The Finding of Tutankhamun and the Myth of the Curse of the Pharaohs Richard J, Garfunkel March 12, 2023

On October 28, 1922 Howard Carter announced to the foreman of his Egyptian excavation crew that he wanted to continue work immediately in his search for the tomb of King Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings.

Archeologists only worked a short season in the valley, because by early spring it turned that desolate area into a virtual furnace until late October. Also the tourists would start to arrive in droves in mid-December to visit the burial sites of the pharaohs. Another problem existed, because their current dig blocked the entrance of the tomb of Ramesses VI, which was one of the most popular attractions in the Valley of the Kings. Carter was very concerned after this short season of 1922, that it would be his last effort in the valley. He had just returned from a meeting in England with the Earl of Carnarvon, who had been bear the cost of this excavation for the past 15 years.

Carter was looking for a big prize, the tomb of the young King Tutankhamun, whose short reign had ended around 3200 years earlier. For centuries, few people wandered into this section that was rife with bandits and marauding gangs. It was so dangerous that only in the 19th Century did archeologists venture there.

The Valley of the Kings, the royal burial grounds had been part of the ancient Thebes – the capital of the Egyptian Empire. The valley itself was only a few miles from the West Bank of the Nile – not far from Karnak and Luxor and more than 400 miles south of modern Cairo.

By that time, at least 33 royal tombs had been found on the site’s bedrock, but everyone had been pillaged long before by professional thieves. When something was found by European excavators, it was basically worthless. There were some beautiful objects, but they hardly justified the effort. With all that effort in mind, local experts believed that there was little left to find. But for Carter, who had been exploring that region for 30 years, there were some interesting clues, including a cup with King Tut’s name on it. There was also a cache of jars, with the King’s seal on them with contained some ancient linen wrappings that were used for mummification. The original finder of these artifacts was Theodore M. Davis, a rich, elderly American. He had claimed that King Tut’s tomb could be found, reflected of the evidence of the linen and jars. He was so derided for this thoughts, that he felt chastised and he set aside his discoveries as mostly a failure and worthless. Others, including HE Winlock, director of the Metropolitan Museum, thought otherwise and told Howard Carter his conclusions.

Meanwhile, to avoid conflicts over the rights to excavate, the Egyptian government granted exclusive concessions each year. Davis relinquished his concession in 1914 and Carter persuaded Lord Carnarvon to take it over. Carter devised a theory of where he thought the tomb could be located. His research indicated that only a small area had not been crisscrossed with excavation trenches into the bedrock. There was a small areas bounded by the tombs of Ramesses VI, Merneptah and Ramesses II. One reason this area had been ignored was that it was piled high with rubble, rocks, and sand form the excavation of the tomb of Rameses the VI, who had lived 200 years after Tutankhamun. It had been postulated that King Tut had ascended the throne in 1334 BCE, during the 18th Dynasty, at the age of around nine years. It was also understood that he had reigned for only nine years. During that period it was an era of prosperity, but some religious confusion and fervor.

At this juncture, Carter had returned to England to confer with Carnarvon. Carter, who was a bachelor, had been in Egypt since 1890. He started as a draughtsman and eventually became an inspector for the Egyptian government’s Department of Antiquities. Upon his return, the digging continued as a trench was created. After a few days flint chips were uncovered. This was a mildly encouraging discovery, because rocks like these had been discovered blocking other graves. The next morning, Carter returned, and he noticed a solemn silence all around, which was caused by the stoppage of work, In Carter’s word, “I guessed that something usual had occurred!”: His foreman (a reis) was most excited and said, confidentially that he felt that a beginning of a staircase had been located. Working under Carter’s watchful eye, the workers began the arduous job of clearing the stairs. The top of a doorway came into sight and on the plaster covering that sealed the door were affixed the royal seals of a necropolis – the jackal god, Arubis, above nine defeated foes. It was a thrilling moment for Carter in that valley of deafening silence. Carter was in awe as after decades of work he could be on the very brink of a major discovery. He ordered the stairway filled in again, posted guards around the site and hurried to Luxor to send a cable to Lord Carnarvon. It read, “At last have made wonderful discovery in Valley: a magnificent tomb – with seals intact. Re-covered same for your arrival: congratulations!”

