Howard Carter: Everything you need to know

‘We were astonished by the beauty and refinement of the art displayed by the objects surpassing all we could have imagined - the impression was overwhelming’

Howard Carter

On the 4th November 2022, we celebrate 100 years since British archaeologist Howard Carter and his men found the entrance to Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s tomb. Howard Carter was an English archaeologist, most celebrated for his contributions to Egyptology, (study of Pharaonic Egypt).

Carter's greatest and most famous discovery was the Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s tomb, the best preserved tomb ever to be found in the Valley of Kings. Starting of as a boy living in Egypt fascinated by the ancient world and sketching the artifacts he encountered, lets explore how Howard Carter grew up to discover and excavate Tutankhamun’s tomb. 

Image of Egypt-1922 : English archaeologist Howard Carter (1873-1939) and an Egyptian assistant examining the sarcophagus of King Tutankhamen, © Stefano Bianchetti / Bridgeman Images

Image of English Egyptologist Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon in November 1922, French School, (20th century) / French, © Stefano Bianchetti / Bridgeman Images

Early Life 

Howard Carter was born in Kensington, London on May 9, 1874. Carter spent much of his childhood in the Norfolk market town of Swaffham with relatives. His father, Samuel Carter was a successful artist. Carter's seven siblings all inherited their fathers love for art. He had very little formal training in education. Carter’s interest in Egyptology sparked when his father painted a portrait of a well known Egyptologist. Carter also visited Didlington Hall, a mansion of the Amherst family. This mansion held a huge collection of Egyptian antiques, which also ignited Carter's further interest in the subject.

British artist John Millar Watt has painted Howard Carter as a young boy painting in his living room with a collection of brushes and a paint palette before him

Image of Howard Carter grew up in London, the son of an artist (colour litho), Watt, John Millar (1895-1975) / British, Private Collection, © Look and Learn / Bridgeman Images

Archaeological Career  

In 1891, Lady Amherst took great admiration and interest into Carter's artistic skills. She prompted the Egypt Exploration Fund to send Carter, aged just 17, to assist a Family friend, Percy Newberry in a recording and excavation of the Middle King tombs at Beni Hasan. Howard’s role was to draw Newberry’s archaeological findings. He was appointed Inspector of Monuments for Upper Egypt in the Egyptian Antiquities Service (EAS) in 1899. For the next several years, Carter began to work at different archaeologist sites. These included Armana, Deir el-Bahari, Thebes, Abu Simbel and Edfu. 

Image of HOWARD CARTER (1873-1939) English archaeologist. Carter (right) with Lord Carnarvon at the entrance to the inner chamber of Tutankhamen's tomb in the Valley of the Kings, Egypt, 1923, © Granger / Bridgeman Images

Carter was hired by wealthy aristocrat Lord Carnarvon in 1907. Under supervision of Carnarvon, Carter led the excavation of Egyptian nobles’ tombs. The head of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, Gaston Maspero had recommended Carter to Carnarvon as he knew Carter would apply modern systems of recording and archaeological works into practice. Carnarvon received a license in 1914 to dig at a site where it was believed that King Tutankhamun’s tomb rested, he gave the job to Carter.

Image of Head of Queen Makare Hatshepsut (c.1503-1482 BC) (w/c on paper), Carter, Howard (1873-1939) / English, Private Collection, © The Stapleton Collection / Bridgeman Images

King Tutankhamun was an ancient pharaoh, commonly referred to as King Tut. King Tut was the last of his royal family to rule during the end of the 18th Dynasty during the New Kingdom of Egyptian history. Carter appointed a crew of workers to help with the excavation, but was interrupted by World War I. During the first world war, Carter spent his years working as a diplomatic courier and translator. Carter translated clandestine messages between French and British officials and their Arab contacts. Carter began his excavation work again towards the end of 1917. 

