'I think therefore I am.'  Descartes            'I AM THAT I AM.'  Exodus.3.        'I am what I am.'  La Cage aux Folles

04 January 2011

Howard Carter

 Howard Carter was born on the 9th May 1874 in Kensington. He was a sickly child of humble origin. Carter was educated as an artist by his father. As a child, Carter spent many of his days in Norfolk and at the nearby mansion of the wealthy Amherst family, Didlington Hall, Carter was initially introduced to the splendour of Egypt through the collection of antiquities housed there. In about 1891 he met Percy Edward Newberry, who picked Carter to copy the art within the Egyptian tombs, so at the age of seventeen Carter left with Newberry for Egypt in October of 1891. After his arrival at Alexandria, Howard Carter began his first task at Beni Hassan. Carter was appalled at having to trace the art of the Middle Kingdom onto large sheets of transparent parchment. Though he frowned upon such methodology, Carter made certain that he excelled at these tedious tasks. In January of 1892, Carter was sent to learn field archaeology and excavation. He went from artist to excavator. Soon after, Carter was appointed as the main draughtsman and overseer at the site of Hatshepsut's temple at Deir-el-Bahri. Life for Carter continued to improve until, at the age of 25, he was offered the position of Inspector General of Monuments for Upper Egypt by the Director of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, Gaston Maspero. This was a most prominent position for Carter, as his duties included the oversight and regulation of all excavations in the Nile valley. In 1905, Carter's position as Inspector General came to end when a dispute between he and drunken French tourists erupted. His refusal to apologise which was considered to be politically expedient gave the stubborn Carter a reputation, and caused him to be posted to the Nile Delta town of Tanta, a place with very little archaeological involvement. He resigned his services and life became increasingly difficult, sustaining himself through selling his Egyptian paintings until about 1908, when he was introduced by Maspero to the Fifth Earl of Carnarvon. They took to one another immediately, as their personalities were complimentary and Carter undertook the supervision of Carnarvon's excavations. However he had a dream was to unearth Tutankhamun, the 18th dynasty boy king whose site of burial Carter believed still existed in a nearly complete state. Seasons of searching for Tutankhamun came and went.  Finally Carnarvon, having lost hope and much money, suggested that they discontinue the search for Tutankhamun. Carter would not give up, and offering to finance it himself he persuaded Carnarvon to hold out for one more season, beginning 1 Nov. 1922 (Carnarvon paid). Three days after the season began, Carter had discovered the first step to King Tutankhamen's tomb. Carnarvon arrived with his 21 year old daughter Lady Evelyn Herbert and the door was breached. Because of the late arrival by Carnarvon and the mandatory delicateness of the excavator's work, it took until 26 Nov. to finally reach the inner seals which had guarded the body of Tutankhamun. It took a decade for Carter to unearth and catalogue all the treasures! Before the conclusion of the excavation, Carter endured the death of Lord Carnarvon, the media's hype of the curse, and headaches caused by government officials and the antiquity department. Once the last object was sent to the Cairo museum and the excavation of Tutankhamun was closed, Carter retired.  When he could be found in Luxor, he avoided people and was "Sunk in gloom, talking to no one." Carter returned to England and, in the presence of his niece and care taker-Phyllis J. Walker-died of Cardiac Failure caused by Lymphadenoma on 2 March, 1939. A life of arrogance and stubbornness were the ingredients that led him to his great discoveries but he also alienated many, which led to a life of loneliness without honours from his peers or country.  

Sunday, November 5.  Discovered tomb under tomb of Ramses VI Investigated same & found seals intact.

It took the whole of the preceding day and most of this day to free this excavation before the upper margins of the staircase could be demarcated on its four sides. As first conjectured it proved to be an opening (about 4 ms x 1.60 ms) excavated in the bed-rock, with its W. end abutting against the rock slope of the small hillock in which Ramses VI had excavated his tomb. As the work proceeded we found that the western end of the cutting receded under the slope of the rock, and thus was partly roofed over by the overhanging rock. Towards sunset we had cleared down to the level of the 12th step, which was sufficient to expose a large part of the upper portion of a plastered and sealed doorway. Here before us was sufficient evidence to show that it really was an entrance to a tomb, and by the seals, to all outward appearances that it was intact. I examined this exposed portion of the sealed doorway and noticed that the only decipherable impressions of the seals were those of the well-known Royal Necropolis seal, i.e., Anubis (symbolizing a king) over nine foes. With the evidence of these seals, and the fact that the workmen's huts, which in all probabilities dated from the time of the construction of Ramses VI's tomb, were built over the mouth of the entrance of this newly discovered tomb without apparently disturbing it, it was clear that its content would be undisturbed at least since the XXth Dynasty. 

