Ancient History & Civilisation

Chapter 79

Valley of the Kings

November 26, 1922

IT WAS JUST AFTER LUNCH, which had gone mostly untouched by Carter. He and Lady Evelyn were sifting through a basket of rubble, when a digger ran up the steps with the news: the workers had found a second door.

His heart racing in anticipation, Carter readied himself to go back down the steps to have a look and evaluate the new discovery.

It had been a tumultuous and nerve-racking twenty-four hours for everyone. The diggers had labored into the night, hauling debris out by the basketful. Yet the corridor was still a seemingly endless repository of rubble when they finally quit working.

Making matters worse, the rock was laced with what Carter described as “broken potsherds, jar sealings, alabaster jars, whole and broken, vases of painted pottery, numerous fragments of smaller articles, and water skins”—further signs that this could be an ancient trash heap, not a tomb.

Work resumed at first light. Carter and Lady Evelyn carefully sifted through each new basket of debris, searching for historical clues. Carter was an Egyptologist, first and foremost. To him, this diligence was a matter of preserving history. Rather than simply dumping the rubble, as Theodore Davis would have done, Carter meticulously cataloged and recorded each new discovery, however small or seemingly insignificant.

To the anxious onlookers—desperate to see inside the tomb and literally baking in the desert sun—the record keeping was a monotonous waste of time that was slowing things down.

Excitement shot through the crowd as Carter again walked down the steps, now trailed by Lord Carnarvon, Lady Evelyn, and Arthur Callender. The four of them jostled for space with the diggers as they traded places in the slender passage.

Dust filled the air, as did “the fever of suspense.”

The second door was an almost exact duplicate of the previous one. Faint seal impressions were stamped into the surface, bearing the name Tutankhamen.

But this door too had been penetrated in ancient times. The symbol for a royal necropolis was also stamped into the door, and Carter couldn’t help being pessimistic. “It was a cache that we were about to open, not a tomb,” he wrote.

Still, he stepped forward and began clawing a hole in the upper-left corner of the passageway. His hands trembled as he reached up to pull away thick chunks of plaster and rock.

Callender handed him a long slender iron rod. Grasping it firmly, Carter jammed it into the small opening until it poked clean through to the other side. He tested for further resistance. There was none—no wall of limestone chips or pottery shards, just air.

He had actually broken through to the next level.

Carter had no idea what might happen next, but the great moment had finally arrived. Was it a cache, or was it a tomb? There was only one way to find out. “There lay the sealed doorway, and behind it was the answer to the question,” Carter recalled.

He clawed at the hole he had opened with the rod. Then he worked with his bare hands, the only digger.

He figured that he deserved as much.

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