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.
Howard Carter‘s excavations of Tutankhamun’s tomb (or “King Tut” as the ancient boy Pharaoh is 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.
Public History of Howard Carter
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.
In the following years, Carter worked on several different excavations, and became known for his practical abilities and attention to detail. In 1899, he took a position as one of two Chief Inspectors with the Egyptian Antiquities Service. As such, he was responsible for overseeing the Service‘s excavations, and inspecting those of foreign archaeologists as well. In 1905, Howard left this position after an incident with several drunken French tourists. Accounts of the incident vary wildly, but Carter‘s story was that the tourists forced entry into a tomb at Saqqara without paying, and roughed up some of Carter‘s Egyptian employees after being refused candles to see inside. Carter authorized, and some say even assisted, the Egyptians use of fisticuffs to defend themselves. The French filed an official complaint and demanded an apology from Carter. When Carter refused, his dismissal became inevitable, and he resigned.
This turn of events would eventually prove to be a stroke of luck for Carter. While he had a couple of hard years, in 1907 he met the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert — more simply known as Lord Carnarvon. Carnarvon was an avid collector of Egyptian antiquities, and fancied himself a gentleman Egyptologist. Impressed with Carter’s abilities, he agreed to finance Carter‘s excavations in the Valley of the Kings, near Thebes.
Working with American lawyer Theodore Davis, Carter found a pit filled with linens and other embalming materials marked with the seal of Tutankhamun. Previously, Davis had found an exquisite cup with Tut‘s name on it, and a funerary cache that had apparently been moved from Armarna and sealed by the Pharaoh. While Davis disregarded this evidence, Carter became convinced that this previously unknown pharaoh was buried in the valley.
Carter started a series of diggings for the tomb in 1914. Eight years later, after the 1921 digging season, Lord Carnarvon informed Carter that he would no longer provide funding for the excavations. Carter pleaded for one more season, agreeing that if nothing turned up he would pay for it himself, and Carnarvon reluctantly agreed.
Persistent and methodical, Carter picked up where he left off, below the tomb of Ramses VI. After only five days, on November 4, 1922, he found the top of a staircase that would descend into the tomb he sought, hidden under some ancient workmen’s huts for 3,000 years. It took only 22 days to enter the first chamber, but it would take nearly nine years to fully excavate the tomb.
Lord Carnarvon was there the day Carter peered into the tomb for the first time and he asked Carter a single question: Carnarvon asked, “Can you see anything?” Carter‘s reply, “Yes, wonderful things.”
Barely five months after the tomb‘s discovery, Lord Carnarvon died of pneumonia.
The tomb would prove to be the best preserved royal burial chambers ever to be unearthed, having only been broken into twice centuries earlier, with the thieves being unable to penetrate beyond the first chamber. Many of the wonderful artifacts associated with ancient Egypt to this day were discovered inside. These discoveries included the Pharaoh’s mummy and his now-famous opulent golden burial mask.
During the 1924 off-season, Carter gave a series of lectures, beginning in New York City. For over two months, he traveled throughout the United States and Canada, speaking to sold-out crowds about his discoveries. Soon thereafter, fed by the sensational press covering his discoveries, “Egyptomania” would sweep the globe, with the world becoming absolutely fascinated with anything and everything to do with ancient Egypt. This fascination continued through the 30’s, inspiring the 1932 film “The Mummy” (starring Boris Karloff), and innumerable stories in the “pulp” novels and magazines of the pre-war period. This fascination with ancient Egypt continues to this day.
After completing the excavation of the tomb in 1931, Carter retired to follow in Lord Carnarvon‘s footsteps as a successful collector of Egyptian antiquities. He ended up with several items from Tut’s tomb, though it was never clear if he obtained these in violation of his excavation permit, from the open market, or from Carnarvon‘s collection.
In his later years, Carter spent a lot of time in the Winter Palace Hotel in Luxor. People would say that he whiled away the days, sitting on the hotel veranda, staring in the direction of Tut’s tomb, totally lost in thought. Carter was never a healthy man, and in the late 1930‘s, illness forced him to return to Kensington, requiring the full-time care of a nurse. On March 2nd, 1939, at the age of 64, he died from lymphoma. His funeral was small, attended by fewer than 30 people.
The Secret History of Carter and Lord Carnavon
In the world of Hollow Earth Expedition, the group known as the Terra Arcanum has worked for thousands of years to protect and keep secret the mysteries of the Hollow Earth. Their con￼spiracies crossed Carter‘s path early in his career. The group was funding and operating its own digs in Egypt. Their motivations ranged from finding and selling antiquities from their digs to fund other operations to recovering lost secrets related to the Hollow Earth before they might be exposed to the world. Their efforts were thwarted repeatedly by the probing questions of Howard Carter, the Chief Inspector of the Egyptian Antiquities Service. Carter was stubborn and inquisitive, and his refusal to be satisfied with vague answers from the Terra Arcanum’s field operatives often led him to more deeply investigate their efforts, causing interminable delays and other problems for Terra Arcanum.
