Ancient History & Civilisation

Chapter 14




Howard Carter carefully studied the lay of the land to make sure he had found just the right spot. What he wanted was a place with a view that was also close to the tombs. He had already examined the sand for drainage lines so that he wouldn’t accidentally be swept away by a torrential downpour or the Nile when it over-flowed its banks.

Now, at last, he settled on a spot. This was it.

Turning his head slowly in either direction to survey the horizon, he nodded to his small army of construction workers, who sprang into action—or at least moved as quickly as their somewhat relaxed approach to life and labor allowed.

Imagine—he was building a home here, a simple structure made of mud bricks like the ancient Egyptians used. For the first time in his life, Howard Carter was putting down roots, although shallow ones.

He would be laboring in Amarna, former home to Akhenaten and Nefertiti. The once grand, now ruined city was located at a broad bend in the Nile, on a low plateau fronted by a stunning array of cliffs. There was a shortage of housing in the newly rediscovered city, hence Carter’s need to build his own. It would not be just any home, however, but a practical domicile in which ancient Egyptians would have been comfortable. He had begun by purchasing a thousand mud bricks for just ten pennies.

It was January, the peak of the dig season.

Carter had left Beni Hasan—and Percy Newberry—for Amarna, thanks once again to the patronage of Lord Amherst. He would work there under veteran Flinders Petrie, making elaborate drawings of discoveries large and small.

Immediately on Carter’s arrival, Petrie had made it known that they would travel by foot at all times. Petrie, a frugal man, didn’t feel a need to purchase donkeys when walking was just as quick and far less expensive.

Carter also learned that he would be “cooking” for himself. Cooking was a euphemism for opening the tin cans that contained breakfast, lunch, and dinner on a Petrie dig site. Canned food was cheaper than purchasing local fare and hiring a cook.

Beyond that, canned food was more efficient. Flinders Petrie liked to work from eight in the morning until eight at night, each and every day. The less time spent on frivolities like cooking, the more time spent on excavation.

In addition, Carter received word that he was no longer just a sketch artist. Petrie had seen dozens of book-educated Englishmen come into the field, certain that their knowledge had prepared them to be excavators, and most had failed miserably.

Now, due to a shortage of excavators and an intuitive belief that the cocksure young Carter could be trained more easily than someone older and less ambitious, Petrie informed Carter that excavation was being added to his daily list of chores.

Surprisingly, the results thus far had been less than stellar. “Carter’s interest is entirely in painting and natural history,” Petrie had written in his journal on January 9, less than a week after Carter’s arrival. “He is of no use to me as an excavator.”

An early review—of the man who would make the most famous discovery ever in the Valley of the Kings.

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