At the age of seventeen in 1891, Carter went to Egypt where he worked under Flinders Petrie. His great success in drawing the painted reliefs at Deir al-Bahri, Thebes led to his being appointed in 1899 the first chief inspector of antiquities in Upper Egypt, despite having no formal qualifications. His appointment proved a great success, however, and Carter discovered the tomb of King Tuthmosis IV in the Valley of the Kings. Carter’s career took a downturn in 1905 when he was held responsible for a skirmish between foreign visitors and Egyptian antiquities guards, which resulted in Carter resigning from the antiquities service.
‘Carter’s rehabilitation came in early 1909 when, on the recommendation of Maspero, he began his association with George Herbert, fifth earl of Carnarvon. Until the First World War they excavated in the Theban necropolis, making important, but unspectacular, discoveries. Carnarvon was then encouraged by Carter to apply for the concession for the Valley of the Kings, surrendered by Davis in 1914. The time was not right, and the prognostications for discovery were not favourable. Davis, Maspero, and others believed that there was nothing of importance left in the valley to be discovered. Carter thought otherwise.
A short campaign by Carter in the tomb of King Amenophis III in 1915 produced trifling results, and for the rest of the war until 1917 he was employed as a civilian by the intelligence department of the War Office in Cairo. In 1917 he was at last free to return to working for Carnarvon, and until 1922 he conducted annual campaigns in the Valley of the Kings; but few positive results were achieved.
In the summer of 1922 Carter persuaded Carnarvon to allow him to conduct one more campaign in the valley. Starting work earlier than usual Howard Carter opened up the stairway to the tomb of Tutankhamun on 4 November 1922. Carnarvon hurried to Luxor and the tomb was entered on 26 November. The discovery astounded the world: a royal tomb, mostly undisturbed, full of spectacular objects. Carter recruited a team of expert assistants to help him in the clearance of the tomb, and the conservation and recording of its remarkable contents. On 16 February 1923 the blocking to the burial chamber was removed, to reveal the unplundered body and funerary equipment of the dead king. Unhappily, the death of Lord Carnarvon on 5 April seriously affected the subsequent progress of Carter’s work.
In spite of considerable and repeated bureaucratic interference, not easily managed by the short-tempered excavator, work on the clearance of the tomb proceeded slowly, but was not completed until 1932. Carter handled the technical processes of clearance, conservation, and recording with exemplary skill and care.
No archaeological discovery had met with such sustained public interest, yet Carter received no formal honours from his own country’ (ODNB).
First edition, 3 vols, 8vo (24 x 17cm), xvi, 231; xxxiv, 269; xvi, 247pp., profusely illustrated with photographic plates, original pictorial cloth gilt, an excellent set.
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