The discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb was one of the most exciting finds of modern archaeology, enhanced by the enormous wealth of artistic heritage brought to light.
In 1922 Englishman Lord Carnarvon, art collector and great traveler had already invested about 50,000 pounds sterling in financing numerous excavations in Egypt, all of which had been fruitless. All hope of finding something grandiose, possibly the intact tomb of a Pharaoh, was virtually lost. His missions were direct by another Englishman, the archeologist Howard Carter. At the time was common belief there was nothing left to discover in the Valley of the Kings which had been combed high and low. They had still found no trace of the tomb of the heretic Akhenaton, who, however, was almost definitely buried at Tell el- Amarna, and that of Tutankhamun, the Pharaoh of transition who brought back the capital to Thebes reviving the ancient cult of Amon- Ra and the other gods, changing his real name from Tutankhatun to Tutankhamun. He was a short-lived reign lasting only nine years as he died at the age of nineteen in about 1350 B.C.
Lord Carnarvon thus decided that this was to be his last mission in Egypt. The great discovery was made on the 4th November 1922: almost at the base of the tomb of Ramses VI they came across a stone step that led to the second one and so forth, until the sixteenth step stopped in front of a sealed door, walled in with slaked lime. It would appear that this tomb had been robbed, but to what extent? And did they find the mummy inact? On 26th of the same month Carter had his day: having broken through a second door bearing inact the seals of the child-Pharaoh, the archaeologist made a small opening with an iron bar and pushed it through the hole, meeting no obstacles. He then carried out tests with a candle, not detecting any gases. He finally poked his head through the hole and as his eyes gradually adapted to the darkness, “strange animals, statues, and gold – everywhere the flash of gold, emerged slowly from the darkness…”
” What marvelous thing”, exclaimed Carter, his voice broken with emotion to Carnarvon who was impatiently asking him what he saw. The marvelous things were imposing funeral objects which, after long, difficult restoration, Carter sent to Cairo Museum.
Of all the precious objects in the sovereign’s tomb, the most impressive of all was the great sarcophangus: a single, enormous block of quartzite housed four gilt wooden containers placed one inside the other like Chinese boxes; only after 84 days of hard toil dismounting them to bring the 80 pieces composing the four catafalques to light was CArter able to admire the brilliant colours of the paintings decorating the walls of the burial chamber. The sarcophagus was an extraordinary beauty, ” worthy of containing the mortal remains of a sovereign”.
on the 12th February 1924, in front of nineteen illustrious guests, a complex winch lifted the ton and a half of granite of the lid. When Carter shone his light on the interior, his first glance must have been most disappointing: only discolored linen clothes! But when the linen cloths were slowly cast aside, the king and the gold gradually appeared: a wooden sarcophagus entirely plated in gold and inlaid with glass and semi precious stones with the Pharaoh represented as Osiris, his face expressing great serenity. And yet, affirms Carter, in all that splendor, the most moving thing was a small garland of flowers, possibly laid by his young wife Akhesanem; after Thirty-two centuries, those flowers still conserved a bit of their original color.
Almost one year later, on the 25th January 1925, Carter tried to open the Sarcophagus. The lid of the first anthropoid sarcophagus (2 metres 25 Cm long) was lifted revealing more linen bands and garlands of flowers. By examining the floral wreaths, they were able to establish the burial season of the sovereign, between mid-March and late April, because botanists also recognized corn-flowers, bittersweets, and mandrakes which blossom during that period. Under the sheet they found second gold-plated, wooden anthropoid sarcophagus encrusted with cloisonnes of colored glass and semi-precious stones. With the help of eight men, the lid of this second coffin was lifted; even if this stage, Carter expected to find a third sarcophagus, he certainly did not expect to find a 22 carat solid gold coffin weighing 1,170 kilograms! ” An incredible mass of pure gold”: the material itself was priceless! Apart from his headgear with a cobra and vulture, the king also wears a false beard and a heavy necklace in gold grains and majolica, while holding the whip and sceptre, symbols of two Egyptian kingdoms; the divinities Nekhbets and Uadjets spread their wings to protect the mummy, while Nefitis and Isis are resuscitating the dead Pharaoh.