Howard Carter’s Diary: Discovering The Tomb Of Tutankhamun

This is what Howard Carter (1874-1939) wrote in his diary when he discovered the intact tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun.

28 Oct. [1922]

Arrived Luxor on Saturday morning and took the 10am train to Erement to see Callender, living in his small house on the E. bank, near the river. Stayed the night with him and on the 29th.

29 Oct.

Returned by small sailing boat to Gurna (3 1/2 hrs).

1 Nov.

Commenced operations in the Valley of the Kings. I began by continuing the former excavation where it had stopped at the N.E. corner of the entrance to the tomb of Ramses VI, trenching southwards. At this point there were ancient stone huts of the Necropolis workmen, built rather less than a metre above the bed-rock, which had partly been exposed in our former work x (see plan L.M. 15 and 16). As we uncovered them they were found to continue under and in front of the entrance of Ramses VI tomb in a southerly direction and connected up with other similar huts on the opposite side of the valley bed discovered by Davis during previous work. These ancient huts were soon cleared of the rubbish covering them. I planned them, and removed them for investigation below, which undertaking took until the fourth of Nov.

Note x

These huts were built upon the natural detritus, and were covered by an average of three metres of debris accumulated since their construction.

4 Nov.

At about 10am I discovered beneath almost the first hut attacked the first traces of the entrance of the tomb (Tût.ankh.Amen) This comprised the first step of the N.E. corner (of the sunken-staircase). Quite a short time sufficed to show that it was the beginning of a steep excavation cut in the bed rock, about four metres below the entrance of Ramses VI’s tomb, and a similar depth below the Present level of the valley. And, that it was of the nature of a sunken staircase entrance to a tomb of the type of the XVIIIth Dyn., but further than that nothing could be told until the heavy rubbish above was cleared away.

5 Nov.

It took the whole of the preceding day and most of this day to free this excavation before the upper margins of the staircase could be demarcated on its four sides. As first conjectured it proved to be an opening (about 4 ms x 1.60 ms) excavated on the bed-rock, with its W. end abutting against the rock slope of the small hillock in which Ramses VI had excavated his tomb. As the work proceeded we found that the western end of the cutting receded under the slope of the rock, and thus was partly roofed over by the overhanging rock.

Towards sunset we had cleared to the level of the 12th step, which was sufficient to expose a large part of the upper portion of a plastered and sealed doorway. Here before us was sufficient evidence to show that it really was an entrance to a tomb, and by the seals, to all outward appearances that it was intact.

I examined this exposed portion of the sealed doorway and noticed that the only decipherable impressions of the seals were those of the well-known Royal Necropolis seal, i.e., Anubis (symbolizing a king) over nine foes.

With the evidence of these seals, and the fact that the workmen’s huts, which in all probabilities dated from the time of the construction of Rameses VI’s tomb, were built over the mouth of the entrance of this newly discovered tomb without apparently disturbing it, it was clear that its content would be undisturbed at least since the XXth Dyn.

The seal-impressions suggested that it belonged to somebody of high standing but at that time I had not found any indications as to whom.

I noticed at the top of the doorway, where some of the cement-like plaster had fallen away, a heavy wooden lintel. To assure myself of the method in which the doorway was blocked, I made a small hole under this wooden lintel – the R. hand corner, about 35 x 15 cms in size. By this hole I was able to perceive with the aid of an electrical torch that a passage beyond was completely filled with stones and rubble up to its ceiling, which was again evidence of something that had required careful closing. It was a thrilling moment for an excavator, quite alone save his native staff of workmen, to suddenly find himself, after so many years of toilsome work, on the verge of what looked like a magnificent discovery – an untouched tomb. With certain reluctance I reclosed the small hole that I had made, and returned to another careful search among the seals to see if I could not find some indication that would point to the identity of the owner, but it was of no avail for the small space bared by my excavation did not expose any impression sufficiently clear to be made out, other than that of the Royal Necropolis seal already mentioned.

