Tutankhamun: the treasure that 'awakened a mysterious curse' 90 years ago

Julian Gavaghan
The mysterious mausoleum which until 1922 had not been entered for 3,000 years, is certainly a contender for the most amazing discovery of the 20th century.

To Egyptologists it is simply known as KV62 - but this nondescript name belies a remarkable story of a long-lost pharaoh, an epic voyage of discovery and an ancient curse that leaves the spine tingling.

In the nine decades since the finding of the tomb of Tutankhamun – number 62 in the Valley of the Kings, hence KV62 – little else has lit up our imaginations so much.

Indeed, this mysterious mausoleum, which until 1922 had not been entered for 3,000 years, is certainly a contender for the most amazing archaeological discovery of the 20th century.

Today, 90 years after this momentous moment, Tutankhamun - or King Tut- remains a popular icon.

[Related: Thieves using hi-tech 'hacker key' to open hotel doors]

His golden burial mask, for example, would be recognised by almost anyone.

The discovery by Howard Carter and his wealthy benefactor Lord Carnarvon also encouraged a new generation of treasure hunters.

It even inspired the fictional tales of an adventurous archaeologist, which became a movie hit in the form of the Indiana Jones series.

Yet prior the tomb’s discovery few people were bothered about Ancient Egypt.

Interest in the artefacts were viewed as a fad from the Victorian era, when much of the country was plundered by British explorers.

This all changed on November 26, 1922, when Carter and Carnarvon walked in the 14th century BC tomb together after a dogged 15-year search.

Overnight, it reawakened people’s fascination with land of the pharaohs. 

And Carnarvon’s death six months later – and the mysterious passing of number of others who has also entered the burial place – turned it into a compelling legend.

The 56-year-old peer, who had become obsessed with Egypt and squandered almost all his wealth searching the Valley of the Kings, first employed Carter in 1907.

In 1922 he had given the then 48-year-old archaeologist, who first began exploring Egypt at age 17, just one more season to find the long-lost tomb.

Luckily, that was the year Carter struck gold – in the form of 5,000 painstakingly- catalogued objects from Tutankhamun’s burial chamber.

The still unsurpassed trove of treasure - including the king’s sarcophagus, gilded shrines and stillborn mummies – were found underneath abandoned workers’ huts.

After finding a step peeking out of the dusty earth, Cater and his team began digging and discovered a stairwell.

He sent a message to Carnarvon, who arrived a week later, and together they walked down a passageway that had been cleared by robbers in the ancient era.

The thieves had also plundered many of its treasures – but had failed to locate the secret chamber where the king was buried.

On discovering this bare room where the robbers had visited, Carter searched the walls and eventually found access to the main vault, which was guarded by statues.

Four months later, in February 1923, Carter finally gained access to the secret chamber and saw the sarcophagus.

Sadly, Carnarvon died in April at his Highclere Castle estate in Berkshire after shaving a mosquito bite, breaking his skin and spreading the infection.

The death, along eight others who died with 12 years of opening the tomb, sparked the myth of the Curse of the Pharaohs.

But Carter, who died aged 64 in 1939, carried on digging, discovering 2,000 more artefacts in another secret chamber in 1928.

His and Carnarvon’s success – and tenaciousness – inspired thousands of others to dig too.

For that alone we owe these men a debt of gratitude.