We do magic to Maps
*Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
More than 30 years after he first set foot in Egypt, archaeologist Howard Carter made the discovery of a lifetime on November 4, 1922: he and his team had uncovered a staircase leading to KV62, the tomb of King Tutankhamun. Of the 63 burial chambers found in the Valley of the Kings, Carter’s discovery remains the best preserved example of the ornate decoration style created by the Egyptians for their buried pharaohs.
Carter made his first trip to Egypt in 1891, at the tender age of 17. Joining Percy Newberry as an assistant on a project for the Egypt Exploration Fund in Beni Hasan, he set himself apart quickly by demonstrating an aptitude for recreating the intricate designs on the walls of tombs thanks to artistic talents he developed in childhood. The following year, he moved to Amarna, helping to capture the scope of the great King Akhenaten’s 3,000-year-old capital city.
Having made a name for himself, the 20-year-old moved on to work with Swiss scholar Edouard Naville. For five years, he perfected his techniques for pulling the detailed hieroglyphics off the walls of tombs and burial chambers. Now a seasoned professional, he accepted a position with the Egypt Antiquities Service in 1899, working as a lead detective of sorts in the excavation of new sites in what is now known as Luxor and overseeing the recovery efforts for artifacts stolen for sale on the black market or simply taken by tourists as a keepsake. Believing deeply that the items should remain in Egypt, Carter eventually resigned his position after a problem arose between some of his guards and visitors from France.
In 1907, he received the commission that would lead to his greatest triumph: George Herbert, Lord Carnarvon, hired him to bring an air of professionalism and attention to detail to ongoing digs in the Valley of the Kings. Convinced there was a great find out in the desert on the western side of the Nile, Carter spent the better part of 15 years looking in vain, stopped only by World War I.
Lying in wait under the sands, the tomb of Tutankhamun was Carter’s prize. Enclosed at the age of just 19, some theorize the young pharaoh died unexpectedly, particularly when the size of his burial chamber is compared with others in his family, such as his father Akhenaten, entombed a few yards to the east in KV55. On November 4, 1922, Carter and his team uncovered the steps he had been searching diligently for. Eager to open the door, he sent a message to Carnarvon advising him to travel down from Britain as quickly as possible.
Three weeks later, with his financier and others surrounding him, Carter made a small breakthrough in the upper left corner of the large stone blocking the doorway. As candlelight flickered on the walls, Carter made out the shapes of various gold and ebony sculptures. Carnarvon asked if he could make anything out, to which Carter answered joyfully, “Yes, wonderful things.”
The site became a media phenomenon nearly overnight. Newspapers from all over the world sent reporters to find out what was inside the fairly modest tomb. Though its decorations were rather bland by standards exhibited elsewhere in the Valley of the Kings, the fact the dozens of treasures within were exquisitely preserved and had generally not fallen victim to robbers gave Tutankhamun’s burial chamber extra importance. After nearly three months of listing every item found within the antechamber for the Department of Antiquities of Egypt, Carter broke through the second doorway, slipping down the passage to lay his eyes upon the sarcophagus of the young king.
Carter soon left Egypt, working as an aide to collectors in search of antiquities or artwork, but he left behind a legacy beyond simply discovering the best-preserved royal tomb from the Ancient Pharaohs: his method for recording the artifacts found demanded great detail of those put in charge -- it took them more than a decade to catalog every item.
Also On This Day:
1737 - Il Teatro di San Carlo, the oldest continually active opera house in Europe, opens in Naples
1966 - Florence, Italy is submerged under 22 feet of water, damaging millions of works of art and rare books
1979 - Iranians invade the United States embassy in Tehran, taking 90 hostages
1995 - Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is assassinated
2008 - Barack Obama becomes the first African-American President of the United States