Carnarvon replied that he would arrive in Alexandria with his daughter Lady Evelyn Herbert on November 20th. In those days one took a ferry across the channel to France, a train southward to Marseilles and by ship to Alexandria. From there it was a train ride to Luxor. By the 26th of November, Carnarvon and his daughter were there when more tunnels were found, opened and another sealed door twenty five feet from the first was located. With Carnarvon, his daughter and his assistant AR Callender, he drilled a small hole in the upper left hand corner. They widened the hole a bit. Carter later wrote, “I inserted a candle and peered in! At first I could see nothing as the hot air escaping from the chamber caused the flame to flicker. But, presently as my eyes got accustomed to the light, the details of the room emerged. Slowly from the midst, strange animals, statues and gold everywhere. Everywhere was the glint of gold!”

After their remarkable discovery the grave was blocked by two heavy wooden doors that had been earlier prepared. The next day a portable electric lighting system was set up. The room was packed to the ceiling with countless items. It was filled with items Tutankhamun would need on his journey through infinity. By Christmas, seven weeks later, all the items had been removed to an empty nearby tombs that was set up as storage area and a laboratory.

In the midst of the excavation process inspired speculation that the tomb was cursed. One of the reasons for this myth was the untimely death of Carter’s patron, Lord Carnarvon. He had died of the result of a mosquito bite that had been nicked by a shaving blade of a barber. His health was never robust, the bite became infected and he developed pneumonia and died. Therefore from th day of the discovery of the tomb, gossip abounded that there was a curse on anyone who violated the tomb. (by the way, Carter lived until age 66 in 1939, after a life filled with honors and fame. Arthur Roberts Callender, Carter’s assistant died in 1936 at age 61. Lady Evelyn Herbert, who was born in in 1901 lived to 1980. Lady Evelyn attended the opening of the Tutankhamun 50th anniversary celebrations in 1972, including the Treasures of Tutankhamun exhibition at the British Museum, London, where she was presented to the Queen who was there to open the exhibition.)

Meanwhile, the discovery produced only limited evidence about the history of Tutankhamun’s reign and the Amarna Period that preceded it, but it provided insight into the material culture of wealthy ancient Egyptians as well as patterns of ancient tomb robbery. Tutankhamun became one of the best-known pharaohs, and some artefacts from his tomb, such as his golden funerary mask, are among the best-known artworks from ancient Egypt. Most of the tomb’s goods were sent to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and are now in the Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza, although Tutankhamun’s mummy and sarcophagus are still on display in the tomb. Flooding and heavy tourist traffic have inflicted damage on the tomb since its discovery, and a replica of the burial chamber has been constructed nearby to reduce tourist pressure on the original tomb.

Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb revived popular interest in Ancient Egypt – ‘Egyptomania‘ – and created “Tutmania”, which influenced popular song and fashion. Carter used this heightened interest to promote his books on the discovery and his lecture tours in Britain, America and Europe. While interest had waned by the mid-1930s,[67] from the early 1970s touring exhibitions of the tomb’s artefacts led to a sustained rise in popularity. This has been reflected in TV dramas, films and books, with Carter’s quest and discovery of the tomb portrayed with varying levels of accuracy. One common element in popular representations of the excavation is the idea of a ‘curse‘. Carter consistently dismissed the suggestion as ‘tommy-rot’, commenting that “the sentiment of the Egyptologist … is not one of fear, but of respect and awe … entirely opposed to foolish superstitions”

The excavations carried out under Davis’s sponsorship are among the most important ever undertaken in the Valley of the Kings: in the course of 12 years about 30 tombs were discovered and/or cleared in his name, the best known among them are KV46 (tomb of Yuya and Tjuyu), KV55 (the Amarna cache), KV57 (tomb of Horemheb) and KV54 (Tutankhamun embalming cache). Most of the objects discovered went to Cairo Museum, where they were displayed in a gallery named ‘Salle Theodore Davis’, with further items presented to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other American museums. He also published seven volumes laying out his finds.

