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How was Tutankhamun's tomb discovered?
How was Tutankhamun's tomb discovered?

Excavations began at the end of 1917. Carter set about clearing the triangle formed by the tombs of Ramses II, Merneptah, and Ramses VI.

Valley of the Kings

In 1906, Carter met the collector of antiquities, Lord Carnarvon, who decided to sponsor an archaeological excavation. In subsequent years, they carried out excavations in different parts of the Theban necropolis, but only in June 1914 received a concession for excavations in the Valley of the Kings.

Although many researchers were convinced that everything had already been dug up in the Valley and it was impossible to find anything new there, Howard Carter believed that the tomb of Tutankhamun had not yet been discovered and that it should be located near the center of the Valley of the Kings. For the winter season of 1914/15, the beginning of excavations was scheduled, but the First World War broke out, which confused the plans of archaeologists for a while.

The excavation began at the end of 1917. Carter set about clearing the triangle formed by the tombs of Ramses II, Merneptah, and Ramses VI. In one season, archaeologists removed a significant portion of the upper layers in this area and reached the entrance to the tomb of Ramses VI, where they came across working huts, which stood on a foundation of flint fragments, which in the Valley usually indicates the proximity of the tomb.

They wanted to continue excavating in the same direction, but then access to the tomb of Ramses - one of the most popular tombs in the Valley with visitors - would be closed. Therefore, it was decided to wait for a more favorable opportunity.


Tutankhamun. Source:

Work on this site was resumed in the fall of 1919. For that season, it was planned to completely clear the entire triangle of rubble.

For this, a significant number of workers were hired. When Lady and Lord Carnarvon arrived in the Valley in March 1920, all the rubble of the upper layers had already been removed, it was possible to go deeper into the soil. Soon, archaeologists found a small cache with thirteen alabaster vessels, on which stood the names of the pharaohs Ramses II and Merneptah.

With the exception of a small area under the workers' huts, archaeologists examined the entire cleared triangle, but the tomb was never found. This place was temporarily abandoned. For the next two seasons, Carter excavated the small adjoining valley where the tomb of Thutmose III is located.

Carter's life's work

Finally, Howard Carter decided to proceed to the site at the foot of the tomb of Ramses VI, cluttered with granite debris and working huts. It was decided to start excavations early, so that, if necessary, to close access to the tomb of Ramses VI, to do it at a time when there are still not so many visitors in the Valley of the Kings.

Carter arrived at Luxor on October 28, 1922. By the first of November, the workers were ready to start working. Past excavations did not end near the tomb of Ramses VI. From this place, archaeologists continued to dig a trench directed to the south. It took several days to remove the ancient workers' huts from the site. By the evening of November 3, the cleaning work was completed.

On November 4th, Howard Carter arrived at the dig site. He was struck by the silence caused by the suspension of work. “I realized that something extraordinary had happened, and soon I was happy to hear: under the first removed hut, a step carved into the rock was found. The news was too good for me to believe.

However, a quick additional clearance convinced me that we had indeed found the beginning of a descent carved into the rock, which was four meters below the entrance to the tomb of Ramesses VI and at the same depth from the present surface of the Valley,”Carter wrote in his diary.

Continuous excavations continued for the next 24 hours. All day the workers removed the rubble that was getting in the way at the entrance. Also, archaeologists have cleared twelve steps, after which they managed to see the walled doorway. “Sealed door!

So this is true! Finally, we have been rewarded for all the years of patient work.As far as I remember, my first impulse was to thank fate for the fact that my work in the Valley did not remain fruitless.

With feverishly growing excitement, I began to examine the impressions of the seals on the walled door to determine who was buried in this tomb. But I could not find the name of its owner. The only legible impressions were the well-known imprints of the imperial necropolis: a jackal and nine prisoners,”Carter recalled.

The archaeologist used a flashlight to inspect the room. Everything was littered with stones. Workers remained to guard the tomb overnight.

Entrance to the burial chamber

Entrance to the burial chamber. Source:

Lord Carnarvon was in Great Britain at this time. Before his appearance at the excavation site, work was suspended. At the end of November, he had already arrived in Luxor. On the same day, workers cleared the stairs and also inspected the door. At the bottom was the inscription "Tutankhamun". From the opened prints it became obvious that the tomb had already been opened at some point.

The next morning, the seals were sketched and photographed. After that, the door was dismantled, and later the workers cleared the gallery.

