Tutankhamun fascinates, 90 years on
Published 16/02/2013 | 05:11
Saturday marks the 90th anniversary of the uncovering of the sarcophagus of the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun - a revelation that kick-started an enduring public fascination with the boy king.
The long-forgotten pharaoh was virtually unknown when British archaeologist Howard Carter made the find that was to define his career. The discovery was the culmination of years of study by Carter and was made at a time when money to fund his work was fast drying up.
Having died in mysterious circumstances in 1323 BC at the age of 19, Tutankhamun was buried in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt. Raided twice by robbers in the months following his death, the entrance of the tomb was resealed to protect it from further plunder.
Soon afterwards it is believed that the tomb was buried by debris from subsequent tombs that was either dumped there deliberately or washed there by floods. In subsequent years huts for workers were built over the tomb in an indication that what lay beneath had by then been forgotten.
It was under the huts that Carter and his team discovered steps leading to the tomb on November 4 1922. After years of disappointment in the hunt for the pharaoh, Carter convinced the fifth Earl of Carnarvon, an Egypt fanatic, to finance one last search.
After careful preparations they opened the burial chamber containing the sarcophagus of the boy king four months later in February 1923 - more than 3,200 years after Tutankhamun was buried. Alongside the king's mummified body were hundreds of objects placed in the tomb to help Tutankhamun in his afterlife.
The frail earl who funded the final search died in April 1923, a high-profile victim of the supposed curse of Tutankhamun. But his ancestor, the eighth earl, George Herbert, said his great-grandfather's death, from blood poisoning and pneumonia caused by an infected mosquito bite on his face, was "coincidental".
But he said it did not stop his superstitious grandfather, the sixth earl, from trying to bury links with Egypt.
Many of the artefacts brought back from the tomb were sold to cover death duties and others were hidden around the family seat, Highclere Castle in Berkshire, better known to millions as the setting for popular ITV period drama Downton Abbey.
Those artefacts now form the basis of the family's collection in the cellar of the house, which opened to the public in 1988 and was expanded four years ago, including scores of replica artefacts from the tomb. On Monday, Lord Carnarvon will welcome dignitaries including the Egyptian ambassador to Highclere Castle to celebrate the anniversary and show off the family's collection.