“Can you see anything,” asked British Lord Carnarvon as Howard Carter opened the tomb of Tutankhamun in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings in November 1922. “Yes,” replied Carter. “Wonderful things.”
Those unforgettable words were the first conversation that was had in November 1922 when British Egyptologist Howard Carter made the most significant archaeological discovery of the 20th century, the tomb of the golden boy king Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings at Luxor.
Last Friday, the world celebrated the 100th anniversary of the discovery of the tomb and Egypt was ready for the occasion.
To mark the event, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities organised a visit to the tomb in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, where the mummy of the golden boy king is displayed beneath a glass showcase.
The visit was led by former minister of antiquities and Egyptologist Zahi Hawass and Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) Mustafa Waziri. They were accompanied by a group of foreign ambassadors including from the UK, Italy, the EU, Chile, Denmark, Poland, Mexico, Croatia, and Singapore and the UN resident coordinator in Egypt, the Canadian cultural advisor, and media representatives, bloggers, and influencers.
The invitees were not the only people to visit the tomb, as tours were also organised.
The Tutankhamun artefacts, 5,398 pieces in all, most of which are made of gold, are stored at the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) in Cairo, which is being readied for its opening next year.
The old rest house used by Carter has also been renovated and turned into a museum. After Carter left the valley, the house, built in 1910, was abandoned. Now it has been turned into a beautiful museum to celebrate his work and is open to the public.
For just three nights a year the house will be open overnight to guests. This will be timed to coincide with the discovery in early November, when the house will be available for rent for $20,000 on 4 November and $10,000 for each of the following two days.
Serenity floods through the house, which displays tools that Carter used alongside some of the objects he discovered in the Valley of the Kings. Here are his desk, camera, coat hangers, and sofa. Black and white photographs show Carter busy at work, removing Tutankhamun’s funerary collection from the tomb and welcoming British, Egyptian and foreign dignitaries during the celebrations that marked its opening.
Pieces of English furniture illustrating a typical interior of the time are also on show, and a visitors’ centre attached to the house provides visitors with information about Carter.
As part of the exhibition, a presentation is provided at the museum to tell the story of Carter and his work up until the discovery of the boy king’s tomb, as well as the history of his financial sponsor Lord Carnarvon. One room of the house is set aside and contains a desk and other items behind a glass wall. An image of Carter is projected against the wall, and this talks to the audience for 20 minutes.
“This is a great way for people to learn the story of Carter’s life while at the same time taking a break from the hot sun outside,” Hawass told Al-Ahram Weekly. Other rooms in the house contain furniture and equipment used by Carter, along with descriptions of how they were used.
Hawass said he was extremely pleased with the grand opening of the house, especially because the descendants of Carter and Lord Carnarvon were able to attend. The current Lord Carnarvon and Stuart Carter, grandnephew of Howard Carter, both spoke about their ancestors and expressed their pleasure at witnessing the public opening of the rest house, which honoured their important work.
“This is where the two men spent long winter months over many years,” the great-grandson of Lord Carnarvon said.
“It is poignant to come back. My great-grandfather was so persistent and determined to find objects of beauty, and Howard Carter was such a great organiser, draughtsman, and scholar.”
According to Waziri, it was time to take care of the house. “We have thousands of tourists coming every day and all their guides point to the Carter house. Many people asked us if they can take a look,” he added.
HOWARD CARTER: Carter left his home in London at the young age of 17, abandoning a career in the family business, to join an Egypt Exploration Fund (EEF) expedition as an illustrator in the early 20th century.
As he sailed into Alexandria he fell under Egypt’s spell, and he soon became devoted to exploring the country’s ancient monuments.
At first, Carter was employed as a tracer, copying drawings and inscriptions on paper for further study. He worked at Beni Hassan, where he copied scenes from the walls of the tombs of royal princesses. Under the direction of Egyptologist William Flinders Petrie, Carter studied the science of Egyptology. During his training at Tel Al-Amarna, he unearthed several important finds. He then continued his training under Frenchman Gaston Maspero, and at the age of 25 he became the first inspector-general of the monuments of Upper Egypt.
Regrettably, he was forced to resign from the Antiquities Service in 1905 following an incident between Egyptian site guards at Saqqara and a few drunken French tourists. Seeking private funding for his excavation work, Carter became the supervisor of excavations for Lord Carnarvon, who owned one of the most valuable collections of Egyptian artifacts in private hands.
He would eventually discover six tombs in the Valley of the Kings on Luxor’s west bank. However Carter became obsessed with finding the tomb of an almost unknown pharaoh called Tutankhamun. On 4 November 1922, he succeeded in discovering what proved to be the most complete and greatest Egyptian treasure of all time.
Carter later died of a type of cancer known as lymphoma in his hometown in March 1939 at the age of 64.
The newly re-restored Carter House on the West Bank in Luxor reopened on Friday to mark the centenary of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922. The reopening ceremony was attended by Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Ahmed Issa, Luxor Governor Mustafa Alham, Egyptologist Zahi Hawass, former Antiquities Minister Mamdouh El-Damaty, Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Mustafa Waziri along with a number of foreign ambassadors.
The resoration project, carried out from February to November 2022, was implemented in collaboration with the American Research Centre in Cairo (ARCE) and was funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Adina Lei Savin Family Trust.
The mudbrick structure was repaired to address water damage, and alterations were made to the landscaping to prevent similar damage in the future. Old, broken subsurface waste pipes from the house were replaced, while hedges and trees that were planted too close to the walls were removed. In addition, a water-free buffer zone was constructed around the house.
Considerable efforts went into developing an engaging and representative visitor experience at the house. Visitors will now enjoy comprehensive and bilingual (Arabic and English) information panels with archival images that contextualise the social and political circumstances surrounding the discovery of the tomb and the many key figures — Egyptian and foreign — that were involved.
Supplementary information about what life was like in the early 20th century and interesting details of the functions of the house and its various specialised rooms, such as the photographic darkroom, are included.
The new on-site information will also be complemented by a virtual tour of the house.
Carter built the house in 1911 and expanded it subsequently after the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb to process his finds.
On 4 November 1922, after a search that spanned nearly a decade, Carter’s team stumbled upon the first of 12 steps that led to a closed doorway with seals bearing the name of Tutankhamun. This momentous day was the start of what became a 10-year project to excavate and conserve the 5,000 objects inside the tomb and transfer them to Cairo.
During this period and until his passing in 1939, Carter lived in the house in order to be close by to the entrance of the Valley of the Kings. The home contains a single domed central hall, Carter’s study, and a photography laboratory and other original fixtures that have been retained over the past 100 years.
In 1939, the house was transferred to the Egyptian Antiquities Service and was subsequently used as a rest house by the local inspectorate. In 2009, the Carter House was first restored and opened to the public as a tourist attraction.
Morcos Zaki, the grandson of Morcos Hanna Pasha, Egypt’s minister of works in the 1920s who helped to preserve Tutankhamun’s tomb, also spoke at the reopening event last Friday.
“It is a great honour to see my grandfather, Morcos Hanna Pasha, recognised for the role that he played in this great discovery, and for the lasting impact of his actions. As a family, we are very excited by the achievements of this project and visiting the Carter House and learning about the rich history of the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun,” Zaki said.
“The project to restore the Carter House and renew its visitor information has ensured that this contemporary heritage site on the west bank at Luxor will continue to provide awareness and engaging information about the discovery of Tutankhamun and Howard Carter’s life to all those who visit it,” said Nicholas Warner, director for cultural heritage projects at ARCE.
“The project’s success is owed to our strong collaboration and partnership with the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, and the support of our donors and technical partners.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 10 November, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.