On February 16, 1923, English archaeologist and Egyptologist Howard Carter opened the door to King Tutankhamun’s tomb, unleashing Egyptomania and, possibly, a curse.
Carter, who started out as an artist and moved on to archaeology in the late 19th century, was employed by Lord Carnarvon, an enthusiastic amateur Egyptologist, to oversee the excavations Carnarvon was financing in the Valley of the Kings. The excavations turned up little and went on for years, and finally in 1922, Carnarvon issued an ultimatum: Carter had one more season to find an unmolested tomb, and then Carnarvon was withdrawing his financial support. Fortuitously, Carter discovered the steps leading to Tutankhamun’s tomb in November 1922.
Carter immediately notified Carnarvon, who arrived on November 26, along with his daughter and some friends. Carter made a small hole in the door leading to the tomb and was able to peer inside and see that all the treasures the young king had been buried with were still intact. The antechamber was opened shortly after, and the next few months were spent cataloging the contents. In February, Carter and his team finally opened the burial chamber itself and were the first people in more than 2,000 years to see Tutankhamun’s sarcophagus.
The world press made much of the discovery, and Carter was able to retire afterward and make his living giving illustrated lectures in the United States. He died in 1939 at the age of 64. One other was less lucky: Carnarvon died of blood poisoning a mere six weeks after the opening of the tomb, giving rise to speculation that there was a curse on the tomb. Although scientists have found that molds and fungi, not to mention noxious fumes, can build up in an enclosed space (like a tomb) over time, it’s unlikely they’ve actually killed anyone, or that any such curse exists. A far more lasting result of the discovery are the artifacts themselves, the most traveled artifacts in the world, which continue to tour and introduce new audiences to the treasures of ancient Egypt.