Ancient History & Civilisation

Chapter 68

Valley of the Kings

November 1, 1922

THE MEN WERE ASSEMBLED for work, usually a twelve-hour day, sunrise to sunset. Carter knew most of them by name or sight after working the valley year after year. They carried their digging tools casually over their shoulders and wore thin sandals and flowing white shirts that extended to their ankles.

Mabrook,” they called out in greeting, their smiles a sure sign that they were ready for a brand-new season with their demanding boss man.

Carter tried to appear upbeat, but now even he was racked by self-doubt.

“We had now dug in the valley for several seasons with extremely scanty results,” he wrote in a rare candid moment. “After these barren years, were we justified going on with it?”

He had decided that they were and had convinced Lord Carnarvon to wager another several thousand pounds. Nodding to his foreman, Reis Ahmed Gerigar, Carter gave the official order to start.

They were beginning two months earlier than usual, hoping to finish their work before the tourist season began.

Near where he stood, just in front of the cavernous opening to the tomb of Rameses VI, rose a triangle of ruins first excavated five years earlier—a chain of ancient workmen’s huts.

“They were probably used by the laborers in the tomb of Rameses. These huts, built about three feet above bedrock, covered the whole area in front of the Ramesside tomb and continued in a southerly direction to join up with a similar group of huts on the opposite side of the valley, discovered by Davis in connection with his work on the Akhenaten cache,” Carter noted dutifully.

First, Carter’s men would record the precise location and dimensions of each hut. Then they would remove the huts and dig down through the soil to the bedrock.

Only when they struck bedrock could they begin stripping away the remaining sand and dirt to search for the seam in the earth that might lead to Tut and his tomb. A tomb architect would have cut straight down into the rock to create the most solid and long-lasting burial place imaginable. There would be a descending staircase perhaps or a long-buried passageway to mark the opening.

Or so Carter hoped.

He peered closely at the earth to reassure himself. Beneath the stone huts stood three feet of loose rock and sand, the former courtesy of the slaves and prisoners who had carved the tomb of Rameses VI. This was where stone chipped from inside the tomb had been dumped. The sand had funneled in with a landslide.

“I had always had a kind of superstitious feeling that in that particular corner of the valley one of the missing kings, possibly Tutankhamen, might be found,” Carter wrote in a journal that could have filled several books like this one.

But a strong gut feeling was all he had to go on. Certainly, this was the very last part of the valley that had not been fully explored. But who could say if or when another lost treasure would be found.

Carter fell into the habit of watching the men working. They talked nonstop, gossiping about their friends and wives as their turias dug into the rocky soil. The tools clanked when hitting rock, and the work had a cadence that was almost musical to Carter’s ear.

Despite their chattiness, his men were deliberate and precise. Years of toil in the valley had made them proficient Egyptologists in their own right. They knew when to proceed cautiously and when to move earth with abandon.

So there was little for Carter to do but stand and watch and hope this would be his year. No matter how fast his crew moved, excavating down to the bedrock would take days. He thought it might be better to return home, get out of the sun, and unpack the food and wine that had just arrived from London.

But he stayed on at the site anyway, preferring to endure what he called the creeping “doubts, born of previous disappointments,” there than at his home.

He lit another cigarette and watched the dirt fly.

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