Howard Carter

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Howard Carter
Howard carter.jpg
Howard Carter
Born (1874-05-09)9 May 1874
Kensington, London
Died 2 March 1939(1939-03-02) (aged 64)
Kensington, London
Nationality British
Fields Archaeologist and Egyptologist
Known for Discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun

Howard Carter (9 May 1874 – 2 March 1939) was an English archaeologist and Egyptologist who became world famous after discovering the intact tomb of 14th-century BC pharaoh Tutankhamun (colloquially known as "King Tut" and "the boy king").

Early life[edit]

Howard Carter was born in London, the son of Samuel Carter, an artist, and of Martha Joyce Carter. His father trained and developed Howard's artistic talents.

Howard Carter spent much of his childhood with relatives in the Norfolk market town of Swaffham, the birthplace of both his parents.[1][2] In 1891 the Egypt Exploration Fund (EEF) sent Carter to assist Percy Newberry in the excavation and recording of Middle Kingdom tombs at Beni Hasan.

Although only 17, Carter was innovative in improving the methods of copying tomb decoration. In 1892 he worked under the tutelage of Flinders Petrie for one season at Amarna, the capital founded by the pharaoh Akhenaten. From 1894 to 1899 he worked with Édouard Naville at Deir el-Bahari, where he recorded the wall reliefs in the temple of Hatshepsut.

In 1899, Carter was appointed as the first chief inspector of the Egyptian Antiquities Service (EAS). He supervised a number of excavations at Thebes (now known as Luxor). In 1904 he was transferred to the Inspectorate of Lower Egypt. Carter was praised for his improvements in the protection of, and accessibility to, existing excavation sites,[3] and his development of a grid-block system for searching for tombs. The Antiquities Service also provided funding for Carter to head up his own excavation projects, and during this time period Carter discovered the Tombs of Thutmose I and Thutmose III, although both tombs had been robbed of treasures long before.[4]

Carter resigned from the Antiquities Service in 1905 after formal inquiry into what became known as the Saqqara Affair, a noisy confrontation between Egyptian site guards and a group of French tourists. Carter sided with the Egyptian personnel.[5]

Tutankhamun's tomb[edit]

Tomb of Tutankhamun

After three hard years for Carter, in 1907 Lord Carnarvon employed Carter to supervise Carnarvon's Egyptian excavations in the Valley of the Kings.[6] The intention of Gaston Maspero, who introduced the two, was to ensure that Howard Carter imposed modern archaeological methods and systems of recording.[7][8]

Carnarvon financed Carter's work in the Valley of the Kings to 1914, but until 1917 excavations and study were interrupted by World War I. Following the end of World War I Carter aggressively resumed his work.

After several years of finding little, Lord Carnarvon (Carter's benefactor) became dissatisfied with his lack of results. In 1922 Carnarvon informed Carter he had more season of funding to search the Valley of the Kings and find the tomb.[9]

On November 4, 1922, Howard Carter's excavation group found steps Carter hoped led to Tutankhamun's tomb (subsequently designated KV62) (the tomb that would be considered the best preserved and most intact pharaonic tomb ever found in the Valley of the Kings).

He wired Lord Carnarvon to come, and on 26 November 1922, with Carnarvon, Carnarvon's daughter, and others in attendance, Carter made the "tiny breach in the top left hand corner" of the doorway, and was able to peer in by the light of a candle and see that many of the gold and ebony treasures were still in place. He made the breach into the tomb with a chisel his grandmother had given him for his seventeenth birthday. He did not yet know at that point whether it was "a tomb or merely a cache", but he did see a promising sealed doorway between two sentinel statues. When Carnarvon asked "can you see anything?", Carter replied with the famous words: "Yes, wonderful things."[10]

Carter's house in the Theban Necropolis

The next several months were spent cataloging the contents of the antechamber under the "often stressful" oversight of Pierre Lacau, director general of the Department of Antiquities of Egypt.[11] On 16 February 1923, Carter opened the sealed doorway, and found that it did indeed lead to a burial chamber, and he got his first glimpse of the sarcophagus of Tutankhamun. All of these discoveries were eagerly covered by the world's press, but most of their representatives were kept in their hotels; only H. V. Morton was allowed on the scene, and his vivid descriptions helped to cement Carter's reputation with the British public.

Carter's own notes and photographic evidence, indicate that he, Lord Carnarvon and Lady Evelyn Herbert entered the burial chamber shortly after the tomb's discovery and before the official opening.[12]

Later work and death[edit]

The Grave of Howard Carter

The clearance of the tomb with its thousands of objects continued until 1932. Following his sensational discovery, Howard Carter retired from archaeology and became a part-time agent for collectors and museums, including the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Detroit Institute of Arts. He visited the United States in 1924, and gave a series of illustrated lectures in New York City and other cities in the United States that were attended by very large and enthusiastic audiences, sparking Egyptomania in America.

He died of lymphoma in Kensington, London, on 2 March 1939 at the age of 64.[13] The archaeologist's natural death so long after the opening of the tomb, despite being the leader of the expedition, is the piece of evidence most commonly put forward by sceptics to refute the idea of a "curse of the pharaohs" plaguing the party that might have "violated" Tutankhamun's tomb.

Carter is now buried in Putney Vale Cemetery in London.[14] On his gravestone is written: "May your spirit live, May you spend millions of years, You who love Thebes, Sitting with your face to the north wind, Your eyes beholding happiness"[15] and "O night, spread thy wings over me as the imperishable stars".[16]

In popular culture[edit]

Film and television[edit]

Carter has been portrayed by the following actors:[17]


He appears as a character throughout most of the Amelia Peabody series of books by Elizabeth Peters (a pseudonym of Egyptologist Dr Barbara Mertz); and in much of Arthur Phillips's The Egyptologist.