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. Its design was certainly of the XVIIIth Dyn. Could it be the tomb of a noble, buried there by royal consent? Or was it a royal cache? As far as my investigations had gone there was absolutely nothing to tell me. Had I known that by digging a few inches deeper I would have exposed seal impressions showing Tût.ankh.Amen’s insignia distinctly I would have fervently worked on and set my mind at rest, but as it was, it was getting late, the night had fast set in, the full moon had risen high in the eastern heavens, I refilled the excavation for protection, and with my men selected for the occasion – they like myself delighted beyond all expectation – I returned home and cabled to Ld. C. (then in England) the following message:-

“At last have made wonderful discovery in Valley a magnificent tomb with seals intact recovered same for your arrival congratulations”

6 Nov.

The men worked feverishly today covering and making safe the discovery until the time came for fully re-opening. On the top of which great stones, that formed the sides of the ancient huts, were rolled.

7 Nov.

The news of the discovery spread fast all over the country, and inquisitive enquiries mingled with congratulations from this moment became the daily programme.

We continued clearing the bed-rock of the valley towards the south where many more huts were exposed and on turning the corner towards the west we opened up, at a higher level than the huts a sort of stone enclosure for mortar – these like the others were evidently part of the camp for Ramses VI tomb. This investigation continued until the end of the working week – Monday, the 13th Nov. Here, as I found in most other cases, the excavations of former explorers, in this case Davis, had only skimmed the top surface and had not even laid bare the huts of the ancient workmen.

8 Nov.

Received wireless from Lord C. “… possibly come soon …”

A little later another wire from Ld. C. “propose arrive Alexandria twentieth …”

9 Nov.

Wired for Callender.

10 Nov.

Callender arrived.

During the interim to following date made various preparations for opening the tomb.

18 Nov.

Left for Cairo.

20 Nov.

Lord C. and Lady E. arrived Cairo.

Made various purchases in Cairo.

21 Nov.

Returned to Luxor

22 Nov.

Arrived Luxor-Gurna

Ld C. left Cairo for Luxor.

23 Nov.

Lord C. arrived Luxor, came over to Gurna and put up at my house.

Callender re-started uncovering tomb.

24 Nov.

Lady E. arrived.

Callender reached as far as the first doorway. There proved to be sixteen steps.

Now that the whole of the sealed doorway was laid bare various seal impressions bearing the cartouche of Tût-ankh-Amen were discernible, more in particular in the lower portion of the plastering of the doorway where the impressions were clearest.

In the upper part of this sealed doorway traces of two distinct re-openings and successive re-closings were apparent, and that the seal-impressions first noticed, Nov. 5, of the Royal Necropolis – i.e., ‘Anubis over Nine Foes’, had been used for the re-closing. Here was evidence of at least the reign of the tomb, but its true significance was still a puzzle, for in the lower rubbish that filled the stair-case entrance we found masses of broken potsherds, broken boxes, the latter bearing the names and protocol of Akhenaten, Smenkh-Ka-Ra, and Tut-ankh-Amen, and with what was even more upsetting a scarab of Tehutimes III, as well as a fragment bearing the cartouche of Amenhetep III. These conflicting data led us for a time to believe that we were about to open a royal cache of the El Amarna branch of the XVIIIth Dyn. Monarchs, and that {the} from the evidence mentioned above it had been probably opened and used more than once.

Engelbach, the Chief Inspector Antiquities Dept., came and witnessed the freeing of rubbish from the first doorway. With him came several of his friends, among others Brunton.

Slept the night in the valley. Carpenters commenced upon making a temporary wooden grill for fixing over first doorway.

25 Nov.

Noted seals. Made photographic records, which were not, as they afterwards proved, very successful. Opened the first doorway; which comprised rough stones built up from the threshold to the lintel, plastered over on the outside face, and covered with numerous impressions from various seals of Tut-ankh-Amen and the Royal Necropolis seal. The removal of this blocking exposed the commencement of a completely blocked descending passage, the same width as the entrance staircase and rather more than 2 metres high. It was filled with its local stone and rubble, probably from its own excavation, but like the doorway it showed distinct traces of more than one filling; the mass of the filling being of clean white stone chips mingled with dust, while in the upper left hand corner a large irregular hole had been pierced through it which had been refilled with dark flint and chert stones. This coincided with reopenings and successive re-closings found on the sealed doorway.

