By 1922, artist-turned-archaeologist Howard Carter had been in Egypt for 31 years. In 1899, he was appointed the first chief inspector of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, and as such, supervised a number of excavations at Thebes (now Luxor) before he was transferred in 1904 to the Inspectorate of Lower Egypt. Carter resigned from the Antiquities Service in 1905.
Lord George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, was extremely wealthy, but was in ill health since an automobile accident in 1901 left him partially disabled. He also was an enthusiastic amateur Egyptologist, agreeing to be Carter’s patron in 1907.
In 1914 Carnarvon received permission to excavate in the Valley of the Kings. Progress was stalled until 1917 because of WWI, and then, after five years with nothing to show for it, Carnarvon was ready to throw in the towel. After some serious discussion, he agreed to finance one more year. If nothing was found after that, he was going to pull the plug.
Carter was certain something big was lying out there. Several artifacts had already come to light bearing the inscription of Tutankhamun, and this led Carter to believe that the royal tomb had yet to be found. He also believed these items pointed to a specific area, and he was determined to systematically search this area even if he had to dig down to the bedrock.
Tutankhamun was nine when his father Akhenaten died and he became Pharoah. The “Boy-King” was to rule from about from 1332–1323 BC, and because he was the product of an incestuous relationship between Akhenaten and one of his sisters, he suffered from a number of genetic problems as well as experiencing several bouts of malaria. In 2013, when a virtual autopsy showed a pattern of injuries down one side of his body, car-crash investigators created computer simulations of chariot accidents. They concluded that Tutankhamun was killed in a chariot crash; a chariot smashed into him while he was on his knees, shattering his ribs and pelvis.
On November 5th, 1922, the workers finally found something — a step that had been cut into the rock. By late afternoon, they had found 12 stairs leading to a sealed door. After covering the stairs back up, Carter cabled Carnarvon in England:
|“At last have made wonderful discovery in Valley; a magnificent tomb with seals intact; re-covered same for your arrival; congratulations.”|
On November 26th, Carter, with Lord Carnarvon and his daughter Lady Evelyn in attendance, opened a small hole in the sealed door. Carter later wrote,
|“With trembling hands I made a tiny breach in the upper left-corner. Darkness and blank space, as far as an iron testing-rod could reach, showed that whatever lay beyond was empty, and not filled like the passage we had just cleared. Candle tests were applied as a precaution against possible foul gases, and then, widening the hole a little, I inserted the candle and peered in, Lord Carnarvon, and Lady Evelyn standing anxiously beside me to hear the verdict. At first I could see nothing, the hot air escaping from the chamber causing the candle flame to flicker, but presently, as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues, and gold – everywhere the glint of gold. For the moment – an eternity it must have seemed to the others standing by – I was struck dumb with amazement, and when Lord Carnarvon, unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, ‘Can you see anything?”’ It was all I could do to get out the words, “’Yes, wonderful things.’”|
On 16 February 1923, Carter opened the sealed doorway and got his first glimpse of the sarcophagus of Tutankhamun. After removing four shrines, they lifted the cover of the fifth, and…
“…the lid being suspended in mid-air, we rolled back the covering shrouds, one by one, and as the last was removed a gasp of wonderment escaped our lips, so gorgeous was the sight that met our eyes: a golden effigy of the young boy king, of most magnificent workmanship, filled the whole of the interior of the sarcophagus.”
It took until 1932 to complete the cataloging and removal of all the items, after which Carter retired to the lecture circuit and writing his memoirs. He died in 1939.
What did King Tut really look like?
In 2005, under the sponsorship of the National Geographic Society, three teams of forensic specialists, including x-ray technicians, sculptors, and special-effects wizards, began trying to recreate the living face of the Boy King from his mummy. Each team built its own version of Tut’s face independently of the others. The results were remarkably alike, showing a young man with high cheek bones, a prominent brow, and close-set eyes.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
But what about the curse?
On April 5, 1923, Lord Carnarvon died in Cairo from blood poisoning after accidentally cutting a mosquito bite while shaving. This led to the story of the “Mummy’s Curse,” in which anyone who opens a cursed tomb can expect death within a year. However, a study fifteen years later showed that of the 58 people who were present when the tomb and sarcophagus were opened, only eight died within a dozen years. The curse usually associated with King Tut,
|“Death shall come on swift wings to him who disturbs the peace of the King”|
is widely thought to have been concocted by the same newspaper that began the curse myth upon the report of Carnarvon’s death.
Universal Pictures made the first of several successful “Mummy” pictures in 1932, starring Boris Karloff as Im-Ho-Tep. By then, the curse had become,
|“Whoever defies the will of the ancient gods, a cruel and violent death shall be their fate.”|
Four more pictures were to follow. They were, The Mummy’s Hand (1940,) The Mummy’s Tomb (1942,) The Mummy’s Ghost (1944,) and The Mummy’s Curse (1944.) All five are available on DVD.