The seal-impressions suggested that it belonged to somebody of high standing but at that time I had not found any indications as to whom. I noticed at the top of the doorway, where some of the cement-like plaster had fallen away, a heavy wooden lintel. To assure myself of the method in which the doorway was blocked, I made a small hole under this wooden lintel - the R. hand corner, about 35 x 15 cms. in size. By this hole I was able to perceive with the aid of an electrical torch that a passage beyond was completely filled with stones and rubble up to its ceiling, which was again evidence of something that had required careful closing. It was a thrilling moment for an excavator, quite alone save his native staff of workmen, to suddenly find himself, after so many years of toilsome work, on the verge of what looked like a magnificent discovery - an untouched tomb. With certain reluctance I re-closed the small hole that I had made, and returned to another careful search among the seals to see if I could not find some indication that would point to the identity of the owner, but it was of no avail for the small space bared by my excavation did not expose any impression sufficiently clear to be made out, other than that of the Royal Necropolis seal already mentioned.
Though I was satisfied that I was on the verge of perhaps a magnificent find, probably one of the missing tombs that I had been seeking for many years, I was much puzzled by the smallness of the opening in comparison with those of other royal tombs in the valley. Its design was certainly of the XVIIIth Dyn. Could it be the tomb of a noble, buried there by royal consent? Or was it a royal cache? As far as my investigations had gone there was absolutely nothing to tell me. Had I known that by digging a few inches deeper I would have exposed seal impressions showing Tut.ankh.Amen's insignia distinctly I would have fervently worked on and set my mind at rest, but as it was, it was getting late, the night had fast set in, the full moon had risen high in the eastern heavens, I refilled the excavation for protection, and with my men selected for the occasion - they like myself delighted beyond all expectation - I returned home and cabled to Ld. C. (then in England) the following message:-

"At last have made wonderful discovery in Valley a magnificent tomb with seals intact recovered same for your arrival congratulations "

"Sunday, November 26.  Open second doorway about 2pm. Advised Engelbach.

After clearing nine metres of the descending passage, in about the middle of the afternoon, we came upon a second sealed doorway, which was almost the exact replica of the first. It bore similar seal impressions and had similar traces of successive re-openings and re-closings in the plastering. The seal impressions were of Tut.ankh.Amen and of the Royal Necropolis, but not in any way so clear as those on the first doorway. The entrance and passage both in plan and in style resembled almost to measurement the tomb containing the cache of Akhenaten discovered by Davis in the very near vicinity; which seemed to substantiate our first conjecture that we had found a cache.

Feverishly we cleared away the remaining last scraps of rubbish on the floor of the passage before the doorway, until we had only the clean sealed doorway before us. In which, after making preliminary notes, we made a tiny breach in the top left hand corner to see what was beyond. Darkness and the iron testing rod told us that there was empty space. Perhaps another descending staircase, in accordance to the ordinary royal Theban tomb plan? Or may be a chamber? Candles were procured - the all important tell-tale for foul gases when opening an ancient subterranean excavation - I widened the breach and by means of the candle looked in, while Ld. C., Lady E, and Callender with the Reises waited in anxious expectation.

It was sometime before one could see, the hot air escaping caused the candle to flicker, but as soon as one's eyes became accustomed to the glimmer of light the interior of the chamber gradually loomed before one, with its strange and wonderful medley of extraordinary and beautiful objects heaped upon one another.

There was naturally short suspense for those present who could not see, when Lord Carnarvon said to me `Can you see anything'. I replied to him Yes, it is wonderful. I then with precaution made the hole sufficiently large for both of us to see. With the light of an electric torch as well as an additional candle we looked in. Our sensations and astonishment are difficult to describe as the better light revealed to us the marvellous collection of treasures: two strange ebony-black effigies of a King, gold sandalled, bearing staff and mace, loomed out from the cloak of darkness; gilded couches in strange forms, lion-headed, Hathor-headed, and beast infernal; exquisitely painted, inlaid, and ornamental caskets; flowers; alabaster vases, some beautifully executed of lotus and papyrus device; strange black shrines with a gilded monster snake appearing from within; quite ordinary looking white chests; finely carved chairs; a golden inlaid throne; a heap of large curious white oviform boxes; beneath our very eyes, on the threshold, a lovely lotiform wishing-cup in translucent alabaster; stools of all shapes and design, of both common and rare materials; and, lastly a confusion of overturned parts of chariots glinting with gold, peering from amongst which was a manikin. The first impression of which suggested the property-room of an opera of a vanished civilization. Our sensations were bewildering and full of strange emotion. We questioned one another as to the meaning of it all. Was it a tomb or merely a cache? A sealed doorway between the two sentinel statues proved there was more beyond, and with the numerous cartouches bearing the name of Tutankhamun on most of the objects before us, there was little doubt that there behind was the grave of that Pharaoh.

