The Discovery of Tutankhamun

The discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun has been hailed one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the 20th Century. While the Pharaoh's reign itself may have lacked distinction, the publicity that surrounded his discovery ensured that Tutankhamun has become immortalised in popular culture.

Discovering the tomb

The discovery of this long lost pharaoh was a long time coming. Archaeologist Howard Carter had been excavating in the Valley of the Kings for years, and other archaeologists such as Theodore Davis claimed there was nothing left to find there. Lord Carnarvon, Carter's patron had already threatened to pull financial backing, but was persuaded to continue for one more season. Three days into work, on the 4th November 1922, the entrance and stairway to the tomb was discovered, next to that of Ramesses VI. An urgent telegram was sent to Lord Carnarvon in England requesting his presence in Egypt, and further excavations later revealed the cartouche of Tutankhamun - finally the search was over!

Can you see anything?'... 'Yes, wonderful things

The treasures that awaited Carter and Carnarvon as they entered the tomb on the 25th November 1922 were amazing. Although evidence suggested activity from grave robbers twice in antiquity, the Tomb was still the most intact that had ever been discovered. Directly behind the first door was a corridor filled with rubble, which was cleared to reveal another door, leading to a room Carter described as full of 'wonderful things' - containing 'strange animals, statues and gold - everywhere a glint of gold'. They discovered three funerary couches with Hippo, Cow and Lion heads, white and black bedsteads, a golden throne depicting the Pharaoh and his wife, a wooden mannequin of the Pharaoh used for fitting his robes, and two guardians of the tomb, either side of a door through to the burial chamber.

It was not until 23rd February 1923 that Carter ventured into the burial chamber. There he found four gilded shrines, nested one inside the other and a stone sarcophagus, which held three coffins, the innermost made from solid gold and weighing 2500 lbs. The task of removing each coffin was a slow and delicate operation and it was not until 24th October 1925 that the last coffin was opened to reveal the mummified remains of the King and the iconic gold mask. Two other rooms were also discovered; a treasury, containing all the items needed in the afterlife (including the canoptic chest with his internal organs), and an annexe.

A lifetime's work

Each of the 5000 items in the tomb was meticulously recorded and catalogued. The Tomb took 6 years to excavate and 10 years to remove, treat and study. Progress was not helped by a constant barrage of visitors desperate to catch a glimpse of the latest discovery.

Beware the curse of the mummy

After the tomb was discovered media fuelled rumours of an ancient 'mummy's curse' were rife, especially following the death of Lord Carnarvon in April 1923, just seven weeks after the opening of the burial chamber. Carter's pet canary was another victim apparently claimed by the curse, after it was eaten by a Cobra on the day the tomb was discovered. However the majority of people connected to the event went on to live for many years, including Carter himself. Lord Carnarvon already had a weak constitution and was primarily advised to visit Egypt for his health. He died of pneumonia, contracted after falling ill from an infected mosquito bite.