to half a ton and in the small confines of the Burial Chamber, work was difficult and uncomfortable.

. . . after our scaffolding and hoisting tackle had been introduced it occupied practically all the available space, leaving little for ourselves in which to work. When some of the parts were freed, there was insufficient room to remove them from the chamber. We bumped our heads, nipped our fingers, we had to squeeze in and out like weasels, and work in all kinds of embarrassing positions.12

When the fourth shrine was disassembled, the king's sarcophagus was revealed. The sarcophagus was yellow in color and made out of a single block of quartzite. The lid did not match the rest of the sarcophagus and had been cracked in the middle during antiquity (an attempt had been made to cover the crack by filling it with gypsum). But what lay underneath?

The tackle for raising the lid was in position. I gave the word. Amid intense silence the huge slab, broken in two, weighing over a ton and a quarter rose from its bed. The light shone into the sarcophagus. A sight met our eyes that at first puzzled us. It was a little disappointing. The contents were completely covered by fine linen shrouds. The lid being suspended in mid-air, we rolled back those covering shrouds, one by one, and as the last was removed a gasp of wonderment escaped our lips, so gorgeous was the sight that met our eyes: a golden effigy of the young boy king, of most magnificent workmanship, filled the whole of the interior of the sarcophagus.13

A gilded wooden coffin was revealed. The coffin was in a distinctly human shape and was 7 feet 4 inches in length.

A year and a half later, they were ready to lift the lid of the coffin. Conservation work of other objects already removed from the tomb had taken precedence. Thus, the anticipation of what lay beneath was extreme.

When they lifted the lid of the coffin, they found another, smaller coffin. The lifting of the lid of the second coffin revealed a third one, made entirely of gold. On top of this third, and final, coffin was a dark material that had once been liquid and poured over the coffin from the hands to the ankles. The liquid had hardened over the years and firmly stuck the third coffin to the bottom of the second. The thick residue had to be removed with heat and hammering. Then the lid of the third coffin was raised.

Before us, occupying the whole interior of the golden coffin, was an impressive, neat and carefully made mummy, over which had been poured anointing unguents [ointments] as in the case of the outside of its coffin - again in great quantity - consolidated and blackened by age. In contradistinction to the general dark and sombre effect, due to these unguents, was a brilliant, one might say magnificent, burnished gold mask [picture] or similitude of the king, covering his head and shoulders, which, like the feet, had been intentionally avoided when using the unguents.14

At last, the royal mummy of Tutankhamun was revealed. It had been over 3,300 years since a human being had seen the king's remains. This was the first royal Egyptian mummy that had been found untouched since his burial. Carter and the others hoped King Tutankhamun's mummy would reveal a large amount of knowledge about ancient Egyptian burial customs.

Though it was still an unprecedented find, Carter and his team were dismayed to learn that the liquid poured on the mummy had done a great deal of damage. The linen wrappings of the mummy could not be unwrapped as hoped, but instead had to be removed in large chunks. Yet, it was found that the fingers and toes had been wrapped separately.

Unfortunately, many of the items found within the wrappings had also been damaged, many were almost completely disintegrated. Yet, Carter and his team found over 150 items - almost all of them gold - on the mummy, including amulets, bracelets, collars, rings, and daggers.

The autopsy on the mummy found that Tutankhamun had been about 5 feet 5 1/8 inches tall and had died around the age of 18. Certain evidence also attributed Tutankhamun's death to murder.

More Treasure

On the right wall of the Burial Chamber was an entrance into a storeroom, now known as the Treasury. The Treasury, like the Antechamber, was filled with items including many boxes and model boats. Most notable in this room was the large gilded canopic shrine. Inside the gilded shrine was the canopic chest made out of a single block of calcite. Inside the canopic chest were the four canopic jars, each in the shape of an Egyptian coffin and elaborately decorated, holding the pharaoh's embalmed organs - liver, lungs, stomach, and intestines.

Also discovered in the Treasury were two small coffins found in a simple, undecorated wooden box. Inside these two coffins were the mummies of two premature fetuses. It is hypothesized that these were Tutankhamun's children. (Tutankhamun is not known to have had any surviving children.)

World Famous Discovery

The discovery of King Tut's tomb in November 1922 created an obsession around the world. Daily updates of the find were demanded. Masses of mail and telegrams deluged Carter and his associates. Hundreds of tourists waited outside the tomb for a peek. Hundreds more people tried to use their influential friends and acquaintances to get a tour of the tomb causing a great hindrance to work in the tomb and endangering the artifacts. Ancient Egyptian style clothes quickly hit the markets and appeared in fashion magazines. Even architecture was affected when Egyptian designs were copied into modern buildings.

The rumors and excitement over the discovery became especially acute when Lord Carnarvon became suddenly ill from an infected mosquito bite on his cheek (he had accidentally aggravated it while shaving). On April 5, 1923, within a week of the bite, Lord Carnarvon died. Just as quickly, newspapers were filled with the "news" of a curse.

In all, it took Howard Carter and his colleagues ten years to document and clear out Tutankhamun's tomb. After Carter completed his work at the tomb in 1932, he began to write a six-volume definitive work, A Report upon the Tomb of Tut 'ankh Amun. Unfortunately, Carter died before he was able to finish. On March 2, 1939, Howard Carter passed away at his home Kensington, London.

The young pharaoh, Tutankhamun, whose own obscurity during his own time allowed his tomb to be forgotten, has now become one of the most well-known pharaohs of ancient Egypt. Having traveled around the world as part of an exhibit, King Tut's body once again rests in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

Tomb of King Tut Found! (PageĀ 5) By Jennifer Rosenberg, Guide

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