Howard Carter – The Man Who Found Tutankhamun
Howard Carter was born on March 9th, 1874 in London, the youngest of eight children. He received little formal education but studied art at his father's knee, developing a real talent but not the interest to continue the family business of portrait painting. He found a deep and abiding fascination with Ancient Egypt very early in his life and dedicated himself to research and study. His first trip outside of England was with Alexandria, Egypt as his destination.
He worked as a 'tracer' at Bani Hassan, the tombs of the Sovereign Princes of Middle Egypt, and his job was to copy and record the paintings on the tomb walls. At seventeen years of age, he was dedicated, fascinated and enthusiastic about his work and it wasn't unusual for him to work from dawn until well into the night, often sleeping in the tomb with the bats when he was too exhausted to continue.
In 1892 Carter went to work for Flinders Petrie at el Amarna (the capital city for the heretical Pharaoh Akhenaten and his Queen Nefertiti), unearthing several important finds. (Flinders Petrie was responsible for, among other things, the study and excavation of the Great Pyramid of Giza). Under Petrie's tutelage and sponsorship, Carter became an archaeologist.
Carter was appointed Principal Artist to the Egyptian Exploration Fund for the excavations of Deir el Bahbri, the burial place of Queen Hatshepsut. In 1899, at the age of twenty-five, Carter was appointed to the position of First Chief Inspector General of Monuments for Upper Egypt. His responsibilities included supervising and controlling archaeological digs along the Nile Valley.
In 1905 trouble brewed darkly in Carter's career when drunk French Tourists became violently abusive towards Egyptian guards who refused them entry to a tomb in Saqqara. Carter backed his men and allowed them to defend themselves against the physical attacks. The tourists were outraged at their treatment, complained bitterly to the right people and Carter was told to extend a formal apology. He refused, believing that he had made the right decisions, and as a consequence he was transferred to Tanta, a town with very little archaeological significance. Shortly thereafter Carter resigned his post without ever offering a breath of apology.
Carter managed to survive the next two years working as a commercial artist, antiquities dealer and tour guide.
In 1908 he was introduced to the fifth Earl of Carnarvon who was living in Egypt in deference to his failing health. The two men became fast friends and a partnership was born. Carter became the Supervisor of Excavations in Thebes, working exclusively for Carnarvon, and by 1914, Lord Carnarvon was the proud owner of one of the most extensive private collections of Egyptian Antiquities.
Throughout his career, Carter had found many clues that hinted at a forgotten Pharaoh, heir to Akhenaten and predecessor to the great General, Horemheb. Carter systematically searched the Valley of the Kings in search of Tutankhamun's last resting place. To no avail. Season after season, his frustration grew in time with his obsession. Carnarvon funded Carter's fruitless search for many years, but in 1922 his patience was at an end. He gave Carter one last season to find Tutankhamun or continue the search without his financial backing. Carter was confident and he reviewed his search of the Valley of the Kings in great detail, finally settling on a small area immediately beneath the entrance to the immense tomb of Ramesses VI. The site was covered with rubble, dumped there by the workers carving Ramesses VI tomb, and the ancient remains of workers' huts.
On November 7th, 1922, the first of sixteen steps was unearthed. It took almost three weeks to expose the staircase and reveal the first of two sealed doors, beyond which was a corridor filled with rubble. When the second door was finally revealed, it bore two intact seals. The first was the official seal of the Necropolis, patching a hole created by tomb robbers in antiquity, the second was the royal seal of Tutankhamun. Carter ordered the corridor refilled and posted around the clock guards to protect the site from curious tourists and claim jumping archaeologists (With a particular eye on the American, Theodore Davis, who had owned the right to dig in the Valley of the Kings and had, in fact, come within a meter of finding the tomb himself before he gave up the concession to Carnarvon and Carter and went home). Carter telegraphed Carnarvon in London and told him the news, then had to wait for another twenty days before his benefactor and Carnarvon's daughter, Evelyn, arrived at the Valley of the Kings.
On November 26th, 1922 at approximately four pm., Howard Carter broke through the ancient plaster, making a head-sized hole that led directly into the past. He lit a candle and slowly pushed it into the opening, the first living presence in Tutankhamun's tomb in almost three thousand years. Lord Carnarvon, unable to see anything from behind Carter asked “Can you see anything?” to which Carter replied in hushed tones “Yes. Wonderful things.”
In 1923 Lord Carnarvon was bitten on the cheek by a mosquito while at the tomb. The bite became infected after Carnarvon nicked it while shaving and, already in poor health, he succumbed to pneumonia and died, giving rise to the first rumors about the 'Curse of Tutankhamun'.
In 1932 the work on the tomb was finally completed. Every inch had been excavated, everything they found had been cataloged and most was turned over to the Cairo Museum. Tutankhamun was returned to his tomb, where he rests still.
Carter retired from archeology and became a collector of antiquities. He was working on a six volume report on Tutankhamun's tomb and it's contents when he died of natural causes on March 2nd, 1939. One week shy of his sixty-fifth birthday.
The 'Curse of the Pharoah' had, apparently, lost it's sting by the time it arrived at the door of the man ultimately responsible for disturbing Tutankhamun's eternal rest. Relegating the 'Curse', once and for all, to superstitious fiction and wild speculation.