As we cleared the passage we found mixed with the rubble broken potsherds, jar seals, and numerous fragments of small objects; water skins lying on the floor together with alabaster jars, whole and broken, and coloured pottery vases; all pertaining to some disturbed burial, but telling us nothing to whom they belonged further than by their type which was of the late XVIIIth Dyn. These were disturbing elements as they pointed towards plundering.

26 Nov.

After clearing 9 metres of the descending passage, in about the middle of the afternoon, we came upon a second sealed doorway, which was almost the exact replica of the first. It bore similar seal impressions and had similar traces of successive re-openings and re-closings in the plastering. The seal impressions were of Tût-ankh-Amen and of the Royal Necropolis, but not in any way so clear as those on the first doorway. The entrance and passage both in plan and in style resembled almost to measurement the tomb containing the cache of Akhenaten discovered by Davis in the very near vicinity; which seemed to substantiate our first conjecture that we had found a cache.

Feverishly we cleared away the remaining last scraps of rubbish on the floor of the passage before the doorway, until we had only the clean sealed doorway before us. In which, after making preliminary notes, we made a tiny breach in the top left hand corner to see what was beyond. Darkness and the iron testing rod told us that there was empty space. Perhaps another descending staircase, in accordance to the ordinary royal Theban tomb plan? Or may be a chamber? Candles were procured – the all important Tell-Tale for foul gases when opening an ancient subterranean excavation – I widened the breach and by means of the candle looked in, while Ld. C., Lady E, and Callender with the Reises waited in anxious expectation.

It was sometime before one could see, the hot air escaping caused the candle to flicker, but as soon as one’s eyes became accustomed to the glimmer of light the interior of the chamber gradually loomed before one, with its strange and wonderful medley of extraordinary and beautiful objects heaped upon one another. There was naturally short suspense for those present who could not see, when Lord Carnarvon said to me ‘Can you see anything’. I replied to him Yes, it is wonderful. I then with precaution made the hole sufficiently large for both of us to see. With the light of an electric torch as well as an additional candle we looked in. Our sensations and astonishment are difficult to describe as the better light revealed to us the marvellous collection of treasures: two strange ebony-black effigies of a King, gold sandalled, bearing staff and mace, loomed out from the cloak of darkness; gilded couches in strange forms, lion-headed, Hathor-headed, and beast infernal; exquisitely painted, inlaid, and ornamental caskets; flowers; alabaster vases, some beautifully executed of lotus and papyrus device; strange black shrines with a gilded monster snake appearing from within; quite ordinary looking white chests; finely carved chairs; a golden inlaid throne; a heap of large curious white oviform boxes; beneath our very eyes, on the threshold, a lovely lotiform wishing-cup in translucent alabaster; stools of all shapes and design, of both common and rare materials; and, lastly a confusion of overturned parts of chariots glinting with gold, peering from amongst which was manikin. The first impression of which suggested the property-room of an opera of vanished civilization. Our sensations were bewildering and full of strange emotion. We questioned one another as to the meaning of it all. Was it a tomb or merely a cache? A sealed-doorway between the two sentinel statues proved there was more beyond, and with the numerous cartouches bearing the name of Tut-ankh-Amen on most of the objects before us, there was little doubt that there behind was the grave of that Pharaoh.

We closed the hole, locked the wooden-grill which had been placed upon the first doorway, we mounted our donkeys and return home contemplating what we had seen.

Advised the Chief Inspector of the Antiquities Department, who was with us at the commencement of the opening of the first doorway, and asked him to come as soon as possible, preferably the following afternoon to enable us to prepare an electrical installation for careful inspection of this extraordinary and pleasing discovery.

27 Nov.

Callender prepared the electrical installation for lighting the tomb. This was ready by noon, when Lord C., Lady E., Callender and self entered and made a careful inspection of this first chamber (afterwards called the Ante-chamber).

In the course of the afternoon the local Inspector, Ibrahîm Effendi, of the Department of Antiquities at Luxor, came in the place of the Chief Inspector – he being absent on a visit to Kena.

