On Nov. 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.
Finding His True Calling
Carter -- described by Daniel Meyerson in his book “In the Valley of the Kings: Howard Carter and the Mystery of King Tutankhamen’s Tomb” as “taciturn, brooding and bad-tempered” – was born in London in 1874. His father 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 located for him a position as an artist on an archaeology expedition to Egypt in 1891. Working in the Valley of the Kings --where tombs had been constructed for lords and nobles of the New Kingdom, which lasted from 1600 to 1100 B.C. -- Carter quickly became a renowned excavator, adept at discovering new tombs.
A Treasure Trove
But it was in 1907, when Carter made the acquaintance of the Earl of Carnarvon, that his career really took off. Carnarvon collected Egyptian antiquities and had the money to fund Carter’s research and field digs, and in particular, his obsession with King Tutankhamen, who had died at the age of 18 in the 13th century B.C. and whose tomb had never been discovered. 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.
A Sad Ending
After this discovery, Howard spent the next decade in Egypt cataloguing the collection of several thousand artifacts from the tomb. Lonely, often ill, and with few close friends -- 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 finally died of lymphoma in 1939 at the age of 64.
There have long been rumors that Carter’s life was affected by the supposed 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, supposedly 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 died 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 because he felt he had been forgotten.
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