Revisiting the discovery of Tutankhamun's Tomb in Colour

The discovery of Tutankhamun’s Tomb has enthralled the world for generations, enabling the viewer to witness the ‘Wonderful Things’ that Howard Carter stumbled upon in 1922

On the opposite side of the Nile River in the lobby of the historic Winter Palace Hotel Howard Carter posted the first public notice of the discovery by him and his patron Lord Carnarvon of the almost intact tomb of the young Pharaoh Tutankhamun. Carter and his patron had been associated for many years and had finally received the Egyptian government’s permission to excavate in the world-famous Valley of the Kings.

Herbert George Edward Stanhope Molyneux, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, reading on the verandah of ‘Castle Carter’, Carter’s house at Elwat el-Dibbân on the Theban West Bank. | Burton photograph kv93 © Griffith Institute, the University of Oxford, colorized by Dynamichrome

Theodore Davis who had previously held the permit discovered many generally ransacked tombs in the valley and confidently declared upon turning in his permit there was nothing left to find after six years of fruitless excavation. A water boy working under Carter stumbled upon a set of steps in the very heart of the valley that led to an underground sealed doorway. Carter immediately sent a telegram to Lord Carnarvon who was in England at the time informing him that he had discovered an intact tomb. Carnarvon rushed to Egypt and on making a breach in the tomb’s doorway. Excavation and clearance at the site proceeded deliberately with a team of experts that represented virtual who’s who in the field of Egyptology.

1923, Thebes | Standing outside tomb KV 6, of Ramesses IX, are (left to right) Arthur Callender, Arthur Mace, Harry Burton, Howard Carter, Alan Gardiner, and Alfred Lucas. | Photograph TAA.ii.6.59 (photographer not known) © Griffith Institute, University of Oxford, colorized by Dynamichrome

In an interview just after the discovery of the tomb, Alan Gardiner an English Egyptologist said, “Carter was a strange fellow in many ways but he had great gifts, he was little short of a genius in the practical mechanics of excavation and in the recording and preservation of fragile objects of antiquity.”

1923, Thebes | Tourists crowd around the entrance to the tomb to watch a large object, possibly a couch from the Antechamber, being removed from Tutankhamun’s tomb, on its way to the workroom (tomb KV 15, of Sethos II). | Photograph TAA ii.4.10 (photographer not known) © Griffith Institute, University of Oxford, colorized by Dynamichrome

In another interview with Howard Carter soon after the historic event, Carter said, “I suppose most excavators would confess to a feeling of awe – embarrassment almost – when they break into a chamber closed and sealed by pious hands so many centuries ago. Thirty-three centuries had passed since human feet last trod the floor on which we stood and yet the signs of recent life were around us a half-filled bowl of Mortar, a blackened lamp the chips of wood left on the floor by the careless carpenter.”