We closed the hole, locked the wooden-grill which had been placed upon the first doorway, we mounted our donkeys and return home contemplating what we had seen. Advised the Chief Inspector of the Antiquities Department, who was with us at the commencement of the opening of the first doorway, and asked him to come as soon as possible, preferably the following afternoon to enable us to prepare an electrical installation for careful inspection of this extraordinary and pleasing discovery."  
    "Monday, November 27. Inspected tomb with electric light. Ibrahim Effendi came
Callender prepared the electrical installation for lighting the tomb. This was ready by noon, when Lord C., Lady E., Callender and self entered and made a careful inspection of this first chamber (afterwards called the Ante-chamber). In the course of the afternoon the local Inspector Ibrahim Effendi, of the Department of Antiquities at Luxor, came in the place of the Chief Inspector - he being absent on a visit to Kenya.
It soon became obvious that we were but on the threshold of the discovery. The sight that met us was beyond anything one could conceive. The heterogeneous mass of material crowded into the chamber without particular order, so crowded that you were obliged to move with anxious caution, for time had wrought certain havoc with many of the objects, was very bewildering. Everywhere we found traces of disorder caused by some early intruder, objects over-turned, broken fragments lying upon the floor, all added to the confusion, and the unfamiliar plan of tomb repeatedly caused us to ask ourselves in our perplexity whether it was really a tomb or a Royal Cache? As the better light fell upon the objects we endeavoured to take them in. It was impossible. They were so many. Beneath one of the couches, the Thoueris couch in the S.W. corner, we perceived an aperture in the rock-wall which proved to be nothing less than another sealed-doorway broken open as by some predatory hand. With care Ld. C. and I crept under this strange gilded couch, and we peered into the opening. There we saw that it led into yet another chamber (afterwards called the Annexe) of smaller dimensions than the Ante-chamber and of a lower level. Even greater confusion prevailed here, the very stones that blocked the entrance, forced in when the breach was made, were lying helter-skelter upon the objects on the floor crushed by their weight. It was full of one mass of furniture. An utter confusion of beds, chairs, boxes, alabaster and faience vases, statuettes, cases of peculiar form, and every sort of thing overturned and searched for valuables. The remaining portions of the plaster covering the blocking of this doorway bore similar seal-impressions as on the other doorways.

In neither of these two chambers could we see any traces of a mummy or mummies - the one pious reason for making a cache. With such evidence, as well as the sealed doorway between the two guardian statues of the King, the mystery gradually dawned upon us. We were but in the anterior portion of a tomb. Behind that closed doorway was the tomb-chamber, and that Tutankhamun probably lay there in all his magnificent panoply of death - we had found that monarch's burial place intact save certain metal-robbing, and not his cache. We then examined the plaster and seal-impressions upon the closed doorway. They were of many types of seals, all bearing the insignia of the King. We also discovered that in the bottom part of the blocking a small breach had once been made, large enough to allow of a small man to pass through, but it had been carefully reclosed, plastered and sealed. Evidently the tomb beyond had been entered - by thieves! Who knows? But sufficient evidence to tell that someone had made ingress.
The results of our investigations were, (1) it was clear the place was Pharaoh's tomb and not a mere cache; (2) that we had only entered the anterior chambers of the tomb, filled with magnificent equipment equal only to the wealth and splendour of the New Empire; (3) that we had found a royal burial little disturbed save hurried plundering at the hands of ancient tomb robbers. It was a sight surpassing all precedent, and one we never dreamed of seeing. We were astonished by the beauty and refinement of the art displayed by the objects surpassing all we could have imagined - the impression was overwhelming. "  

Amongst his many fine discoveries. Carter was also responsible for the electric lighting of the tombs with the considerate laying of underground cables.
Howard Carter is buried in Putney Vale Cemetery, London, England.

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