Carnarvon, a highly placed Overseer within Terra Arcanum, was responsible for much of the Egyptian activity conducted by the London Chapter House. Carnarvon was instructed to address the situation. Instead of simply having Cart3er killed, Carnavon knew that the man‘s stubbornness could be his downfall. Carnavon alsorealized that Carter’s talents could likely be turned to serve the Terra Arcanum’s own excavation efforts. Carnarvon arranged the French tourist incident in Saqqara in order to have Carter dismissed, and thereby remove him as a threat. He let Carter suffer a couple of lean years before recruiting him to work on Terra Arcanum projects, as well as finance Carter’s own research.
When Carter uncovered the first evidence of Tutankhamun‘s tomb, Carnarvon was dismissive because Tut was virtually unknown, with no mention within the voluminous and comprehensive records of the Terra Arcanum records. However, Theodore Davis, an Overseer working for the Paris Chapter House, became convinced himself of Tut‘s reality, finding evidence that the discovery of Tut’s might be very dangerous to the Terra Arcanum’s mission. Davis was unable to stop Carter’s search for Tut‘s tomb before his own death at the age of 78 in 1915.
During the long years searching for the tomb, Carter discovered that Carnarvon himself had mysterious backers, quickly deducing the Terra Arcanum‘s existence. Long a believer in ancient secrets himself, it was an easy task for the London Chapter House of the Terra Arcanum to recuit Carter, and he was initiated as an Overseer in 1920. When Carter found Tut‘s tomb in 1922, some of the Secret Masters saw credence in Davis‘ theory and tried to shut the operation down. Davis‘ replacement poisoned Carnarvon and spread rumors of a curse — Terra Arcanum was no stranger to internal conflicts that often ended in the death of a rival.
Carter, while saddened by the loss of his friend, refused to give up the excavation. He convinced the Grand Master in London to continue the operation, promising to deliver whatever secrets were found to the Grand Master. The Grand Master agreed, seeing a way to potentially increase his own power, while diminishing that of his rival, the Grand Master in Paris. Carter’s excavations did, in fact, reveal one great secret, the evidence of which Carter quietly passed to London — the Mystery of the Aten.
The Mystery of the Aten
The power wrangling and control of Terra Arcanum is not a recent development — their conspiracies go back well over 3,000 years, when the Hollow Earth still existed in legends and the Terra Arcanum struggled to control the Pharaohs of Egypt through the priesthood of Karnak.
During the 18th Dynasty, a religious revolution started by two successive Pharoahs, both enlightened and headstrong, briefly wrested control of Egypt from the Secret Masters. In the aftermath, evidence of this event was buried in the tomb of an 18 year-old Pharaoh, and his memory almost completely purged from history.
In 1380 BC, Amenhotep III reintroduced an obscure sun god to Egypt, the Aten. It was his son, Amenhotep IV, who brought the Aten to prominence. Amenhotep IV renamed himself Akhenaten (Servant of Aten), and moved the capital of Egypt from Thebes to the city now known as Armarna. He declared the Aten as the one true god, and forbade worship of all others. He even attempted to purge the names of the old gods from temples all along the Nile.
This religious revolution, along the movement of the capital, greatly reduced the influence and power of the priesthood at Karnak, thus increasing the power of the Pharaoh. Akhenaten also took the incredible step of sharing power with his first wife, Nefertiti, brilliant and powerful in her own right.
Akhenaten and Nefertiti ruled in Armarna for 20 years. Obsessed with evangelizing their new religion, near constant plague and internal unrest weakened Egypt until Akhenaten died. A mysterious and obscure figure, Smenkhkare, reigned as regent less than a year before Akhenaten’s son, the nine-year-old Tutankhaten, took power. Tutankhaten quickly abandoned the religion and city of his father, renaming himself Tutankhamun, and restoring the worship of the old gods. This restored the power of the priesthood, bringing the old order back to Egypt. His reign would be brief, however, with his life cut short at the age of 18. Tutankhamun was all but forgotten until his tomb was rediscovered in the 20th Century by Howard Carter.
The Secret History of Imhotep and the Hollow Earth
More than a millennia earlier, Terra Arcanum records indicate that around 2600 BC Imhotep, high priest and architect of the Pyramids, discovered the Hollow Earth. Imhotep traveled into the Hollow Earth, seeking wisdom that he believed would save Egypt from internal strife and discontent. Upon his return to the surface world, Imhotep realized the danger of the power that he uncovered, and soon found himself recruited and indoctrinated within the Terra Arcanum. With the Terra Arcanum’s backing, he initiated the largest building projects conceived since those of the Atlanteans themselves. Imhotep quickly rose to the Inner Circle, and from that point the Terra Arcanum would use the priesthood to exert control over Egypt and its powerful Pharaohs.
