Looking back at one hundred years since Howard Carter unearthed the treasures of Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings
In 1922, Howard Carter made what many consider the world’s greatest archaeological find when he unearthed the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun in Egypt. This year, 2022, marks a significant milestone for Egyptology as we celebrate the one-hundredth anniversary of discovering King Tut’s treasures.
We dig (pun intended!) into the events surrounding this momentous occasion, the ripple of excitement it caused around the world, and the lasting legacy of Tutankhamun.
Howard Carter’s Discovery
Carter was a British archaeologist who, along with his associate Lord Carnarvon, spent many years and a lot of Carnarvon’s money searching for an unknown tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings near Luxor. But on November 4, 1922, they made a discovery that would astound the world: the tomb of King Tutankhamun was revealed. Due to Lady Carnarvon’s impatience, the excavation was almost abandoned. But the Carnarvons agreed to Carter’s plea for one final shot at it, and his persistence paid off. Shortly after, the team happened upon the tomb.
Tutankhamun wasn’t the first tomb Carter unearthed – he also discovered Queen Hatshepsut’s tomb in 1902 but it was empty of treasures and didn’t get the same recognition. So why is Tutankhamun’s tomb so important? He wasn’t an especially noteworthy king in life, but his tomb is significant because never before had such an intact royal tomb been found. The contents let archaeologists learn and document much more about ancient Egypt than they had done previously.
The opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 (image credits)
Who was King Tut?
Nick-named King Tut, Tutankhamun was one of the final rulers of his dynasty and has come to be one of Egypt’s best-known pharaohs. He was known as the child king as he was appointed as a pharaoh at just nine years old and reigned until his early death around ten years later. Historians initially thought he was murdered but it is now thought complications following a broken leg are more likely.
Along with his mummified body, Tutankhamun’s elaborately decorated tomb held thousands of artefacts and treasures that were believed to help in his afterlife. All this remained largely intact for over 3,000 years until Carter’s discovery. Curiously, there was evidence that the tomb had been looted before Carter’s exploration, so perhaps he was not the first one to have found it!
Watch the moment Howard Carter uncovered Tutankhamun in this colourised video clip on the National Geographic YouTube channel.
Excavating Tutankhamun’s tomb…
After years of searching, it took archaeologists around ten years to fully excavate Tutankhamun’s tomb and document the priceless treasures. Lord Carnarvon did not live to see the full extent of the discovery as he died suddenly a few months after their initial find. Many speculated that his death was a result of the Mummy’s Curse – the wrath suffered by anyone who dared to open the tomb – but it was actually an infectious mosquito bite that caused Carnarvon’s death.
Carter’s discovery sent ripples of excitement around the world, and people devoured news stories of the event. All things Egyptian began to influence art, design and architecture. The way Egyptomania influenced buildings globally is still evident. Look around, and it can be surprising how many columns, obelisks, motifs and even sphinxes are present in the buildings that we pass every day. Notable buildings in London designed with Egyptian characteristics include Greater London House, formerly the Carreras cigarette factory, in Camden, and the Carlton Cinema in Islington.
Another prominent Egyptian landmark in the UK is Cleopatra’s Needle; an obelisk flanked by two sphinxes that stands on the Thames Embankment in London. Note though that the obelisk stood in London long before any influence Carter’s discovery had. Cleopatra’s Needle was transported from Egypt to London in 1877 and erected in September 1878. It is one of three similar obelisks from Ancient Egypt – the other two are in Paris and New York. The twin bronze sphinxes were a later addition – they were cast in London in 1881.
Where is Tutankhamun’s tomb and can you visit it?
Tutankhamun’s tomb is located in the region of Egypt known as The Valley of the Kings. It’s situated on the west bank of the River Nile across from the town of Luxor. The Valley of the Kings was the traditional burial place of pharaohs and it contains over sixty excavated tombs, twenty-four of which are royal burials (pharaohs and queens).
Many visitors are surprised by the small size of King Tut’s tomb, but this is logically explained by the fact he died suddenly at a young age, so the burial chamber was hastily prepared.
A visit to Tutankhamun’s burial chamber is not included on the standard Valley of the Kings ticket but, for a modest supplement, we can arrange a private visit to the tomb of Tutankhamun guided by one of our expert Egyptologists. This extraordinary experience is highly recommended for history enthusiasts.
Where are the treasures of Tutankhamun today?
Although most of King Tut’s treasures have been relocated, his mummy still lies in his tomb as it is too fragile to move. There is much talk of moving the mummy to the soon-to-be-opened Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) in Cairo but it’s a feat that requires meticulous planning and considerable risk of damage to such a priceless object.
However, many of Tutankhamun’s treasures have famously travelled the world and while the politics behind where the treasures belong are well-known, the whereabouts of some of them remain shrouded in mystery. Many objects are housed in museums and private collections across the world, but most of the important treasures are kept at the museum in Cairo.
Following a recently-completed ten-country world tour exhibiting previously unseen artefacts, the Golden Pharaoh’s treasures have now returned to Egypt to be permanently displayed in the new Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The long-awaited Grand Egyptian Museum, which is nearing its final stages of construction, is due to open to the public later in 2022. Located on the Giza Plateau a couple of miles from the famous Giza pyramids, it will be one of the world’s great archaeological, scientific, and historical centres.
What makes the centennial of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s treasure trove of a tomb the perfect year to plan a holiday to Egypt?
Seeing the riches from Howard Carter’s incredible discovery up close is as thrilling today as it was a century ago. Beyond the carefully preserved exhibits archive, Egypt is an open-air museum waiting to be explored.
Cairo is a fascinating city enriched by its enthralling history, and on its outskirts, the Sphinx and pyramids of Giza need no introduction. Upper Egypt highlights include Aswan, Abu Simbel, Luxor and the Nile Valley.
A tailor-made holiday to Egypt is the chance to immerse yourself in the great discovery of Howard Carter and his persistent efforts. You will learn about the life of the ancient pharaohs, and hear the two-sided story of the discovery of King Tut’s tomb and the royal treasures found within it.
At Corinthian Travel we know Egypt intimately and would be delighted to chat through the options, whether you are looking for a luxury honeymoon, a family holiday, a last-minute getaway, or something in between!
For families, we recommend Mummies and the Red Sea, an unforgettable family adventure that educates and entertains. While, for the ultimate Egyptophile, Carnarvon’s Egypt is a private tour of Egypt led by an expert Egyptologist guide. This holiday provides an in-depth immersion into the mysteries, monuments, religion and lifestyle of the ancient Egyptians.
Planning a holiday to Egypt to immerse yourself in Howard Carter’s discovery of the treasures of King Tutankhamun? Save or share this post…
Additional images © Kathmandu & Beyond