It soon became obvious that we were but on the threshold of the discovery. The sight that met us was beyond anything one could conceive. This heterogeneous mass of material crowded into the chamber without particular order, so crowded that you were obliged to move with anxious caution, for time had wrought certain havoc with many of the objects, was very bewildering. Everywhere we found traces of disorder caused by some early intruder, objects over-turned, broken fragments lying upon the floor, all added to the confusion, and the unfamiliar plan of tomb repeatedly caused us to ask ourselves in our perplexity whether it was really a tomb or a Royal Cache? As the better light fell upon the objects we endeavoured to take them in. It was impossible. They were so many. Beneath one of the couches, the Thoueris couch in the S.W. corner, we perceived an aperture in the rock-wall which proved to be nothing less than another sealed-doorway broken open as by some predatory hand. With care Ld. C. and I crept under this strange gilded couch, and we peered into the opening. There we saw that it led into yet another chamber (afterwards called the Annexe) of smaller dimensions than the Ante-chamber and of a lower level. Even greater confusion prevailed here, the very stones that blocked the entrance, forced in when the breach was made, were lying helter-skelter upon the objects on the floor crushed by their weight. It was full of one mass of furniture. An utter confusion of beds, chairs, boxes, alabaster and faience vases, statuettes, cases of peculiar form, and every sort of thing overturned and searched for valuables. The remaining portions of the plaster covering the blocking of this doorway bore similar seal-impressions as on the other doorways.

In neither of these two chambers could we see any traces of a mummy or mummies – the one pious reason for making a cache. With such evidence, as well as the sealed doorway between the two guardian statues of the King, the mystery gradually dawned upon us. We were but in the anterior portion of a tomb. Behind that closed doorway was the tomb-chamber, and that Tût-ankh-Amen probably lay there in all his magnificent panoply of death – we had found that monarch’s burial place intact save certain metal-robbing, and not his cache.

We then examined the plaster and seal-impressions upon the closed doorway. They were of many types of seals, all bearing the insignia of the King. We also discovered that in the bottom part of the blocking a small breach had once been made, large enough to allow of a small man to pass through, but it had been
carefully reclosed, plastered and sealed. Evidently the tomb beyond had been entered – by Thieves! Who knows? But sufficient evidence to tell that someone had made ingress.

The results of our investigations were, (1) it was clear the place was Pharaoh’s tomb and not a mere cache; (2) that we had only entered the anterior chambers of the tomb, filled with magnificent equipment equal only to the wealth and splendour of the New Empire; (3) that we had found a royal burial little disturbed save hurried plundering at the hands of ancient tomb robbers.

It was a sight surpassing all precedent, and one we never dreamed of seeing. 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.

28 Nov.

Most of this day was spent in preparing for an official opening of the tomb to take place on the morrow – the 29th. Engelbach, the Chief Inspector, returned from Kena by the midday train, came over to the Valley on his motor-cycle in the afternoon and inspected the discovery.

29 Nov.

Today we had a sort of official opening to which the following guests were invited: Lady Allenby and AdC; H.E. Abdel Aziz Bey Yehia, the Mudir of Kena; the Maamur of Luxor; Mr and Mrs Maudsley; Mr and Mrs K. Boyde; Mr and Mrs de Garis Davies; Mr and Mrs Engelbach; Lady Downes and daughter; Abdel Razik Bey of the Mus. Of Agriculture; Mr and Mrs Merton of the Times; Mr and Mrs Brunton; The Irrigation Insp. Of Kena district; Wise Bey of the Police; the Commandant of the Kena Police; Ibreheem Effendi, Insp. Of Luxor; and others. Lunch was given 12.30 at the head of the valley – near tomb No. 15, when afterwards Lady Allenby and H.E. the Mudir of Kena with Ld. C. and self opened the tomb. A special report to The Times was sent to Luxor by runner about 3pm.

30 Nov.

A number of Egyptian notables of Luxor came early in the morning and requested to be allowed to see the interior of the tomb. We were totally unprepared for such a large quantity of visitors, and in view of the preservation of the antiquities they being very crowded and in poor preservation, we were obliged to refuse admission until some preparation was made to safeguard the objects.

Lacau and Tottenham, who were unable to be present at the official opening yesterday, arrived today, about 11am, and made their official inspection. Both were very pleased and I might say astonished at the discovery – Lacau particularly so and very enthusiastic. They remained to lunch and talked over various matters in connection with the find. Tottenham spoke very appreciatively of our achievement, and went so far to say that he would endeavour to see that Ld C. should be fully recompensed for his good work and enterprise, and that he thought it the duty of the Eg. Gov. to give him all aid in completing the undertaking.

