Imagine you’re standing on a sandy plain in Egypt. It’s hot outside, the sun is beating down on your head from above. You look down a flight of steps leading deep into the earth. Your team has been digging for days after discovering the steps. You wonder what is at the end of them. As you walk down with a candle in hand, you see the name of an Egyptian Pharoah, or King, above the doorway. Tutankhamen! The boy king of Egypt’s history! You walk through the doorway into a dark room with your candle high, excited to see what’s inside the tomb. It’s dark and dusty. Light from the candle reflects off objects in the room. They are shining! It’s gold! The tomb is filled with brilliant treasures. Gold, jewels, after searching for years for the tomb of King Tut, you can hardly believe your eyes!
This is the story of artist and archeologist Howard Carter, and his quest to discover the lost tomb of King Tut.
Howard Carter was born on May 9th, 1874 in Kensington, England. He was the youngest child to Samuel John Carter and Martha Joyce Carter. He had eleven older siblings!
His father, Samuel, was an artist and illustrator who shared his drawing skills with Howard and the other children. With lots of practice, Howard proved to be a talented artist! One day he visited the huge mansion of a nearby family named the Amherst. As he toured the mansion, he walked into one of the halls to find a huge collection of Egyptian antiques. Antiques are objects from history. Howard was fascinated by the objects of this ancient civilization: statues, jewelry, and mummies. He wondered what it would be like to visit Egypt himself and learn more about this fascinating culture and civilization. Lady Amherst, who lived in the mansion and owned the antiques, noticed Howard’s interest. She also heard that he was an excellent artist. Lady Amherst asked Howard if he’d like to help draw antiques in Egypt. Of course, Howard was ecstatic and a few years later in 1891, when he was seventeen, Howard traveled to Egypt with a crew of archeologists. They were taking notes and making drawings of antiques from the Middle Kingdom at Beni Hasan. The team also explored Amenhotep’s city of Amarna, which we learned about in the last episode. Howard’s job was to draw the antiques and ancient ruins which could be studied by archeologists and Egyptian historians. An archeologist is someone who digs for and studies ancient people. Howard also sold some of his artwork to tourists. He lived in Egypt for seventeen years drawing artifacts! As you can imagine, he got very good and learned a lot about Egyptian culture.
While in Egypt, Howard was fascinated by the pyramids and tombs. He hoped he’d find a tomb that hadn’t been looted by grave robbers yet. Sadly, most of them already had been. Even tourists were part of the grave robbing. They’d climb into tombs without permission and take objects and sometimes sell what they’d found including the mummies. Howard believed there had to be tombs that were still untouched by human hands and hoped he might find one.
Howard and other archeologists knew there had been a king named Tutankhamen – but they didn’t know whether his tomb had been discovered yet. They had found small items, cups, a jar, a piece of cloth with his name on it, but that was all. An area of Egypt called The Valley of the Kings is where they believed he would have been buried, but most people thought that all of the tombs had been discovered there or been robbed.
In 1917, Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon decided to search The Valley of the Kings for Tut’s tomb. Lord Carnarvon was wealthy and British and was interested in Egyptian archeology just like Howard. He also had money to hire people to do the digging that was required to find a tomb. They started digging all over in the sand in the Valley of the Kings. They did this for many years with no discovery. Lord Carnarvon was ready to give up, but Howard asked for just a few more months. Three days into the search they dug into something that looked like a step. They kept digging and uncovering the steps and the sand around them until they found more steps leading down into the earth. After much more digging, they found a doorway with … the words Tutankhamun printed above it! They had found the lost tomb of King Tut!
When Howard crawled inside the tomb, using a candle to light the way, he was surprised to find a small room full of all of King Tut’s artifacts that had been sent with him to his burial for his afterlife – a couch, a bed, a chariot, games, a throne, statues, and the glinting of light, the reflection from many gold objects. All of these antiques were more than 3,000 years old!
Howard and the team spent the next several months removing the items and taking note of them. They realized that grave robbers had found the tomb many years ago but someone must have stopped them because all of the items had been placed back in the tomb and sealed up.
Of all of the discoveries, the greatest was the burial chamber. Inside the room was a large golden box that took up almost all of the space. Inside it was a stone sarcophagus, three other shrines, three golden coffins, and finally the body of Pharoah Tutankhamun, the mummy of King Tut.
The team found two more rooms, one full of treasures and an annex that was filled with 2,000 items. For the next 10 years, the team continued to remove and made note of all of the items, which helped them learn much about Egypt and the life of King Tut.
One reason King Tut’s tomb has become so popular is that it was the most preserved tomb ever found. This means it looked much like it did 3,000 years ago and most of the items were safe and hadn’t been stolen or damaged.
After the items were removed, many of them were moved to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Later, some of the most beautiful items, including King Tut’s golden mask were put on a tour around the world for millions of people to see. Visitors looked through the glass cases in awe at the gold antiques and the beautiful mask of the boy king. When the treasures toured the United States in the 1920s, popular songs were written about Tutankhamun, and President Herbert Hoover even named his dog “King Tut” after the world-famous pharaoh.
Today Tutankhamun’s body and many gold treasures rest in the Great Egyptian Museum in Cario. Would you like to see them someday? I know, I would! If you’d like to learn more about King Tut be sure to look up some videos about his life and his discovery by Howard Carter. We also did an episode about pyramids you’ll also have to check it out.
Thanks to Howard’s curiosity, we are now able to appreciate the treasures of King Tut. Think about the importance of being curious and persevering. Perseverance means sticking with something even when it’s tough. Think about what would have happened if they had given up instead of trying just a few more months. Think about how you can stick with hard things in your own life just like Howard!