100 Years of King Tut

February 16, 2023
Woman walking out of Egyptian building into the sun

February 16, 1923

King Tutankhamun's burial chamber was unsealed in Egypt.
"Perhaps, the most extraordinary day in the whole history of Egyptian excavation.”

The New York Times, in their original write-up of the discovery in 1923.

Background: Howard Carter

  • A working-class artist from London with no formal education in archeology or history.

  • At age 17, he moved to Egypt & spent over 30 years living in a “modest mud-brick house," looking for ancient tombs.

  • His big break? When he met Lord Carnarvon, a British aristocrat who collected Egyptian artifacts. He sponsored Carter's excavations in the Valley of the Kings.

  • They searched the area for 7 years. Despite tight funds, Carter convinced Lord Carnarvon to finance one more excavation…

A Monumental Discovery

  • Nov. 1922: Carter telegrammed Lord Carnarvon, saying, "At last have made wonderful discovery in Valley; a magnificent tomb with seals intact.” They had discovered the door to King Tut's tomb.

  • After 3 weeks of removing rubble, they reached a second door. Carter wrote that "details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues, and gold—everywhere the glint of gold."

  • They spent 3 more months organizing objects from the tomb before entering the burial chamber.

The "Boy King"

  • King Tut was born around 1341 B.C.E. and took the Egyptian throne at about 9 years old. He reigned until he was 19.

  • People questioned his cause of death for years; digital imaging & DNA testing indicate he likely died from malaria or an infection.

  • Significant findings: His tomb is one of the few ancient tombs (perhaps the only) to be found nearly intact. Though the tomb itself is smaller compared to some others, the previously-untouched artifacts have provided important insight into ancient Egyptian life.

A Golden Tribute

  • Thousands of valuable items were placed in King Tut's tomb to help him in the afterlife.

  • Some of these artifacts include statues, beds, detailed leather armor, solid-gold sandals, chariots, a fan made of ostrich feathers, & board games.

  • Enduring fame: In the 1960's, King Tut exhibitions attracted larger crowds than the Beatles. His exhibits continue to break museum attendance records & receive millions of dollars in ticket sales.

King Tut's treasures are property of the Egyptian government, but stolen artifacts from the excavation have emerged over the years and been returned. It is also likely that Howard Carter (1874-1939), the archeologist who found the tomb, stole artifacts. While assumed during his career but never proven, the conversation has been reignited with the discovery of a 1934 letter. In it, a man who translated hieroglyphs at the site wrote, “The whm amulet you showed me has been undoubtedly stolen from the tomb of Tutankhamun" and he regretted being "placed in so awkward a position.” Objects were also found at Carter's estate after his death.

For more about King Tut (& what he likely looked like according to forensic reconstruction): National Geographic

A Look Inside Howard Carter’s Tutankhamun Diary: Smithsonian Magazine

The Archaeologist Who Discovered King Tut’s Tomb Almost Certainly Stole Artifacts From It, a New Book Reveals

Howard Carter stole Tutankhamun’s treasure, new evidence suggests

by Jenna Lee,