100 years after the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, shedding light on the hidden heroes of exploration

Harry Burton/Griffith Institute, University of Oxford
Tutankhamun’s golden mask

The discovery of the intact tomb of Egyptian King Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings in 1922 is one of the most famous archaeological finds in modern history.

An exhibition commemorating the 100th anniversary of the discovery at Oxford University today highlights the unnamed heroes of that discovery.

Child pharaoh Tutankhamun died over 3,000 years ago at the age of 19. His remains were unearthed in 1922 by British Egyptologist Howard Carter and his team.

Notes, photographs, plans and drawings taken during the 10 years of excavations also provide a different perspective.

Despite the perception that points to Howard Carter as the sole hero of discovery, many Egyptians whose contributions have been overlooked are also remembered through these records.

However, while the faces are there, the names of many heroes are not in the archives. One of them is an Egyptian model boy. Posing inside the tomb with the heavy necklace around her neck, she brings together modern and ancient Egypt.

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An Egyptian boy models a jewelry necklace found in Tutankhamun's tomb

Harry Burton/Griffith Institute, University of Oxford

Another photograph shows one of the efforts to reach the burial chamber. Two adult men and a boy chosen to work in narrow sections stand in the center of this plaza.

Egyptian foremen and a boy dismantle a dividing wall to open Tutankhamun's burial chamber

Harry Burton/Griffith Institute, University of Oxford

Howard Carter, whose name went down in history with the discovery, thanks four Egyptians in his notes. They are Ahmed Gerigar, Gad Hasan, Hussein Abu Awad and Hussein Ahmed Said… However, it is not possible to select them from the photographs.

Egyptologist Dr. Daniela Rosenow says Carter recruited more than 50 people while working on the tombs.

Egyptian workers at the Luxor site of Tutankhamun's tomb

Harry Burton/Griffith Institute, University of Oxford

Dr. Rosenow argues that although these individuals are not named, the photographs challenge the colonial image of the “heroic explorer”:

“Through these photos, we see the important contribution of the Egyptians, which shows that we only have one side of the story.”

Howard Carter, his assistant Arthur Callender and an unidentified Egyptian open the doors to a golden shrine inside Tutankhamun's tomb

Harry Burton/Griffith Institute, University of Oxford

In what appears to be a deliberate pose, Carter and his team open the door to the Golden Temple in this dramatic shot.

Carter leaned over, looking at his assistant, Arthur Callender, and an unnamed Egyptian.

This photograph allowed the discovery to be heard around the world and introduced Carter as a British adventurer.

Garland of cornflowers and olive leaves on Tutankhamun's outer coffin

Harry Burton/Griffith Institute, University of Oxford

This photograph, taken by Burton from outside the coffin, focuses on the corn and olive leaves on the young king’s forehead.

Shortly after this photograph, these leaves, which came into contact with the outside world, disappeared. Their existence is only now recalled by this sharp photograph.

British surgeon Douglas Derry makes first incision in Tutankhamun's mummified body

Harry Burton/Griffith Institute, University of Oxford

British surgeon Douglas Derry was the first to cut Tutankhamun’s mummified body.

In the photograph from November 11, 1925, Dr. Salih Hamdi Bey is on the right of Derry. Among the audience are French expert Pierre Lacau and Egyptian officials.

Tutankhamun's golden mask

Harry Burton/Griffith Institute, University of Oxford

Tutankhamun’s all-gold mask was one of the most iconic objects found in the tomb.

Howard Carter's drawing of a statue of Anubis

Harry Burton/Griffith Institute, University of Oxford

The statue of Anusbis, the god of death and funerals according to ancient Egyptian mythology, was also drawn by Carter. Notes and measurements are also included in the document. The son of an illustrator, Carter had studied art but then turned to archaeology.

Carter named a warehouse east of the burial chamber “Treasure”. In the frame below, photographer Burton uses a hidden lighting technique to enhance the dramatic effect.

A storehouse known as the Treasury, inside Tutankhamun's tomb

Harry Burton/Griffith Institute, University of Oxford

WHO WAS TUTANKAMON?

Tutankhamun, also known as the Child King, belonged to the 18th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt.

Howard Carter’s grave, which he discovered in 1922, was notable for its integrity.

Tutankhamun, who was around 17 when he died, remains a mystery.

It is believed that he may have been killed or died of a wound he received while hunting.

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