He died at the age of 64, in 1939, of lymphoma and is buried in Putney Vale Cemetery in London. “The Curse of King Tut's Tomb” is often put to rest by the fact that such a long period of time came between the discovery of the tomb (1922) and Howard's death (1939).
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.
me was running out for Carter. He had only about a month to locate the tomb of Tutankhamun. He had already spent almost ten years searching. During that time, his workers had moved over 200,000 tons of rubble by hand. Although he had explored almost every inch of the Valley of the Kings, a 30-foot mound of rubble still stood within his own camp. Carter wanted to see what was under that mound before giving up.
In November 1922, Carter and his workers uncovered 12 steps that led to a tomb entrance, still sealed after 30 centuries. The seal impressions did not tell whose tomb it was. Carter desperately wanted to keep digging, because as he wrote in his book The Tomb of Tutankhamen, "Anything, literally anything might lie beyond that passage, and it needed all my self-control to keep from breaking down the doorway and investigating then and there." Instead, he refilled the stairway with rubble, sailed across the Nile River, and telegraphed the news to Carnarvon.
Carter, waiting an agonizing 20 days for Carnarvon and his daughter Evelyn to arrive from England, wondered the whole time if he had not just dreamt of finding the tomb. Finally, Carter excavated the entire stairway of 16 steps, revealing the seal of Tutankhamun. He noted with disappointment that someone had broken into the tomb. The first seals he had seen were re-sealings. Tomb robbers had gotten in thousands of years ago.
The next day the sealed door was removed, revealing a passageway filled with rubble. This too showed signs of robbers. Carter excavated the tunnel into the night, but still could not locate a door to a chamber.
In the middle of the next afternoon, 30 feet down from the outer door, Carter found a second doorway. Finally, as he wrote in The Tomb of Tutankhamen, "The decisive moment arrived. With trembling hands I made a tiny breach… . At first I could see nothing … 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… . 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."'
As Carter and the others looked through the hole, the flashlight revealed gold covered couches in the shape of monstrous animals. The excavators also saw statues of the king, caskets, vases, black shrines, one with a golden snake peeking out, bouquets of flowers, beds, chairs, a golden throne, boxes, chariots—everything except a mummy. But Carter noticed another sealed doorway.
The next day, on entering the room called the Antechamber, Carter's first thought was of the sealed door. Looking closely, he discovered that a small breach had been made, filled, and re-sealed in ancient times. Carter's natural impulse was to break down the door and see what was inside, but the archaeologist in him knew this might damage the objects in the Antechamber. Carter noticed another hole under one of the couches in yet another sealed doorway. Crawling under the couch and peering in, he saw a chamber, smaller than the one he was in, but crammed with objects. This room, called the Annex, was in total confusion, just as thieves had left it millennia ago. Carter had no idea how he would clear out this room. In the Annex the excavators saw beautiful objects—a painted box, a gold and ivory chair, vases, an ivory game board, and much more, but still no mummy.
Until Carter could get a thick steel gate from Cairo, the tomb had to be hidden. One month after the discovery of the steps, the tomb was filled in to the surface. Two weeks later the gate was in place, and the experts set to work photographing, drawing plans, and experimenting with preservatives. It took two and a half months to remove everything from the Antechamber.
Finally, the day had come to enter the next room. In February 1923, as 20 guests watched, Carter slowly began removing the sealed doorway. He had to work carefully so as not to damage whatever lay beyond it. When he shown a lamp in, Carter saw a solid wall of gold. This was a huge gold-covered shrine built to protect Tutankhamun's sarcophagus. Carter opened the doors of the shrine and within it found a second shrine, with seal intact. The tomb robbers had not reached the mummy, but Carter could not reach it either. There were four shrines, each within the other, that had to be taken apart first. The huge stone lid of the sarcophagus had to be lifted with special equipment, and the three coffins, nesting inside each other, had to be opened and carefully removed.
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