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The discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb

A hundred years ago, a British archaeologist discovered Egypt’s most famous treasure


One of history’s best-known archaeologists, Howard Carter, grew up in a small village in Norfolk, England. He learned to draw from his father, who was a painter, and he developed an interest in ancient Egypt after seeing the collection of antiques of a wealthy acquaintance, Lady Amherst. Impressed by the boy’s artistic talent, Lady Amherst sent him to Egypt to take part in an archeological expedition. Carter’s job was to paint and record the artifacts and inscriptions found during the excavations. It was 1891 and Carter was 17 years old.

In Egypt, Carter quickly learned the discipline of archeology. He began his own excavations, sponsored by a wealthy British patron, Lord Carnarvon. Carter’s dream was to find the tomb of a young pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, Tutankhamun. He was convinced that his tomb was still intact, unlike most pharaonic tombs, which had been looted over the centuries.

Carter’s excavations continued for years without much success. Lord Carnarvon, demoralized, decided to stop funding him, but Carter insisted on one last effort. It was 1922. During this fateful, final year, Carter stumbled upon the steps of a hidden staircase. With his team he began digging and found the entrance to a chamber. On the doorway were the intact royal seals of King Tutankhamun!

Carter made a hole in the sealed doorway, big enough to insert a candle. What he saw in its dim light was a fantastic, intact treasure. There were 5,000 items, and among them was King Tutankhamun’s (King Tut for short) magnificent sarcophagus. It was the best-preserved pharaonic tomb ever found. To this day, king Tut’s golden mask is one of the world’s most recognizable works of art.


1) Is there an ancient work of art that you really admire? Pretend to be an art critic and talk about this work of art, explaining why it is special.

2) King Tut’s golden mask is a symbol of Egypt. Can you think of a work of art that is a symbol of Italy (or, if you prefer, of your city)? Describe it and explain why it is symbolic.

(Carlo Dellonte)
(Image: Howard Carter examing Tutankhamun’s tomb, photo by Harry Burton, 1922, Wikimedia Commons)

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