Discovery of King Tut's Tomb


AT LAST HAVE MADE WONDERFUL DISCOVERY IN VALLEY; A MAGNIFICENT TOMB WITH SEALS INTACT; RECOVERED SAME FOR YOUR ARRIVAL; CONGRATULATIONS

This telegram, sent by Howard Carter to his sponsor, Lord Carnarvon, on November 6, 1922, electrified the world. Searching amid rubble heaps left by dozens of archaeologists over a span of a hundred years, Carter had finally tried one last desperate dig. His area: a small triangle of rocky debris bounded by the tombs of Ramses II, Merneptah, and Ramses VI. Almost by chance, his native laborers cleared away three feet of earth beneath an innocuous workman’s hut erected centuries before, and found the first of sixteen steps cut steeply down into the bedrock. The hidden entry led to a blocked-up, sealed door bearing the special mark that identified the tomb as a royal necropolis. With admirable restraint, Carter went no further. Filling the stairway with rubble again, to prevent looting, he posted a guard and awaited Carnarvon’s arrival three weeks later.

On November 25, with Carnarvon present, Carter pulled down the sealed door. Beyond it he found another rubble-filled passageway thirty feet long and a second sealed door. Again the barricade was torn away -- to reveal a sight that rendered him speechless. By the flickering light of his candle, he saw strangely shaped animal figures and statues and a jumbled mass of objects -- all glinting of gold. As his eyes became accustomed to the dim light, gilded couches, gold-plated chariots, and hundreds of other spectacular treasures, strewn haphazardly about the chamber, appeared. They had found the burial place of the boy-king Tutankhamen.

The news went out immediately. For two months, Carter’s team photographed, catalogued, and packed the items for shipment to Cairo. With great care, Carter treated the 32-centuries-old objects to preserve them against further decay, as the press reported his every move from tents hastily pitched at the site.

On February 17, with the antechamber now cleared, Carter and Carnarvon broke through into the next sealed room, the burial chamber itself. The sight was unbelievable. the entire room -- except for a fifteen-inch space at each side -- was filled by a huge golden shrine ten feet nine inches wide, sixteen feet six inches long, and nine feet high. Carter opened the folding (but not sealed) doors at the shrine’s east end. A second set of doors confronted him, these bolted and sealed. At last Carter’s search had reached the ultimate, a point beyond which grave robbers had not been able to penetrate. An undefiled mummy still lay concealed within the shrine.

Lord Carnarvon did not live to marvel at what was to come next; he died just two months later, in 1923, from an insect bite. Despite a series of delays imposed by the Egyptian government, Carter continued the discoveries through the winter seasons of 1925-27. The tremendous shrine proved to be actually four shrines, one inside the other, Chinese box-fashion. And inside the innermost was the sarcophagus, a large, yellow quartzite block with a rose granite lid that weighed well over a half ton.

The climax was yet to come. Before the sarcophagus lid could be raised, the shrine had to be taken apart and removed from the room. Its transfer from the burial chamber took 84 days of struggle -- almost a full day for each of its component parts, all of them heavy, hard to handle, and very fragile. Ironically, Carter discovered that while the artisan craftsmanship used to build the shrine had been superb, the assembly laborers had left a good deal to be desired. Ignoring the markings that indicated the proper assembly sequence, the workers had put the shrine together backward, with the doors facing east instead of west and the side panels reversed. And they had pounded reluctant joinings into position with heavy hammer blows, leaving noticeable dents.

The opening of the sarcophagus gave the final surprise. An outer anthropoid coffin concealed a second, and the second a third. The innermost coffin was the most amazing find of all: a solid gold case six feet one and three-quarters inches long and nearly one-quarter inch thick, worth a princely sum. Within the final coffin lay the goal of the dig -- the mummy of King Tut. On Tut’s face was a 22-pound solid gold burial mask. Carter soon learned that the king’s embalmers had erred in seeking to preserve the corpse for the ages. They had poured a tarlike unguent between the gold coffin and the wooden (middle) coffin as well as over the wrapped mummy. During the centuries a chemical reaction had carbonized the bones and tissues beyond any hope of salvage.

The mummy’s bindings hid 143 pieces of jewelry, which joined the treasures already found. Eventually a total of 5,220 items were catalogued. Tut’s body was returned to the tomb where it rests today. The valuable treasures, however, are on display at the Cairo Museum. On rare occasions the Egyptian authorities permit exhibitions of them outside the country.

King Tut himself was probably insignificant, dying around 1323 BCE at the age of about nineteen. But the riches found in his tomb gave the world its first glimpse of a complete funerary assemblage for an Egyptian pharaoh, objects previously described in religious texts and contemporary writings.

Opening the tomb gave rise to a press-inspired "pharaoh’s curse." Carnarvon had died almost immediately, and allegedly a score of other individuals were struck down because of their involvement with dismantling the shrine. Of the ten principal diggers at Tutankhamen’s tomb, two were alive forty years later, and another five lived an average of twenty years beyond its opening.

However, the tomb itself was the victim of a curse -- tourists. By 1991, 3,000 visitors a day were entering the tomb and stirring up the dust on the walls. Their sweat released salt that clung to the walls, and their breath released organisms that remained trapped inside the tomb. The tourists brought with them bacteria and fungi that damaged the contents of the tomb, leading the Egyptian Antiquities Organization to declare the area closed.

[From: The 20th Century by David Wallechinsky]

See also: Tutankhamun: Anatomy of an Excavation

Egypt

Sources/Resources

The Complete Tutankhamun
by C.N. Reeves

The Discovery of the Tomb of King Tutankhamen
by Howard Carter

The Curse of Tutankhamen
by Elaine Landau

The Murder of Tutankhamen: A True Story
by Bob Brier

Encyclopedia of Mummies
by Bob Brier

Ancient Egyptian Magic: Spells,
Incantations, Potions, Stories, and Rituals

by Bob Brier

Egyptian Mummies: Unraveling
the Secrets of an Ancient Art

by Bob Brier

Cgronicle of the Pharaoahs
by Peter A. Clayton

The Complete Pyramids
by Mark Lehner

The Complete Valley of the Kings
by C.N. Reeves et al

Ancient Egypt
by David P. Silverman

Mummy in Ancient Egypt:
Equipping the Dead for Eternity

by Salima Ikram and Aidan Dodson

Temples of Ancient Egypt
by Dieter Arnold et al

Mummy Rummy (Card Game)

Egypt

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