THE INCREDIBLE STORY, as Carter heard it, began with Theodore Davis and his new chief executive Egyptologist, Edward Ayrton, taking a midday break from the stifling heat.
The valley, as always, was crowded with European tourists eager to see the ancient tombs. Davis was the sort of man who enjoyed being fawned over, but now he ignored the gawking stares that seemed to follow him everywhere.
Davis could hear the distant bray of donkeys from the corral. That chorus mingled with the constant clang of workmen striking their tools into the hard-packed red-yellow soil. Those were the sounds of the valley during dig season, and after four seasons searching for tombs, they were sounds Davis knew quite well.
Davis and Ayrton “owned” the Valley of the Kings, in a manner of speaking. Davis still held exclusive rights to dig there, and with Carter exiled, the Petrie-trained Ayrton was now Davis’s top man.
The season had been solid so far, with the tomb of the pharaoh Siptah discovered on December 18—the day after Ayrton’s twenty-fifth birthday. Now, the January sun having driven them to find a sliver of shade in the valley’s southwest corner, the two men took a moment to plan their next excavation.
Ayrton smoked quietly as the eccentric Davis stared off into space—or so it appeared.
“My attention was attracted to a large rock tilted to one side,” Davis later recalled, “and for some mysterious reason I felt interested in it.”
The two men trekked back out into the sunlight. The rail-thin Ayrton had just been hired by Davis a few months earlier but was already used to the man’s impulsive behavior.
If Davis wanted to have a look at the rock, then they would have a look at the rock.
Ayrton appraised the boulder from several angles. Then, noticing something peculiar, he dropped to his knees and began moving the loose soil away from the base.
There, buried for ages, was a spectacular find!
“Being carefully examined and dug about with my assistant, Mr. Ayrton, with his hands, the beautiful blue cup was found,” Davis later wrote. The cup was of a glazed material known as faience and, with the exception of a few nicks, was intact.
The ancient Egyptians had used such cups at funerals. This one was stamped with the name of a pharaoh—Tutankhamen.
The cup seemed to imply that this Tutankhamen—whoever he was—had been buried nearby in the Valley of the Kings.
Davis had made his fortune as a lawyer and practiced Egyptology as an avocation, so his techniques were far from typical. He was a short man with a giant white mustache and an evil temper that had led several talented Egyptologists to quit after working with him. There had also been several complaints about the way he ransacked tombs rather than cataloging the contents for history.
But however people felt about Theodore Davis or his methods, there was no denying his Valley of the Kings monopoly. And until it was totally exhausted, he would not give up his concession.
With the “beautiful blue cup” clutched firmly in the palm of his hand, Davis added the name of this mysterious new pharaoh to his list of tombs to be found. And Davis was sure he would be the one to do it.
Howard Carter, making his living selling watercolors to tourists, could do nothing about this new development. He merely stored the information away.
Tutankhamen was out there somewhere just waiting to be found by somebody.