Ancient History & Civilisation

Chapter 26

Valley of the Kings

February 12, 1904

CARTER COULD BARELY BREATHE, and poor Percy Newberry was about to pass out from the bad air, but their goal was within reach, and they soldiered onward into the most recently discovered burial chamber.

The subtext of this great moment was that Howard Carter had done it again. It was almost unbelievable, but just a few weeks after finding the tomb of Tuthmosis IV, he’d unearthed another tomb on the same side of the valley. Inside was a mummy in a coffin.

The dead man’s identity was unknown thus far, but Carter had made an amazing find. Not long before, he had come across evidence of Hatshepsut’s burial place. The female pharaoh’s temple on the other side of the mountain was perfectly aligned with this latest tomb. To Carter’s way of thinking, it was possible, even likely, that a tunnel connected them.

“I do not hope for an untouched tomb,” he had written Edouard Naville, alluding to every Egyptologist’s prayer of finding a virgin burial chamber. “Rainwater will be a great enemy, but hope for the best.”

Carter was certainly right about the rainwater. The storms that wiped the hillsides clean of debris had sent chunks of rock and sand into tomb openings where they had hardened like cement. Since mid-October his workmen had swung pickaxes in the tomb corridors, clearing out the compacted earth.

Bits of pottery and other funerary debris had been found in the dirt, keeping alive Carter’s hopes that the elusive mummy of Hatshepsut might be buried here. Finding it could be the highlight of his career and make Howard Carter famous around the world.

Finally, after four months, the workers had reached the burial chamber. Percy Newberry and Carter pulled down the mud-and-stone blocking that formed the chamber’s doorway. Then both men entered.

A wave of dank, noxious air washed over them as the hole widened. Several steps inside, Newberry couldn’t take it anymore.

He pleaded with Carter to follow, then staggered back toward the light. But Carter pushed onward. How could he not? He had worked thirteen long, hard years for this day, this discovery.

The heat and dank air conspired against him. Every stitch of his clothing was drenched in sweat, and he gasped for each breath.

The tomb, as he had predicted, was not untouched. Inside was an empty sarcophagus, a canopic jar, and broken vases bearing the names of Hatshepsut and her father.

They were items of historical interest, nothing more.

And more is what he wanted.

Howard Carter would no longer be satisfied with simply locating tombs. Now he wanted tombs of significance, untouched throughout history, and he especially wanted the great treasures buried with every pharaoh.

Carter “emerged from the tomb,” wrote a friend of Theodore Davis’s, “a horrid object, dripping and wet, with a black dust over his face and hands—he was very sick, too, and had to lie down for some time.”

But the very next day, Carter was back at work, searching for that elusive virgin tomb that would make him a household name.

Maybe it would be Hatshepsut.

Or perhaps another pharaoh of even greater importance.

The treasure hunt continued, and, in truth, it became Howard Carter’s whole life.

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