King Tutankhamun is rediscovered

The tomb of Tutankhamun was discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter. This is his own eyewitness account of the event.

The tomb of Tutankhamun is famous not for who it contained but for what it contained – the most complete treasure house from ancient Egypt to have survived to the modern day.

The entrance to it was discovered by Howard Carter on 4 November 1922, and he immediately summoned Lord Carnarvon, who had funded the dig, to join him. With Carnarvon’s daughter and others, the two men broke through into the burial chamber.

This account appears in the diaries of Howard Carter, the English archaologist and Egyptologist who led the dig.

Opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb, 26 November 1922

Feverishly we cleared away the remaining last scraps of rubbish on the floor of the passage, until we had only the clean sealed doorway before us. After making preliminary notes, we made a tiny breach in the top left-hand corner to see what was beyond. Darkness and the iron testing rod told us that there was empty space. Perhaps another descending staircase, in accordance to the ordinary royal Theban tomb plan? Or maybe a chamber?

Candles were procured—the all important tell-tale for foul gases when opening an ancient subterranean excavation—and I widened the breach and by means of the candle looked in, while Lord. C., Lady E., and Callender with the Reises waited in anxious expectation…

It was sometime before I could see, the hot air escaping caused the candle to flicker, but as soon as my eyes became accustomed to the glimmer of light the interior of the chamber gradually loomed before me, with its strange and wonderful medley of extraordinary and beautiful objects heaped upon one another…

There was naturally short suspense for those present who could not see, when Lord Carnarvon said to me ‘Can you see anything?’ I replied to him ‘Yes, it is wonderful.’ I then with precaution made the hole sufficiently large for both of us to see. With the light of an electric torch as well as an additional candle we looked in.

Our sensations and astonishment are difficult to describe as the better light revealed to us the marvelous collection of treasures : two strange ebony-black effigies of a King, gold-sandalled, bearing staff and mace, loomed out from the cloak of darkness; gilded couches in strange forms, lion-headed, Hathor-headed, and beast infernal; exquisitely painted, inlaid, and ornamental caskets; alabaster vases, some beautifully executed of lotus and papyrus device; strange black shrines, with a gilded monster snake appearing from within; quite ordinary looking white chests; finely carved chairs; a golden inlaid throne; beneath our very eyes, on the threshold, a lovely lotiform wishing-cup in translucent alabaster; and, lastly, a confusion of overturned parts of chariots glinting with gold, peering from amongst which was a mannequin.

The first impression suggested the property-room of an opera of a vanished civilization. Our sensations were bewildering and full of strange emotion. We questioned one another as to the meaning of it all. Was it a tomb or merely a cache? A sealed doorway between the two sentinel statues proved there was more beyond, and with the numerous cartouches bearing the name of TutAnkhAmun on most of the objects before us, there was little doubt that there behind was the grave of that Pharaoh.

The mask of Tutankhamun’s mummy, in The British Museum.

tutankhamun mask