1 Dec.

Ld. C. received letter from Tottenham to the above effect. (see file Dec. 1).

Measured doorway for steel gate.

2 Dec.

Lady E. left for Cairo.

3 Dec.

Refilled entrance of Tomb, using heavy boards to close the doorway prior to covering with stone rubble.

4 Dec.

Ld. C. left for Cairo.

5 Dec.

Measured door for steel gate.

6 Dec.

Left for Cairo.

7 Dec.

Ordered steel gate

Purchased 32 bolts calico

Motor car

Photographic material

197 sheets wadding = 1970 yards



etc. etc

In answer to Lythgoe’s cable of congratulation asked if Burton’s services could be lent to take photographs.

8 Dec.

Lythgoe replied “Only too delighted to assist in any possible way. Please call on Burton and any other members of our staff cabling Burton to that effect.”

9 Dec.

Saw Lucas, Director of Chemical Dept. of Egyptian Government, and he offered services for Winter.

11 Dec.

Lord C. left for England.

12 Dec.

Cable from Mace offering services.

13 Dec.

Steel gates completed

Left for Luxor

15 Dec.

Materials arrived & steel gate transported to Valley.

16 Dec.

Re-opened tomb

17 Dec.

Fixed steel gate

18 Dec.

Breasted arrived & examined seals.

Burton, Hauser & Hall began work.

Lord C. arranged with Gardiner in England to look after philological end of work

20 Dec.

Lucas arrived and began experiments on 21st. Also made inspection of tomb from criminological investigation point of view

Permission from Government to use Tomb no. 15 as laboratory.

22 Dec.

Tomb opened to European and Egyptian Press by invitation. Also to Egyptian notables of Luxor

23-24 Dec.

Photographing & planning

25 Dec.

Mace arrived

26 Dec.

Inspected tomb with Mace & discussed plan of campaign.

27 Dec.

First object (Box 21) removed from Tomb.

3 Jan. [1923]

Gardiner commenced upon the various inscriptions and texts upon the objects of the Ante-chamber.

6 Jan.

Motor and chauffeur arrived.

8 Jan.

Gardiner left.

25 Jan.

Left for Cairo to meet Lord Carnarvon.

Received wires from Lacau, Ross Taylor, and Lord Allenby, re the Egyptian press visiting the tomb.

26 Jan.

Went to Ministry with Ld. C. & K.B., where we met the P.M. Nassîm Pasha, The Min. of the P.W.D. Sirry Pasha, the Under Sec. for State P.W.D. Abd El Hamîd Suleman Pasha, and Lacau, where we arranged about the question raised by them regarding the local Press and visit to tomb one day every week – i.e., Tuesdays.

28 Jan.

Returned with Ld. C. and Lady E. to Luxor.

29 Jan.

Arrived Luxor – where we inspected the progress of the work in the afternoon

13 Feb.

Ld. C. went to Cairo – re Engelbach and Tewfik Effendi Boulos, inspectors of the S. des. A.

14 Feb.

Examined seals with Breasted.

15 Feb.

Made preparations for opening sealed doorway to sepulchral-chamber. Examination of seals continued with Breasted.

16 Feb.

Opened sealed doorway before the following visitors and officials:

Abd El Halim Pasha Suleman, Under Sec. of State P.W.D.
Lacau. Dir. Gen. S. des. A.
Engelbach. Chief Insp. Up. Eg. S. des A.
Ibrahîm Effendi. Insp. Luxor S. des A. and Tewfik Effendi Boulos.
Sir William Garstin
Lythgoe and Winlock

Mace, Callender, Lucas, and Burton.
Ld. C. and Lady E.
and others.

17 Feb.

Preparations for official opening and visitors to tomb.

Breasted continued examining seals.

18 Feb.

Queen of the Belgians and numerous visitors to official opening.

19 Feb.

Press to tomb.

18 – 25 Feb.

Given up to visitors.

26 Feb.

Closed tomb for season. Which undertaking took until the end of the 28 Feb.


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