On November 26, archaeologists continued to slowly but carefully clear the gallery. Towards evening, not far from the outer entrance, they found another entrance. “With trembling hands, I made a small hole in the upper left corner of the walled wall.

The darkness and emptiness, into which the probe freely went to its full length, indicated that there was no longer a blockage behind this wall, as in the gallery we had just cleared. Fearing gas accumulation, we first lit a candle. Then, widening the hole a little, I put a candle in it and looked inside. Lord Carnarvon, Lady Evelina and Collender stood behind me anxiously awaiting the verdict.

At first I didn't see anything. Warm air rushed out of the room, and a candle flame flickered. But gradually, when the eyes became accustomed to the semi-darkness, the details of the room began to slowly emerge from the darkness. There were strange figures of animals, statues and gold - gold shimmered everywhere! For a moment - this moment seemed like an eternity to those who stood behind me - I was literally numb with amazement.

Unable to restrain himself any longer, Lord Carnarvon anxiously asked me: "Do you see anything?" The only thing I could answer him was: "Yes, wonderful things!" Then, widening the hole so that two of us could look into it, we put an electric torch inside, "- this is how Carter described this most important event in his life.

Pharaoh's tomb

On November 27, 1922, the tomb was connected to the Valley's lighting network. Lord Carnarvon, Lady Evelina, Collender and Carter entered the discovered room and began to examine it in detail. In the future, this hall was called the front room.

There were three large gilded couches in the hall. The sides of each box were sculpted figures of monstrous animals. Their bodies were unnaturally elongated to the full length of the bed, and their heads were carved with stunning realism. To the right of the wall stood two statues - full-length black sculptures of the pharaoh.

In gold aprons and gold sandals, with clubs and staffs in their hands, with the sacred guardians of the urei on their foreheads - they stood opposite each other. A walled-up passage was discovered between them.

Also, many other things were piled up in the room: chests with the finest painting and inlay, alabaster vessels, black arks, beautiful carved chairs, a throne inlaid with gold, walking sticks and staffs of all kinds of shapes and patterns, chariots sparkling with gold and inlays, a portrait statue of the Pharaoh, and so on. …

In mid-December, work began to boil in the front room. It was necessary to carry out a detailed photographing of the premises. Then there was painstaking work on the analysis of artifacts, which were very crowded in the room. Some of them were in excellent condition, but many values ​​required immediate restoration.

Some things, without preliminary processing, simply could not be taken in hand - they immediately crumbled. Disassembling the items in the front room took a total of seven weeks. By mid-February, all things were transferred to the laboratory, with the exception of two watch statues, left on purpose, every centimeter of the floor was swept out and the dust sifted so that not a single bead, not a single piece of inlay would remain in it.

Howard Carter and his assistants

Howard Carter and his assistants. Source:

An operation to open the sealed door was scheduled for February 17, 1923. By two o'clock in the afternoon, the invitees - about twenty people in total - gathered at the tomb. Everything in the front room was prepared in advance. To protect the statues from possible damage, they were sheathed with boards, and a small platform was erected between the statues so that from it one could easily reach the upper edge of the doorway.

They decided to start opening the door from the top, since this was the safest procedure. The dismantling of the walled passage took two hours. Even during the disassembly, it became clear that this is the entrance to the tomb of the pharaoh. The burial chamber contained a large, huge golden ark, necessary to protect the sarcophagus. The walls of the room were decorated with bright images and various inscriptions. Also in this place treasures were kept.

In the early 1920s, work began on opening the sarcophagi. One of them was quartzite. The sarcophagus contained a golden image of the young king.

In subsequent seasons, work was carried out to open the coffins. There were three of them. The third coffin, 1.85 meters long, was made of massive gold. The mask of this golden coffin was given a portrait resemblance to the king, but his features, although conditional, since they symbolized Osiris, were younger than on other coffins.

The coffin was decorated with an ornament of "Rishi" and figures of Isis and Nephthys - the subjects of the first coffin. They were complemented by the winged figures of Nehebt and Butoh. These figures of the guardian goddesses - the emblems of Upper and Lower Egypt - stood out sharply on the engraved ornament that lavishly adorned the coffin, since they were lush massive cloisonné enamel onlays. The images of the goddesses were inlaid with semi-precious stones. The pharaoh's mummy rested under the lid of this coffin.

Sources of

  • G. Carter. Tutankhamun's tomb. 1959
  • I.S. Katsnelson. Tutankhamun and the treasures of his tomb. 1979
  • K. Bruckner. The golden pharaoh. 1967
  • R. Silverberg. Adventure in archeology. 2007

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