December 1922, Tutankhamun’s Tomb | Objects stacked under the lion couch (Carter no. 35) against the west wall of the Antechamber included an ivory and ebony chest (Carter no. 32), black ‘shrine-shaped boxes’ (Carter nos. 37 and 38) and a child’s chair made of ebony (Carter no. 39). | Burton photograph 0020 © Griffith Institute, the University of Oxford, colorized by Dynamichrome
October 1926, Tutankhamun’s Tomb | A line of chests down the center of the Treasury, ending with the canopic chest (Carter no. 266) which housed the king’s linen-wrapped stomach, intestines, liver and lungs in miniature gold coffins, inside an alabaster canopic box. | Burton photograph 1961© Griffith Institute, the University of Oxford, colourized by Dynamichrome
December 1922, Tutankhamun’s Tomb | View of the northern wall of the Antechamber showing the sentinel statues (Carter nos. 22 & 29) guarding the sealed doorway leading to the King’s Burial Chamber | Burton photograph 0007 © Griffith Institute, University of Oxford, colourized by Dynamichrome
October 1926, Tutankhamun’s Tomb | The Anubis shrine (Carter no. 261) on the threshold of the Treasury viewed from the Burial Chamber. The figure of Anubis was covered with a linen shirt inscribed with the cartouche of Akhenaten. | Burton photograph 1169 © Griffith Institute, University of Oxford, colourised by Dynamichrome
29th/30th October 1925, Tutankhamun’s Tomb | Carter and an Egyptian workman examine the third (innermost) coffin (Carter no. 255) made of solid gold, inside the case of the second coffin. (Carter no. 254). | Burton photograph 0770 © Griffith Institute, the University of Oxford, colourized by Dynamichrome
December 1923, Tutankhamun’s Tomb | Howard Carter (center), Arthur Callender, and two Egyptian workmen lifting one roof section from the first, outermost shrine (Carter no. 207). With its double sloping roof, the shape of this shrine resembles that of a ‘sed festival pavilion’; it was made of from twenty separate oak sections, held together by a variety of different joints. | Burton photograph 0605 © Griffith Institute, the University of Oxford, colourized by Dynamichrome
October 1925, Tutankhamun’s Tomb | Howard Carter working on the lid of the second (middle) coffin, still nestled within the case of the first (outermost) coffin in the Burial Chamber. | Burton photograph 0720-2 © Griffith Institute, the University of Oxford, colorized by Dynamichrome
October 1926, Tutankhamun’s Tomb | Three wooden chests (the middle one in the shape of a cartouche) on the floor of the Treasury (Carter nos. 267, 269 and 270). Amongst other items these contained earrings, sandals, and a wax model of a heron. | Burton photograph 1091 © Griffith Institute, the University of Oxford, colorized by Dynamichrome
4th January 1923, Tutankhamun’s Tomb | Howard Carter (kneeling), Arthur Callender, and an Egyptian workman in the Burial Chamber, looking through the open doors of the four gilded shrines towards the quartzite sarcophagus. | Burton photograph 0643 © Griffith Institute, the University of Oxford, colorized by Dynamichrome
29th November 1923, Tutankhamun’s Tomb | Howard Carter (on the left) working with his friend and colleague Arthur Callender on wrapping one of two sentinel statues of Tutankhamun (Carter no. 22) found in the Antechamber, before their removal to the ‘laboratory’ set up in the tomb of Sethos II (KV 15). These statues had been placed either side of the sealed entrance to the Burial Chamber. | Burton photograph 0491 © Griffith Institute, the University of Oxford, colorized by Dynamichrome
January 1924, Sethos II’s Tomb (‘laboratory’) | Arthur Mace (standing) and Alfred Lucas (sitting) working inside the makeshift ‘laboratory’ (set up in KV 15, the tomb of Sethos II) on the conservation of one of the two sentinel statues from the Antechamber (Carter no. 22). The statue shows the King wearing the nemes headdress, kilt, and sandals, and carrying a mace and a staff. | Burton photograph 0493 © Griffith Institute, the University of Oxford, colorized by Dynamichrome
2nd December 1923, Tutankhamun’s Tomb | Howard Carter (at the top of the stairs), Arthur Callender and Egyptian workmen removing the wall between the Antechamber and the Burial Chamber to enable the dismantling of the four golden shrines enclosing the sarcophagus. | Burton photograph 0509 © Griffith Institute, the University of Oxford, colorized by Dynamichrome
December 1922, Tutankhamun’s Tomb | Sealed alabaster ‘unguent’ vases (Carter nos. 57, 58, 60 and 61) between the cow-headed (Carter no. 73) and lion (Carter no. 35) couches against the west wall of the Antechamber. | Burton photograph 0010 © Griffith Institute, the University of Oxford, colorized by Dynamichrome
December 1923, Tutankhamun’s Tomb | The linen pall, decorated with bronze ‘rosettes’ (Carter no. 209) inside the walls of the first (outermost) golden shrine (Carter no. 207) in the northwest corner of the Burial Chamber. | Burton photograph 0616 © Griffith Institute, the University of Oxford, colorized by Dynamichrome

Alan Gardiner said further” He had found the outer chamber of what was almost certainly an intact tomb of the Pharaoh the first ever found but only after every precaution had been taken to preserve the objects from the tomb would he consider opening the second chamber.

The unbroken seal on King Tutankhamun’s tomb, 1922.
29th/30th October 1925, Tutankhamun’s Tomb | The gold mask (Carter no. 256a) in situ on the mummy of the King, still inside the third (innermost) solid gold coffin (Carter no. 255). | Burton photograph 0744 © Griffith Institute, University of Oxford, colourised by Dynamichrome
Winter 1926, Tutankhamun’s Tomb | Statuettes of Geb (Carter no. 299), Sakhmet (no. 300), Kebehsenuf, and Duamutef (no. 304) from inside black, wooden shrines found against the eastern wall of the Treasury. | Burton photograph 1665 © Griffith Institute, the University of Oxford, colorized by Dynamichrome
1923, Thebes, | Howard Carter accompanies the wooden portrait figure of Tutankhamun (the so-called mannequin, Carter no. 116, of uncertain purpose) on its way to the workroom (tomb KV 15, of Sethos II). Sitting on the wall on the left is Lord Carnarvon; behind him walks Arthur Weigall, a former Antiquities Service Inspector. | Photograph TAA ii.4.38 (photographer not known) © Griffith Institute, University of Oxford, colorized by Dynamichrome
1923, Thebes | Howard Carter escorting an ornamental gilt and inlaid casket (no. 44) to the workroom (tomb KV 15, of Sethos II). Carter thought the contents of this box had been ‘gathered hastily together after the robbery was discovered and thrown carelessly into the box’. They included pieces of gold openwork, two adzes, a glove, a faience collar, and a leopard skin robe. | Photograph TAA.ii.6.17 (photographer not known) © Griffith Institute, University of Oxford, colorized by Dynamichrome

Carter added, “I carefully cut the cord remove the precious field drew back the bolt and open the door none of us but felt the solemnity of the occasion in dead silence the huge lid weighing over a ton and a quarter was raised from its daylight shone into the sarcophagus but how disappointing the contents were completely covered by linen shrouds but as the last round was rolled back a gospel wonderment escaped our lips so gorgeous was the sight that met our eyes golden energy of the young king of magnificent workmanship fill the whole of the interior.”

Lord Carnarvon tragically did not live to see the final result of the discovery that was to make a household name as he died less than six months after his discovery from an infected insect bite finally almost all of the tomb’s contents were cataloged removed stabilized and sent to the Cairo Museum where they are currently on public display Tutankhamun unique among all of Egypt’s ancient kings still rests in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

(Photo credit: Harry Burton, The Griffith Institute, Oxford. Colorized by Dynamichrome for the exhibition “The Discovery of King Tut” in New York).

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