Howard Carter: Biography, Facts & Quotes

Instructor: Kathleen Halecki

Kathleen Halecki possesses a B.A. and M.A. in history, and a doctoral degree in interdisciplinary studies with a focus on early modern Scotland. She has been teaching for over a decade in subjects such as history, philosophy and anthropology.

This lesson explores the life of the British archaeologist and Egyptologist Howard Carter. Trained as an artist, Howard Carter is most famous for his discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922.

Howard Carter

The character of Indiana Jones certainly made archaeology look glamorous as he saved the world from the bad guys who stole precious artifacts. Howard Carter may not have had the swagger of Indiana Jones, but he should still get some credit for making archaeology look cool. For Carter, spending days in the hot Egyptian sun, facing down tomb robbers, and exploring dark places not seen by the human eye for thousands of years were all part of a day's work.

Howard Carter
Howard Carter

Early life

Howard Carter was born on May 9, 1874, in Kensington, England, and was the youngest of eleven children. He had little formal schooling, and described himself as someone who worked hard only when he felt like it, liked books but did not read as much as he should have, did not like to write, and had a very hot temper. He was trained as an artist by his father.

Carter was only seventeen years old when he first went to Egypt in 1890. He would become a world-renowned Egyptologist, though he had no formal training in the study of hieroglyphics or Egyptian art. He first encountered Egyptian culture in his youth at the home of the Amherst family, collectors of Egyptian antiquities. It was through his connection with the Amherst family that he was given a commission as a copy artist for the Archaeological Survey, which was funded by the Egyptian Exploration Society. The goal of the society was to preserve the monuments of Egypt, and Carter's task was to help trace images at the Beni-Hassan tombs, which ranged from the First Intermediate Period to the Middle Kingdom. Before he left for Egypt, Carter was given a three-month apprenticeship at the British Museum.

Carter continued his work until 1899, when he left the Archaeological Survey to take the appointment as Inspector of Antiquities to the Egyptian government. The duty of the Inspector was to supervise archaeological work, and be sure that standards were met and the sites were safe. When tomb robbers broke into a tomb in 1901, Carter photographed the footprints, measured them, and had someone track down the thieves.

His position provided him with inside information on the location of tombs and the newest discoveries. Soon, artifacts were found with the name of Tutankhamun, a young pharaoh who ruled Egypt 1332-1323 BC. Carter became determined to search for his tomb in the Valley of the Kings, a place where many of the pharaohs were buried from the 16th to the 11th century BC. He resigned as Inspector in 1905.

Discovery of Tutankamun's Tomb

After years of searching, Carter finally found the tomb of Tutankhamun in November 1922. The excitement of the find is best understood through his own writing. On November 4, 1922, his workman discovered one step under ancient workman's huts and, after clearing out debris, a door appeared. Carter wrote, ''I think my first feeling was one of congratulation that my faith in the Valley had not been unjustified.''

Although he wanted to open the tomb, he was patient and sent a cable to the man who had financed him for years, Lord Carnarvon, letting him know he would wait. ''At last have made wonderful discovery in Valley; a magnificent tomb with seals intact; re-covered same for your arrival; congratulations.''

On November 26, he reached the door to the tomb and recounted his excitement, proclaiming it, ''the day of days, the most wonderful that I have ever lived through, and certainly one whose like I can never hope to see again.''

Carter was a man great determination, a trait he even admitted in his autobiographical notes. We see this when he writes that despite the '''very heavy work'' and ''thousands of tons of debris,'' he believed ''there was always the chance that a tomb might reward us in the end.''

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