Tutankhamun's Golden Mask via Wikimedia Commons Tutankhamun's Golden Mask via Wikimedia Commons

Today in history: tomb of king Tutankhamun discovered

Sat, Nov. 4, 2017
CAIRO – 4 November 2017: November 4 is King Tutankhamun day, named after the day his tomb was first discovered in 1922 in the Valley of Kings, leading to a monumental excavation of one of the world’s most famous historical figures.

The Discovery

Sir Howard Carter, British archaeologist and Egyptologist had made it his life’s quest to find the tomb of King Tutankhamun first. When Carter had begun work in Egypt in 1891, most of the documented Pharaohs had their tombs discovered. One, however, proved to be elusive; King Tutankhamun, whose resting place had yet to be found and who Egyptologists knew very little about.

With the end of World War I, Carter made it his goal to be the first to uncover the tomb of Tutankhamun. Carter had worked in Egypt for 31 years since he was 17, using his skills as an artist to copy inscriptions from walls. He would then become appointed inspector-general of monuments in Upper Egypt. In 1907 he started to work for George Herbert, the fifth earl of Carnarvon, who would aid him in his quest to uncover the lost tomb of Tutankhamun.

Carter was certainly dedicated, spending a massive amounts of money and time in order to track down where the tomb might lie. With Lord Carnarvon as his sponsor, they began working earnestly at excavating the Valley of Kings. Alas, even after five years of work, Carter wasn’t able to report back on anything substantial.

He refused to give up however, tirelessly working to fulfill his quest, and soon enough, Carter would be rewarded beyond his imagination.

The discovery of steps beneath the sand on November 1, 1922 was a breakthrough for Carter. At long last, his tireless search for Tutankhamun would finally bear fruit. Carter announced the discovery on November 6, and it took three weeks until he could begin work on excavating into the tomb. Workers exposed all of the steps and the sealed doorway into the tomb, which at one point had been broken in by tomb robbers but resealed again, leading to hope that the contents had not been plundered.

Carter finally entered on November 25, finding evidence of resealed holes but noting that it had likely been thousands of years since anyone had entered again. If anything remained in the tomb, it could have proved to be one of the grandest archaeological discoveries in all of history.

When Carter made a hole inside the sealed door and peeked inside, he was left astounded. Gold flooded his senses, and animal statues, rich perfumes, piles of ebony, childhood toys and the Pharaoh himself adorned the room alongside countless other treasures. It was a bounty of riches the likes of which he had never been seen before; Carter couldn’t have anticipated this finding in his wildest dreams.


The_opening_of_Tutankhamun_s_tomb_via_Wikimedia_Commons
The opening of Tutankhamun's tomb via Wikimedia Commons

The prize finding was Tutankhamun’s sarcophagus, made of stone and containing three layers of coffins nestled within each other, of which the final one was made of gold and held Tutankhamun’s body, which had lain undisturbed for 3,000 years. Much of the treasures here are now in possession of the Cairo museum, with Tutankhamun himself still resting within the Valley of Kings.

Curse of the Pharaoh

Tutankhamun_s_Golden_Mask_via_Wikimedia_Commons
[Tutankhamun's Golden Mask via Wikimedia Commons]

Not everything related to the discovery of the tomb was joyous. On April 5, 1923, a year after the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb, Lord Carnavon died. He had been bitten by a mosquito, and the bite grew infected when he slashed it open while shaving. As if that wasn’t enough, his dog Susie died shortly after. Reports of power outs were common as well, leading to the belief that something supernatural was going on.

News of Lord Carnavon’s illness and death lead to media frenzy, and journalists hopped on the chance to report that he had died due to the Pharaoh’s curse.

While Lord Carnavon was the only one of the people directly involved with the excavation to die early, there were numerous deaths to those who were loosely connected to it. One example was of Egyptian prince Ali Kemal Fahmy Bey, who had visited the tomb. In the same year of Carnavon’s death, Prince Ali was shot to death.

In 1934, Albert Lythgoe, the Metropolitan Museum of Art's head Egyptologist passed away at the age of 66. He had directly viewed the open sarcophagus ten years earlier. While much of the curse’s effects were exaggerated fantasy, the mystery helped add another level of mystique to Ancient Egypt and Tutankhamun in the eyes of a public already fascinated by Egypt.

Who was King Tutankhamun?

Mask_of_Tutankhamun_via_Wikimedia
[Mask of Tutankhamun via Wikimedia]

Tutankhamun was born in the 18th dynasty around 1341 B.C, and was the 12th Pharaoh of that period. Tutankhamun himself never actually did much. He was put on the throne when he was but a small child, and Egypt’s prosperous era was beginning to decline with the rise of Pharaoh Akhenaten and his new cult.

Akhenaten, believed to possibly be related to King Tut, had ordered the destruction of numerous of Amun and shut down various temples, demanding that the people of Egypt now worship the sun god Aten. He had even ordered a move of Egypt’s capital away from the rich waters of the Nile in order to construct a brand new city for him, out in the harsh desert. Suffice to say, Akhenaten was not popular.

Tutankhamun took his place as Pharoah immediately after his death, despite the fact that Tut was only eight years old. There was much doubt about how a child could lead Egypt, and most of the work was done by the boy king’s court of royal advisors. His original name was not, in fact, Tutankhamun; originally Tutankhaten, meaning “the living image of Aten”, the boy changed his name to “living image of Amun”, or “Tutankhamun”.

This was a sign that as Pharaoh he was interested in undoing the damage Akhenaten had done, and return to the old ways. Examination of Tut’s mummy showed since that he suffered from malaria, which likely contributed to his untimely demise following a fall that broke his leg. Tutankhamen only ruled Egypt for a short decade before his death, and never managed to achieve much as ruler in his lifetime.

His early death took Ancient Egypt by surprise, and a tomb had not been prepared for him beforehand. Experts believe that Tutankhamun was simply buried in a tomb that had already belonged to another Pharoah, possibly queen Nefertiti, as his tomb was amongst the smallest found. Tutankhamun was eventually forgotten by the people of Egypt, and the sands swallowed up his grave in the Valley of Kings.

Long after his death, Tutankhamun can finally be remembered.

Tut_via_Wikimedia
[Tut via Wikimedia]
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