The Tomb of King Tutankhamun
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The Tomb of King Tutankhamun

By Valentina Ménager

“I fear the Valley of Tombs is now exhausted,” wrote retired lawyer Theodore Davis, commenting on the circulating rumors of untouched burial sites in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. But Davis could not have been more wrong.

Archaeologist Howard Carter was determined to discover the tomb of King Tutankhamun. He believed it would be located in the central floor of the valley, then covered by ancient flood debris. He eventually convinced George Herbert, the rich Earl of Carnavon, to purchase the excavation rights. Carter dug for eight years, just to discover thirteen vases in the process. It was only through a clue given by Herbert Winlock, an Egyptologist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, that the mystery of the tomb was revealed. Winlock had studied debris-filled jars inscribed with Tutankhamun’s name in an unmarked tomb, and by comparing the debris with previous discoveries, Winlock realized what the debris really was—materials used in Tutankhamun’s embalming. He realized that the debris must have come from the pharaoh’s tomb.

Equipped with a better sense of the location of the tomb, Howard Carter began a final round of excavations to find King Tut on November 1, 1922. On Saturday, November 4th, a sunken staircase was discovered. The next day, a door. The door was made of rough stone, and at the very bottom were impressions of a basket, a scarab beetle, and the Sun’s disk, the emblem of none other than Tutankhamun himself. Carter described seeing Tutankhamun’s emblem as “a thrilling moment.” Finally, after eight long years, he had struck gold. 

Carter proceeded to break through a corner of the door and discover that the entrance was sealed with stones and rubble, proof that the last people to have entered the tomb were the priests who had sealed it. A few weeks later on November 26th, the archaeologists blasted through the final two doors to the tomb. They came face-to-face with two large ebony statues of a king with gold staffs, along with mountains of treasure. The tomb transformed into something like a village, with chemists, historians, and archaeologists setting up camp in the damp narrow hallways between chambers, all trying to carefully move objects out of the way to be able to see the king himself. Carter finally was able to uncover the king himself on February 12th, 1924, as the team lifted a 2,500 pound stone off the seven foot sarcophagus made of wood and covered in gold. The contents of the tomb would amount to more than five thousand items over the next eight years, making it one of the most shocking and rich historical discoveries to date.