4 November 1922: Discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb

Tutankhamun's tomb © Getty Images
Carter and Lord Carnarvon at the entrance to the tomb

Egypt’s Valley of the Kings is a barren, arid place, near the west bank of the Nile. For 500 years, Egypt’s rulers were interred there, surrounded by inscriptions of Egyptian mythology, and priceless artefacts to help them in the afterlife.

But if they thought they would be left alone, they had another think coming. Over the years, virtually all the tombs had been robbed, and the treasures lost.

But archaeologist Howard Carter, who had previously worked as Director of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, was convinced there was one tomb that had yet to be found – the tomb of Tutankhamun, who lived in the 14-century BC (but not for very long – he died aged 19).

Carter was working for George Herbert, AKA Lord Carnarvon, an amateur Egyptologist. But after spending seven years searching, he wasn’t coming up with the goods. So on 1 November, Herbert gave Carter an ultimatum – this would be the last year he would finance his digs.

Three days later, Carter came up trumps. He discovered the top of the stairway to the lost tomb, undisturbed for over 3,000 years. He quickly sealed it back up and cabled his sponsor: “At last have made wonderful discovery in Valley; a magnificent tomb with seals intact; re-covered same for your arrival; congratulations.”

It was not until 16 February 1923, however, that the burial chamber was opened.

It was one of the most spectacular archaeological finds ever. The coffin, made of solid gold, weighed 110 kg. At today’s prices, that’s about £2.8m-worth of gold. The tomb contained thousands of other objects, many covered in gold, including jewellery and weapons. It took until 1932 for everything to be cleared and categorised.

The treasures became world famous, and embarked on a world tour in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, and again after the turn of the millennium. They returned to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo in 2011.