With Carter’s discovery of KV62, Tutankhamun’s tomb, in 1922, Davis’s opinion that the “valley had been exhausted” was proved wrong. Burton later recalled that when Davis terminated his last excavation in the valley, out of fear of undercutting nearby tombs and pathways, he was only two metres away from discovering the entrance to KV62.

In Luxor, fellow Rhode Islander Charles Wilbour introduced Davis to antiquities dealer Muhammad Mohassib on their first trip up the Nile in 1890. Wilbour had bought from Mohassib for years, and he became a trusted dealer for Davis. Many people bought a number of important pieces from him over the years.

He was an English peer and aristocrat best known as the financial backer of the search for and excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

In 1907, Lord Carnarvon undertook to sponsor the excavation of nobles’ tombs in Deir el-Bahri, near Thebes. He employed Howard Carter to undertake the work, on the recommendation of Gaston Maspero, director of the Egyptian Antiquities Department. In 1912, Carnarvon published Five Years’ Exploration at Thebes, co-written with Carter, describing their excavations.

In 1914, Lord Carnarvon received the concession to dig in the Valley of the Kings, replacing Theodore Davis who had resigned. Carter again led the work, undertaking a systematic search of the Valley for any tombs missed by previous expeditions, in particular that of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun. Excavations were interrupted during the First World War, but resumed in late 1917.] By 1922, little of significance had been found and Lord Carnarvon decided this would be the final year he would fund the work.

His country houseHighclere Castle, serves as the exterior and upstairs filming location of the ITV/PBS television series Downton Abbey. The below-stairs scenes were filmed on a set in London, as Highclere’s basement is the home of Carnarvon’s Egyptian collection. Highclere is owned by the present earl.

He was British archaeologist and Egyptologist who discovered the intact tomb of the 18th Dynasty Pharaoh Tutankhamun in November 1922, the best-preserved pharaonic tomb ever found in the Valley of the Kings.

Howard Carter was born in Kensington on 9 May 1874, the youngest child (of eleven) of artist and illustrator Samuel John Carter and Martha Joyce Carter (née Sands). His father helped train and develop his artistic talents.

Carter spent much of his childhood with relatives in the Norfolk market town of Swaffham, the birthplace of both his parents. Receiving only limited formal education at Swaffham, he showed talent as an artist. The nearby mansion of the Amherst family, Didlington Hall, contained a sizable collection of Egyptian antiques, which sparked Carter’s interest in that subject. Lady Amherst was impressed by his artistic skills, and in 1891 she prompted the Egypt Exploration Fund (EEF) to send Carter to assist an Amherst family friend, Percy Newberry, in the excavation and recording of Middle Kingdom tombs at Beni Hasan.

Although only 17, Carter was innovative in improving the methods of copying tomb decoration. In 1892, he worked under the tutelage of Flinders Petrie for one season at Amarna, the capital founded by the pharaoh Akhenaten. From 1894 to 1899, he worked with Édouard Naville at Deir el-Bahari, where he recorded the wall reliefs in the temple of Hatshepsut.


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A lifelong New Yorker, who now lives full-time in Palm Beach County, Richard was raised in Mount Vernon, New York and he was educated in the Mount Vernon public schools He graduated from Boston University with a BA in American History. After spending a year on Wall Street as a research analyst with Bache & Co., he joined a manufacturing and importing firm, where over the next twenty-five years he rose to the position of chief operating officer. After the sale of that business, Richard entered into the financial services field with Metropolitan Life and is a Registered Representative, who has been associated with Acorn Financial Services which is affiliated with John Hancock Life Insurance Company of Boston, Ma. Today, he is a retired broker who had specialized in long-term care insurance and financial planning. 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