November 26, 1922: Howard Carter discovers Tutankhamun’s tomb.

In 1915, George Hebert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon (Lord Carnarvon), acquired the concession to excavate the Valley of the Kings, an archaeological site by the Nile where, over the course of half a millennium, Egyptian Pharaohs and nobles were buried in magnificent tombs. Among those buried there include Seti I, Ramesses II (“the Great”), Hatshepsut, and, of course, Tutankhamun. Tutankhamun ruled for less than ten years and died at the age of eighteen; compared to Ramesses or Seti, the Egyptian boy king was far less important a ruler, yet the excavation of his tomb marks perhaps the most famous archaeological discovery in modern times.

Lord Carnarvon hired Howard Carter to excavate site shortly before the onset of World War I. After years of fruitless work, Carter’s efforts paid off when, in early November of 1922, his workmen uncovered steps that led to a tomb later designated KV62. Carter was, according to his journal entries, excited but also wary of the discovery. He believed he “was on the verge of perhaps a magnificent find”, yet there was no way of telling whether his team had discovered a royal tomb, a cache, or an empty room. Carter’s financial backer arrived in Luxor several weeks later to inspect the discovery himself. By this time Carter was certain that the tomb was in fact a cache, not a tomb, and that it had been entered (and raided) sometime in the indiscernible past. On November 26, Carter breached the doorway in the presence of Lord Carnarvon. He noted inside the chamber “strange animals, statues, and gold - everywhere the glint of gold” and, when asked whether he could see anything, replied simply “Yes, wonderful things.

The next months were spent meticulously cataloguing the contents of the chamber. In early 1923, Carter’s team discovered Tutankhamun’s burial chamber and, inside it, his sarcophagus. Unfortunately, Lord Carnarvon died shortly afterward, fueling a media frenzy over the supposed “Curse of the Pharaohs”. Despite Tutankhamun’s relative insignificance as a ruler, he is among Egypt’s most famous thanks to the media’s sensational coverage of the excavation. Around the same time, the British Empire declared Egypt the independent Kingdom of Egypt with Fuad I at its head. This exchange of power led to disagreements between Carter and the new government; in the end, he received £8,500 and was allowed to complete his excavation, but the tomb and all its contents were deemed the property of the new Egyptian government. 

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