This state of affairs continued for over 1,000 years until Amenhotep III, Tutankhamun’s grandfather, discov- ered a secret cache of Imhotep‘s records that had not been destroyed. Although a brilliant scholar, Amenhotep misunderstood Imhotep‘s reference to a great power in the sky (i.e. the Hollow Earth‘s sun) and began worshipping the sun as “the Aten,” albeit in a minor way. After his death, his son renamed himself Akhenaten, taking the worship of the Aten to the next level.
When the Terra Arcanum, through the priests of Karnak, tried to stop the new religion, Akhenaten began to suspect that there was a greater conspiracy at work. He moved the capital and tried to strip them of power. Additionally, he started expeditions to find the lost Temple of the Aten, as described by Imhotep.
The priests fought back. They spread a plague in Armarna and eventually assassinated Akhenaten. Intimidated by the priests’ powers and fearing for her life and that of her step-son Tutankhaten, Nefertiti disguised herself and took the throne as regent, using the name Smenkhkare. In accord with the will of the priests, “Smenkhkare” began the de-Atenization of Eqypt, which continued under Tutankhamun, restoring the traditional gods to Egypt.
Tutankhamun ruled just long enough to ensure a return to the old ways, before dying of mysterious causes. The last evidence of the conspiracy to depose Akhenaten was entombed with Tut, ￼and over time, the priests worked to erase any evidence of the young king‘s existence. The tomb was discovered by thieves twice and resealed both times. The priests who served Terra Arcanum were concerned that if the tomb were looted its secret would be revealed, so 170 years after Tut‘s death, the priests started construction of Ramses VI‘s tomb, on top of Tut‘s. This act obliterated any evidence that Tut‘s tomb existed. Eventually even the Terra Arcanum would forget what happened, just as the Secret Masters wished… However, they did not foresee that they would set the stage for another crisis that could unravel centuries of their conspiracies when, in 1922, Howard Carter unsealed the inner chambers of Tutankhamun’s tomb.
Considered by many to be the most beautiful woman who ever lived, Nefertiti was a powerhouse in her day. She ruled next to Akhenaten as co-regent and was instrumental in the new religion they tried to introduce. She may also have been the Pharaoh Smenkhkare who ruled after Akhenaten.
Her mummy has never conclusively been identified, so perhaps she followed the Aten to the Hollow Earth where she reigns again, thousands of years older.
Seeding Your Story
Sickly and slowly dying of lymphoma, Howard Carter contacts the PCs, seeking their help. He has had a profound change of heart about preserving the secrets he kept, and he now believes that the truth of the Hollow Earth might inspire humanity to avert the coming world war. He wants to send the PCs to recover scrolls and other evidence he has hidden, and then deliver them to an agent of the Brotherhood of Man (see Secrets of the Surface World, p.53). Carter is in London, the artifacts are in another city, and the Brotherhood agent is in a third, so this is an excellent adventure to showcase the various cities of Europe and the Middle East in 1936, as described in SotSW.
Henry Herbert, the 6th Earl of Carnarvon, has uncovered evidence that his father did not die of pneumonia as was reported. Suspecting foul play, the 6th Earl hires the PCs to find out who is responsible for his father’s death. Howard Carter may or may not be involved, but he is definitely the first stop in their search for clues.
The PCs stumble upon Nefertiti in an Atlantean temple in the Hollow Earth, still amazingly alive and vibrant after all this time. Upon learning that her stepson‘s tomb has been discovered, she offers a huge reward if his body is returned to her along with those responsible for disturbing him. If the ill Howard Carter is brought to Hollow Earth, Nefertiti comes to love him and heals his lymphoma. They live long and happy lives learning from one another. Alternatively, in her long exile, spent in deep contemplation of Atlantean secrets, the PCs arrival stirs her to return to the surface world… as a conqueror!
Howard Carter in 1936
|[1922 stats in brackets]|
|Mentor 3 [Ally 3]|
|Archetype: Academic||Motivation: Truth [Mysteries]|
|Style: 0||Health: 5|
|Body: 1||Charisma: 1|
|Dexterity: 2||Intelligence: 4|
|Strength: 1 ||Willpower: 4|
|Size: 0||Initiative: 6|
|Move: 3 ||Defense: 3|
|Perception: 8||Stun: 4|
|Rank 2 (Terra Arcanum, +4 social, bonus resource) [Mentor 3 (Lord Carnarvon, Terra Arcanum)]|
Nefertiti in the Hollow Earth 1936
|Archetype: Queen||Motivation: Mysteries|
|Style: 0||Health: 8|
|Body: 2||Charisma: 6|
|Dexterity: 3||Intelligence: 5|
|Strength: 1||Willpower: 6|
|Size: 0||Initiative: 8|
|Move: 4||Defense: 5|
|Perception: 11||Stun: 2|
|Charisma, Bold Defense, Atlantean Blood, Atlantean Language,Atlantean Power Words, and Atlantean Commands.|
|Rank 5 (Powerful Queen)|