This was an article I wrote back in 2008 for the premier issue of Danger Magnet magazine. Last week was Howard Carter’s 138th birthday and an exciting new Egypt Exhibit is coming to the Boston Science Museum later this month. So the subject article has been on my mind. Enjoy.
“Can you see anything?” Lord Carnarvon asked.
“Yes, wonderful things!”
Howard Carter‘s excavations of Tutankhamun’s tomb (or “King Tut” as the ancient boy Pharaoh was known in popular culture) appear to have been a straightforward and routine exercise in research, patience, and persistence. While the discovery process may have been dull, the discoveries themselves were anything but. Carter spent nearly a quarter of a century searching for and excavating the tomb that changed the world’s understanding of ancient Egypt forever. The road he traveled to the discovery, that would make his name famous, was long and challenging, to say the very least.
In 1874, Queen Victoria sat on the throne of Great Britain, the most influential and powerful nation in the world. That same year, Howard Carter was born in Kensington, near London. A year later, Britain purchased Egypt‘s share in the Suez Canal, and in 1882, Egypt was made a protectorate of the British Empire. The ancient land was all but absorbed as sovereign territory firmly under the control of the British Crown.
Early in his childhood, Carter was moved away from the disease and congestion of London to Swaffham, a small market town in the county of Norfolk, where he was raised by his two maiden aunts. As he grew up, Howard demonstrated great talent as an artist. He was trained by his father, a respected painter of the time.
Carter’s aspirations lay elsewhere, and his career in archaeology began when he was only seventeen. At that young age he traveled to Egypt to work on the excavations of several tombs at Beni Hasan. He recorded the inscriptions and paintings in the tombs by hanging tracing paper over them and copying them. He often lamented that this method produced poor results and wished that he could work freehand, but ultimately did as he was told.