November 26, 1922
LADY EVELYN WAS the smallest of the bunch and was the first to wriggle through the opening. She found herself transfixed by ghostly alabaster vases, and Carter enlarged the hole so Lord Carnarvon and Arthur Callender could also squeeze through. Then he entered what would become known as the antechamber.
The room was a small rectangle, twelve feet deep by twenty-six feet wide. The ceilings were low to the point of claustrophobia, and the walls undecorated, which was odd, Carter thought. Why hadn’t the chamber been properly finished?
The air smelled not just of dust and time but also of perfumes and exotic woods. “The very air you breathe, unchanged through the centuries,” marveled Carter.
The group was jumpy now, as if the chamber were haunted.
Carter was surprised to find himself humbled by the timelessness of the moment. There were footprints in the dust from thousands of years earlier, and a container still held the mortar used to build the door. “The blackened lamp, the finger mark upon the freshly painted surface, the farewell garland dropped upon the threshold—you feel it might have been just yesterday,” Carter mused.
The four modern-day intruders shone the flashlight about the room, setting aside all historical propriety to hold the golden relics in their bare hands.
Carter opened a small casket painted with images of a pharaoh—Tut?—slaying his enemies in battle. Inside were a pair of ancient sandals and a robe festooned with brightly colored beads.
Lady Evelyn gasped with delight as she came across a golden throne with images of a pharaoh and his queen depicted in lapis lazuli. The pair were obviously very much in love, as demonstrated by the tender way the queen seemed to be touching her king.
To Carter’s eyes, it was “the most beautiful thing that has ever been found in Egypt.”
Outside, darkness fell. The workers and any remaining spectators had finally left for home. Inside the antechamber, Carter’s group continued to revel in discovery after discovery.
But Carter was still not satisfied. A great mystery remained unsolved. He probed the walls, searching for signs of other chambers.
At one point he came upon a tiny hole and pointed his flashlight through the opening. On the other side lay a very small room, also overflowing with treasure.
There was no sign of a mummy, so Carter resisted the urge to tear down the doorway.
He continued searching, running his hands along the smooth walls, looking for signs of a concealed opening. At last, he found one! On the far right wall, two statues loomed on either side of yet another sealed doorway.
The statues were apparently sentinels, standing guard over the opening, as they had for centuries. “We were but on the threshold of discovery,” he would write, still trying to wrap his mind around the stunning evidence. “Behind the guarded door there would be other chambers, possibly a succession of them, and in one of them, beyond a shadow of a doubt, in all his magnificent panoply of death, we shall see the pharaoh lying.”
Once again, Carter was faced with the dilemma of whether or not to wait before making a hole in the wall.
Once again, Carter chose to ignore the possible political consequences and see what was on the other side. He only hoped his decision wouldn’t prove disastrous at some future time.
But of course, it would.