 Image of Howard Carter (1873-1939) British Egyptologist who discovered the Tomb of Tutankhamum, Carter, William (1863-1939) / English, Griffith Institute, Oxford, UK, oil on canvas, 1924 (C20th), © Bridgeman Images

Lord Carnarvon was dissatisfied with the lack of findings over the years of archaeological searches. He decided to fund one more season of work for Carter in the Valley of Kings. The Valley of Kings is a valley in Egypt where for a period between the 16th to 11th century BC, rock tombs were excavated for pharaohs and powerful nobles of the New Kingdom. Within days, a young water boy on the 4 November, 1922 accidentally stumbled upon a stone that turned out to be the top of a flight of stairs cut into bedrock. Carter and his crew investigated further, the top of the flight of stairs was partially dug out, a mud plaster doorway and a secret chamber was found. The doorway was stamped with blurred cartouches (oval seals with hieroglyphic writing). 

‘There were many types of seals, all bearing the insignia of the King’

Howard Carter. 

Image of The 'Step cut in the Rock', which led Mr Carter to the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb: the entrance before excavation (b/w photo), The Illustrated London News Picture Library, London, UK, © Bridgeman Images

Image of Lord Carnarvon's first visit to the Valley of the King's: Lord Carnarvon (1866-1923), Lady Evelyn Herbert, his daughter and Howard Carter (1874-1939) at the entrance to the Tomb of Tutankhamun, 1922 (gelatin silver print), Burton, Harry (1879-1940) / English, 25.5x20.2 cms, © The Stapleton Collection / Bridgeman Images

‘It soon became obvious that we were but on the threshold of the discovery’

Howard Carter

Image - He Found the Tomb of the Young King. Lord Carnarvon financed one last search ... and Howard Carter discovered the lost burial chamber of Tutankhamen. Scan of small illustration which has been digitally enhanced to assist repro, © Look and Learn / Bridgeman Images

Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter entered the tomb on November 26th, 1922. A huge collection of gold and ebony treasures lay within the tombs chamber. The innermost chamber was opened by Carter on February 16th, 1923, inside he found the sarcophagus of King Tutankhamun. Out of all the excavations made in the area, King Tutankhamun’s was the best preserved. All artifacts remained intact, as well as the sarcophagus and Tut’s mummy. After the discovery, Carter wrote:

‘I think my first feeling was one of congratulation that my faith in the Valley had not been unjustified.’


Image of Howard Carter and associates opening the doors of King Tutankhamun's burial shrine in the Valley of the Kings, Egypt; screen print from a photograph, 1923, Photo © GraphicaArtis / Bridgeman Images

Lord Carnarvon: Can you see anything?

Howard Carter: Yes, wonderful things!

Image of Gold portrait mask from the mummy of Tutankhamun, discovered in the Pharaoh's tomb by Howard Carter in 1922 (colour litho), English School, (20th century) / English, Private Collection, © Look and Learn / Bridgeman Images

Image of The gold mask, from the Treasure of Tutankhamun (c.1370-52 BC) c.1340 BC (gold), vulture's head, symbolizing sovereignty over Upper-Egypt; cobra, symbolizing sovereignty over lower Egypt; discovered in 1922 in the Valley of the Kings by Howard Carter; Egyptian 18th Dynasty (c.1567-1320 BC) / Egyptian, Egyptian National Museum, Cairo, Egypt, © Bridgeman Images

‘I think at the moment we did not even want to break the seal (on the inner chamber of the tomb of Tutankhamun), for a feeling of intrusion had descended heavily upon us… We felt that we were in the presence of the dead King and must do him reverence, and in imagination could see the doors of the successive shrines open one’

Howard Carter. 

Image of Seated figure of the goddess Sekhmet from the tomb of Tutankhamun, © Werner Forman Archive / Bridgeman Images


Though I was satisfied that I was on the verge of perhaps a magnificent find, probably one of the missing tombs that I had been seeking for many years, I was much puzzled by the smallness of the opening in comparison with those of other royal tombs in the valley.’

Howard Carter 

Image of The opening of the sarcophagus of Pharaoh Tutankhamun by Howard Carter in Luxor in 1924. Discovery of Tutankhamun's treasure. Cover of ""L'illustrazione del popolo"", © Giancarlo Costa / Bridgeman Images

The tomb was secured and entered in the presence of an official of the Egyptian Department of Antiquities the next day. It was inspected on 27 November, 1922, by an Egyptian official. Assistant Arthur Callender provided some electric lighting, which illuminated gilded couches, chests, shrines and thrones. Over 5,000 items would be found within the well preserved tomb. It was opened in the presence of Egyptian officials and a number of invited dignitaries on 29, November, 1922.  Read on here for a collection of Ancient Tombs found in Egypt.

