What Happened to Howard Carter After His Discovery of King Tuts Tomb?

King Tutankhamen’s spectacular gold sarcophagus was opened by Howard Carter.
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On November 26, 1922, British archaeologist Howard Carter and his wealthy sponsor, Lord Carnarvon, entered the previously sealed tomb of King Tutankhamen in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings and beheld a glorious world of ancient treasures. After Carter’s great discovery made him famous he was plagued by illness, which led to speculation that he was the victim of an ancient curse.

1 Unearthing Valley of the Kings

Archeologist Howard Carter was born in London in 1874. He was instroduced to art by his father who was a successful commercial artist. Carter inherited his father’s artistic talent, but was a sickly child who was mainly raised by an aunt in the country. He found his chosen profession when his father helped him land an interesting job as an artist on an archaeology expedition to Egypt in 1891. Carter explored tombs in the Valley of the Kings that had been constructed for lords and nobles from 1600 to 1100 B.C. He soon became a renowned excavator. Carter's hours on the job were long and painstaking, but it made him adept at discovering new tombs.

2 Discovering a Treasure Trove

Howard Carter's career catapaulted in 1907 when he met the Earl of Carnarvon who had a passion for Egyptian antiquities and the money to fund Carter’s research and field digs. The Earl had a particular obsession with locating the unknown tomb of King Tutankhamen, who had died at the age of 18 in the 13th century B.C. Finally, in 1922, Carter discovered a step leading down to the tomb that belonged to Tutankhamen. Entering the inner chamber of the tomb, Carnarvon and Carter found it unspoiled by the tomb robbers who had plundered almost every other tomb site in the Valley of the Kings. Inside, apart from the 3,200 year-old mummy of King Tutankhamen himself, were statues, furniture, a chariot, jewelry and gold that promised to boost Howard Carter's networth and reputation.

3 Howard Carter's Death in 1939

After discovering tomb of King Tutankhame, Howard spent the next decade in Egypt cataloguing the collection of several thousand artifacts from the tomb. Lonely, sickly, unmarried and childless, Carter immersed himself in research. His patron Lord Carnarvon died in Cairo in 1923. Carter finally retired from field archeology and turned to acquiring and selling Egyptian artifacts for museums and private collectors. He died of lymphoma in 1939.

4 Curse of King Tut's Tomb

There have long been rumors that Howard Carter’s life was affected by the so-called Curse of King Tut’s Tomb, which supposedly afflicted anyone who was there when the Boy King’s sarcophagus was opened in 1922. Believers point to several incidents. Lord Carnarvon died of blood poisoning a year after the tomb was opened. Carter’s friend Sir Bruce Ingham had his house burn down twice, reportedly because he had a paperweight made from a mummified hand that came from the tomb. But of the 58 people present when the tomb was opened, only eight suffered untimely deaths. Howard Carter didn't believe in the Curse. He persevered for 17 years after he found the tomb, doing excellent work. If he was unhappy when he died, it was likely due to feeling forgotten despite his amazing discoveries and contributions to archeology.

Based in New Jersey, Joseph Cummins has been a freelance writer since 2002. He has written 17 books covering history, politics and culture. He has a Master of Fine Arts in writing from Columbia University. His work has been featured in "The New York Times" Freakonomics blog, "Politico," "New York Archives" magazine, "The Carolina Quarterly," "The Michigan Quarterly" and elsewhere.