In the book The Tutankhamun Affair by Christian Jacq he is a key character.[18]

He appears as a main character in A Cloudy Day on the West Side, a novel by Egyptian writer Muhammad Al-Mansi Qindeel.[19]

James Patterson and Martin Dugard's book The Murder of King Tut focuses on Carter's search for King Tut's tomb.

He is referenced in Hergé's The Adventures of Tintin, The Seven Crystal Balls published in 1944 by Le Soir. ISBN 2-203-00112-7

He is referenced in Wedding of the Season by Laura Lee Guhrke. In this historical romance novel, Carter's telegram to the fictional British Egyptologist the Duke of Sunderland reports discovering "steps to a new tomb" and creates a climatic conflict. Published 2011 by Avon Books. ISBN 978-0-06-196315-5[20]

He is referenced in Rick Riordan's The Kane Chronicles, The Red Pyramid. In this novel, Carter Kane said that his father, Julius Kane, had named him after Howard Carter.


In Search of the Pharaohs is a 30-minute cantata for narrator, junior choir and piano by composer Robert Steadman, commissioned by the City of London Freemen's School, which uses extracts from Carter's diaries as its text.[citation needed]

The Finnish metal band Nightwish mentions Carter in the song "Tutankhamun" on its début album Angels Fall First: "For Carter has come / To free my beloved".


A paraphrased extract from Howard Carter's diary of 26 November 1922 is used as the plaintext for Part 3 of the encrypted Kryptos sculpture at the CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia.[21]

On 9 May 2012 Google commemorated his 138th birthday with a Google doodle.[22]


  1. ^ Swaffham history Retrieved 12 November, 2013
  2. ^ Swaffham museum Retrieved 20 May 2012
  3. ^ Barbara Ford, Howard Carter, Searching for King Tut (Freeman & Company, 1995, ISBN 0-7167-6587), p. 19
  4. ^ Biography of Howard Carter
  5. ^ James, T. G. H. Howard Carter, I.B. Tauris Publishers, Revised edition 2006, ISBN 978-1845112585, chapter]
  6. ^ Winstone, H. V. F. (2006). Howard Carter and the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun (rev. ed.). Manchester: Barzan. ISBN 1-905521-04-9. 
  7. ^ David, Elisabeth (1999). Gaston Maspero 1846-1916: le gentleman égyptologue. Paris: Pygmalion; Gérard Watelet. ISBN 2-85704-565-4. 
  8. ^ James, T. G. H. (1992). Howard Carter: the path to Tutankhamun. London: Kegan Paul. ISBN 0-7103-0425-0. 
  9. ^ Carnarvon, Fiona (2011). Highclere Castle. Highclere Enterprises. p. 59. 
  10. ^ Lord Carnarvon's description, 10 December 1922, quoted in: Reeves, Nicholas; Taylor, John H. (1992). Howard Carter before Tutankhamun. London: British Museum. p. 141. ISBN 0-7141-0952-5. 
  11. ^ Wikipedia - French edition
  12. ^ Reeves, C. N. (1990). Valley of the Kings: the decline of a royal necropolis. London: Kegan Paul. p. 63. ISBN 0-7103-0368-8. 
  13. ^ "Howard Carter, 64, Egyptologist, Dies". The New York Times. 
  14. ^ "Putney Vale cemetery". Retrieved 2010-02-16. 
  15. ^ from the Wishing Cup of Tutankhamun
  16. ^ cf the prayer to the Goddess Nut found on the lids of New Kingdom coffins: "O my mother Nut, spread yourself over me, so that I may be placed among the imperishable stars and may never die." "Text From Egypt Centre Trail: Reflections Of Women In Ancient Egypt". 2001. Retrieved 2011-04-28. 
  17. ^ "Howard Carter (Character)". Retrieved 8 May 2008. 
  18. ^ The Tutankhamun Affair Retrieved 23 May 2009
  19. ^ Book reviews Retrieved 17 March 2010
  20. ^ Patterson, Dugard, James, Martin (2010). The Murder of King Tut. Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 978-0-446-53977-7. 
  21. ^ Redmond, J.; Ensor, D. (19 June 2005). "Cracking the code: Mysterious 'Kryptos' sculpture challenges CIA employees". CNN. 
  22. ^ Howard Carter Google Doodle

Further reading[edit]

  • Carnarvon, Fiona; Carnarvon & Carter — The story of the two Englishmen who discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun. Highclere Enterprises, 2007
  • James, T. G. H. Howard Carter: The Path to Tutankhamun. London: Kegan Paul, 1992 (ISBN 0-7103-0425-0); London: Tauris
  • Paine, Michael; "Cities of the Dead"; fiction (Howard Carter as narrator); copyright by John Curlovich; Charter Books Publishing, 1988 (ISBN 1-55773-009-1)

Parke, 2001 (rev. paperback ISBN 1-86064-615-8)

  • Peck, William H. "The Discoverer of the Tomb of Tutankhamun and the Detroit Institute of Arts". Journal of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities. Vol. XI, No. 2, March, 1981, pp. 65–67
  • Reeves, Nicholas; Taylor, John H. Howard Carter before Tutankhamun. London: British Museum, 1992 (ISBN 0-7141-0952-5); New York: H. N. Abrams, 1993
  • Vandenberg, Philipp. Der vergessene Pharao: Unternehmen Tut-ench-Amun, grösste Abenteuer der Archäologie. Orbis, 1978 (ISBN 3570031195); translated as The Forgotten Pharaoh: The Discovery of Tutankhamun. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1980 (ISBN 0340246642)
  • Winstone, H. V. F. Howard Carter and the Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamun. Rev. edn. Manchester: Barzan Publishing, 2006 (ISBN 1-905521-04-9)

External links[edit]