Image of The archaeologists and Egyptian government officials at the examination of Tutankhamun's mummy (b/w photo), The Illustrated London News Picture Library, London, UK, mummy is that of 18 year old; © Bridgeman Images

Carter had a huge task on sourcing all of the objects within the tomb, including the famous funerary mask of Tutankhamun - Ancient Egyptian masks were believed to serve as a guide to the spirit of the deceased, back to its final resting place in the body.

Howard Carter sought the help from Albert Lythgoe of the Metropolitan Museum’s excavation team who was working nearby. Lythgoe lended a number of his staff including archaeological photographer Harry Burton and Arthur Mace. The Egyptian government also loaned analytical chemist Alfred Lucas. The contents of the tomb were catalogued and conserved over the next several months. 

Image of Tutankhamen 's treasure found by Howard Carter, 1922 : egyptian god Anubis symbolised by the black dog (photo Harry Burton), © Tallandier / Bridgeman Images

‘At last have made wonderful discovery in the valley; a magnificent tomb with seals intact; re-covered same for your arrival; congratulations’ Howard Carter.

Image - Portrait of Howard Carter (1873-1939), archaeologist discoverer of Tutankhamun's tomb, © Fototeca Gilardi / Bridgeman Images

This short video shows Tutankhamun in his tomb. The mummy is decorative, rich and elaborate. The gold colour sparks the essence of royalty!

LRP698931, Coffin of Tutankhamun, © Laboratoriorosso / Bridgeman Images

The discovery of the tomb led Carter to become an international celebrity, he toured the US, lecturing about his finds. 

Image - Removal of the gilt shrine from the Tomb of Tutankhamun, Valley of the Kings (gelatin silver print), Burton, Harry (1879-1940) / English, Private Collection, 25.5x20.2 cms, © The Stapleton Collection / Bridgeman Images 

Today, many of the treasures from Tutankhamun's tomb can be found in the museum in Egypt's capital Cairo.


Into the tomb of Tutankhamun,1922

Carter’s discovery was very important as it allowed archaeologists to record what an Egyptian’s tomb looked like and in turn this provided new information about Ancient Egypt and Ancient Egyptian Art.

Image - Discovery of the tomb of pharaoh Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings (Egypt) : in burial chamber, Howard Carter working on the lid of the second coffin, october 1925, photo by Harry Burton (p1568), © Tallandier / Bridgeman Images

Lord Carnarvon died on the 5th April, 1923 from an infected mosquito bite. This led newspapers at the time to produce headlines - the ‘curse of the pharaohs', causing the death of those who disturb the mummy of an Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh.  Howard Carter died on 2nd March 1939, aged 64. Carter was suffering from lymphoma. 

Image of a  Detail from the Golden Shrine, Tutankhamun's Treasure (wood overlaid with a layer of gesso and coverd with sheet gold), Egyptian 18th Dynasty (c.1567-1320 BC) / Egyptian, Egyptian National Museum, Cairo, Egypt, © Bridgeman Images

On Carter’s gravestone, these words are placed - May your spirit live, May you spend millions of years, You who love Thebes, Sitting with your face to the north wind, Your eyes beholding happiness’, ‘O night, spread thy wings over me as the imperishable stars’.

Howard Carter. 

Image - Head of Tutankhamun, c.1336–27 BC (limestone), Egyptian 18th Dynasty (c.1567-1320 BC) / Egyptian, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA, c.1336 BC-c.1327 BC (C14th BC), 17.2 high cms, © Bridgeman Images

Exploration and a further insight into Egypt and the discovery of Tutankhamuns tomb can be seen in the video below: 


Howard Carter’s legacy lives on today as we remember his magnificent discovery 100 years later! 

Though without the previous work of one man, Jean-Francois Champollion, no one would have known the name of the boy king found in the Valley of Kings. He deciphered ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs through the Rosetta Stone in the 19th century.

Read more about Champollion, regarded as the founder of Egyptology and one of the world’s greatest code-breakers.

Still can't get enough of Egypt? Read on for ten facts on the Ancient Egyptian Pyramids.



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