Ancient History & Civilisation

Chapter 25

Valley of the Kings

February 1, 1903

CARTER BLINKED RAPIDLY several times as he stumbled out into the pale morning light in this place that he loved. A loyal Egyptian worker, hoping to revive his boss, immediately handed him water and a cigarette.

As Carter took a greedy swallow, another local man slipped a long, double-breasted overcoat around Carter’s shoulders. This might have given the young Englishman an air of casual elegance were it not for the fact that onlookers swore he looked like a ghost.

He was, in truth, thoroughly exhausted, having spent most of the night sleeping outside on the hard ground.

At 4:00 a.m. he left a pair of men to stand guard, then went inside to prepare for the great unveiling—draping electric lights, placing beams over the deep wells, hanging rope ladders and handrails, and constructing wooden walkways so his eighteen guests wouldn’t destroy fragile archaeological items.

Howard Carter had finally found his tomb.

Tuthmosis IV was the eighth monarch of Egypt’s Eighteenth Dynasty. He reigned from 1401 to 1391 BC and was the father of Amenhotep the Magnificent and the grandfather of Akhenaten. His body was sealed inside a stupendous tomb in the southeast corner of the Valley of the Kings. Elaborate pains had obviously been taken to hide the burial site, including a location several hundred yards away from any other dead pharaoh.

Tuthmosis IV had deliberately chosen the most desolate, distant spot possible. Not only did he wish to be buried for all eternity, but he also wanted to stay hidden.

Nevertheless, seventy-nine years after his death, tomb robbers found him.

On January 17, 1903, so did Howard Carter.

Tuthmosis IV was KV 43.

This was the first great find of Carter’s career.

He’d had to wait two weeks for his patron, Theodore Davis, to return from a boat trip upriver to Aswan. Now Carter would lead yet another tour, only this time it would be to a tomb that he had discovered.

Davis had purchased an exclusive valley concession in 1902 and immediately hired Carter to lead the excavation. That first season had been inconclusive, with Carter discovering only the tomb of a minor noble and a box containing two leather loincloths.

For the 1903 season, Carter chose to excavate a small, forgotten valley within the valley. In days his men had uncovered a tomb entrance, complete with small vessels embedded in the rock, which the Egyptians believed held magical powers.

He led the large group into that opening now.

The path descended quickly. One heavyset functionary had comical difficulty wriggling through a particularly narrow passage into the deeper reaches of the tomb, and Carter had to pull him through. By now Carter was working mostly on adrenaline, proud of his discovery even as he delivered a clipped monologue about the tomb’s contents: the war chariot, the sarcophagus, the mass of beautiful debris strewn about the burial chamber—no doubt by the tomb robbers.

The air was rank, and Carter would have to bring in fans and run lines of air from the outside as the excavation continued. But for now it was plenty good enough. As he escorted the satisfied group back up the steep passage to the main entrance, Carter’s workday was done. He felt a little like a god himself.

Tea and a lunch awaited, served atop white tablecloths. The group, clearly awed by what they’d just seen, celebrated Carter and Davis as they dined.

Carter deflected the praise onto his egomaniacal boss, who was beginning to see himself not just as a benefactor but as an Egyptologist in his own right. There were plenty of accolades to go around, and everyone proclaimed what a successful dig season this was going to be.

“All praise goes to Mr. Davis!” said Howard Carter, believing not a word of it.

All praise goes to me, and perhaps to Tuthmosis IV, he thought.

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