So were the words of Theodore Davis in 1912 regarding the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. Davis, a lawyer by trade and an archaeologist by hobby, had spent twelve years digging in the area and had made many important finds, but at the time he left the Valley, he was only two metres away from what Howard Carter would later find – the entrance to the tomb of Tutankhamun.
Carter, a contemporary of Davis, although younger, was also working in Egypt at the time. In 1914 Carter was hired by George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon to dig in the Valley after he’d purchased Davis’ concession. After going through a world war and seven years of digging and finding little, in early November 1922, a stone stair was uncovered by a workman on Carter’s dig. That stair would be the first of several stairs, extending down into the ground.
It is impossible to imagine the excitement Carter must have felt when he dug down to discover the seal of the tomb was still intact. Most tombs in the Valley of the Kings were plundered within the first few years after the pharaoh’s death, not to mention the 3000 years since then. To find an intact tomb by 1922 was a happening most people would have never believed possible, but yet it happened.
To be one of the first inside the tomb after the seal was broken, to see items in the exact same spot that they were placed 3000 years ago – it just can’t be imagined. That moment and the last moment Carter spent in the tomb after the treasures had been removed, the diggers had gone home and the world press departed, must have been remarkable. To be that close to antiquity must have been a surreal experience.
King Tutankhamun died very young and was actually considered a minor pharoah. He essentially married into the job via his wife, daughter of Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti. His tomb was never found due to its location under the ruins of worker’s huts and debris from flooding. The riches inside amazed the world, but only represented a fraction of what would have existed if Tutankhamun had lived longer or had been more a more substantial pharoah. One can only imagine what would have been found if the tomb of a pharoah such as Ramesses II had been found intact.
I had the great privalege of seeing the famous bust of Queen Nefertiti up close in Berlin. Even behind glass, it was a wonder to behold. I can only imagine what staring into the gold funerary mask of Tutankhamun would be like. Maybe one day, I’ll make it to Cairo and find out.
After the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, the great age of Egyptology essentially came to an end. The Egyptian government became much more efficient at regulating any digs to ensure Egypt’s historic legacy remained in Egypt. As well they should have. But if it hadn’t been for men like Carnarvon and Carter, as well as others less known, many of these treasures may never have been found.
Even after all this time, it’s nice to think the great sands of Egypt still have treasures buried deep down, waiting to be revealed.
Cover photo courtesy of RareHistoricalPhotos.com.