Ancient History & Civilisation

Chapter 78

Valley of the Kings

November 25, 1922

IT WAS TIME. Well, almost time. Before the door could be destroyed, the royal seals had to be photographed for the historical record.

This singular honor fell to Lord Carnarvon, president of his local camera club back home in England. The earl now stood at the bottom of the narrow stairwell in the pale dawn light, fussing over shutter speeds and apertures.

He was calm and cool as he went about his work—a very professional and dedicated amateur. The last thing Lord Carnarvon wanted to do was make a mistake that would lead to bad photos—or, worse, no photos at all.

Carter, on the other hand, was beside himself with anxiety. Complicating matters, a much-loathed bureaucrat from the Antiquities Service had arrived to oversee the entry. Rex Engelbach, nicknamed “Trout” by Carter and Carnarvon for his sallow demeanor, was firm in stating that his job title gave him the right to be the first person to enter the tomb.

Carter had never liked Engelbach, with his high-handed arrogance and lack of Egyptology credentials, but on this morning Carter refused to let Engelbach bother him. After a career defined by hard work and failure, Carter was finally about to enter the tomb of Tut. This was no time to be arguing with civil servants. But there was no way that Engelbach was getting into that tomb first. No way in hell.

Carter descended the steps with his sketchbook to draw each of the seals and impressions. These would serve as a backup for Carnarvon’s photos, and now the two friends worked side by side at the base of the cramped stairwell.

Carter’s sketches were precise in scale and detail. No aspect of the designs went unrecorded.

Only at midmorning, when he had completed the drawings, did Carter trot back up the stairway with Lord Carnarvon.

It was time.

Carter ordered his workmen to demolish the door.

“On the morning of the 25th,” wrote Carter, “we removed the actual blocking of the door; consisting of rough stones carefully built from floor to lintel, and heavily plastered on their outer faces to make the seal impressions.”

The crowd gathered atop the steps strained to see what was on the other side. Shadows and debris made it impossible to tell.

Carter walked down the steps to have a look. He found himself peering into a long narrow hallway. The smooth floor sloped down into the earth, a descending corridor.

Top to bottom, Carter wrote, the hallway “was filled completely with stone and rubble, probably the chip from its own excavation. This filling, like the doorway, showed distinct signs of more than one opening and re-closing of the tomb, the untouched part consisting of clean white chip mingled with dust; whereas the disturbed part was mainly of dark flint.”

How far into the ground the hallway led, it was impossible to know. But one thing was certain: someone else had been there.

“An irregular corner had been cut through the original filling at the upper corner on the left side,” noted Carter. Someone had burrowed through there long ago searching for whatever lay on the other side.

Carnarvon snapped a photograph of the rubble pile. Then a weary Carter gave the order for his men to clear it away, chips and dust and all. Sooner or later the tunnel would have to end.

With any luck, the tomb robbers hadn’t taken everything.

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