Though several of the foremost excavators over the past century had declared there was nothing left to find in the Valley of the Kings, Howard Carter and his sponsor, Lord Carnarvon, spent a number of years and a lot of money searching for a tomb they weren't sure existed. In November 1922, they found it. Carter had discovered not just an unknown ancient Egyptian tomb, but one that had lain nearly undisturbed for over 3,000 years. What lay within astounded the world.
The Long Search
Howard Carter had worked in Egypt for 31 years before he found King Tut's tomb. Carter had begun his career in Egypt at age 17, using his artistic talents to copy wall scenes and inscriptions. Only eight years later (in 1899), Carter was appointed the Inspector-General of Monuments in Upper Egypt. In 1905, Carter resigned from this job and in 1907, Carter went to work for Lord Carnarvon.
George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert, the fifth Earl of Carnarvon, loved to race around in the newly invented automobile. Enjoying the speed his automobile afforded, Lord Carnarvon had an auto accident in 1901 which left him in ill health. Vulnerable to the damp English winter, Lord Carnarvon began spending winters in Egypt in 1903 and to pass the time, took up archaeology as a hobby. Turning up nothing but a mummified cat (still in its coffin) his first season, Lord Carnarvon decided to hire someone knowledgeable for the succeeding seasons. For this, he hired Howard Carter.
After several relatively successful seasons working together, World War I brought a near halt to their work in Egypt. Yet, by the fall of 1917, Carter and his sponsor, Lord Carnarvon, began excavating in earnest in the Valley of the Kings.
Carter stated that there were several pieces of evidence - a faience cup, a piece of gold foil, and a cache of funerary items which all bore the name of Tutankhamun - already found that convinced him that the tomb of King Tut had not yet been found.1 Carter also believed that the locations of these items pointed to a specific area where they might find King Tutankhamun's tomb. Carter was determined to systematically search this area by excavating down to the bedrock.
Besides some ancient workmen's huts at the foot of the tomb of Rameses VI and 13 calcite jars at the entrance to the tomb of Merenptah, Carter did not have much to show after five years of excavating in the Valley of the Kings. Thus, Lord Carnarvon made the decision to stop the search. After a discussion with Carter, Carnarvon relented and agreed to one last season.
By November 1, 1922, Carter began his final season working in the Valley of the Kings by having his workers expose the workmen's huts at the base of the tomb of Rameses VI. After exposing and documenting the huts, Carter and his workmen began to excavate the ground beneath them.
By the fourth day of work, they had found something - a step that had been cut into the rock.
Work feverishly continued on the afternoon of November 4th through the following morning. By late afternoon on November 5th, 12 stairs (leading downwards) were revealed; and in front of them, stood the upper portion of a blocked entrance. Carter searched the plastered door for a name but of the seals that could be read, he found only the impressions of the royal necropolis. Carter was extremely excited:
The design was certainly of the Eighteenth Dynasty. Could it be the tomb of a noble buried here by royal consent? Was it a royal cache, a hiding-place to which a mummy and its equipment had been removed for safety? Or was it actually the tomb of the king for whom I had spent so many years in search?2
To protect the find, Carter had his workmen fill in the stairs, covering them so that none were showing. While several of Carter's most trusted workmen stood guard, Carter left to make preparations. The first of which was contacting Lord Carnarvon in England to share the news of the find. On November 6th, two days after finding the first step, Carter sent a cable: "At last have made wonderful discovery in Valley; a magnificent tomb with seals intact; re-covered same for your arrival; congratulations."3
It was nearly three weeks after finding the first step that Carter was able to proceed. On November 23rd, Lord Carnarvon and his daughter, Lady Evelyn Herbert, arrived in Luxor. The following day, the workers had again cleared the staircase, now exposing all 16 of its steps and the full face of the sealed doorway. Now Carter found what he could not see before, since the bottom of the doorway had still been covered with rubble - there were several seals on the bottom of the door with Tutankhamun's name on them.
Now that the door was fully exposed, they also noticed that the upper left of the doorway had been broken through, presumably by tomb robbers, and resealed. The tomb was not intact; yet the fact that the tomb had been resealed showed that the tomb had not been emptied.