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Howard Carter unseals the burial chamber of Pharaoh Tutankhamun

Authored by Katherine Waite
Published on 16th February, 2023 2 min read

Howard Carter unseals the burial chamber of Pharaoh Tutankhamun

Statues of pharaoh Tutankhamun and mythology jackal.

On this day, 16th February 1923 (16/02/1923), Howard Carter unsealed the burial chamber containing the sarcophagus of Pharaoh Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. Carter, 1874-1839, was a prominent British archaeologist and Egyptologist.

The unsealing of the tomb garnered a lot of media attention from the world’s press as it was considered the best-preserved pharaonic tomb ever discovered. It caused a revival of popular interest in Egyptian history. Research has uncovered that Tutankhamun took the throne when he was nine years old, and he reigned until his death at eighteen years of age in 1323 BC. He was married to his half-sister Ankhesenamun, with whom he had two stillborn daughters. His manner of death is still debated, however, it was possibly due to complications from a broken leg. Tutankhamun’s burial chamber was relatively undisturbed when opened in 1923, and a wealth of artefacts including religious objects, paintings, and inscriptions were found; over 5000 items in total. It is rumoured that some items were stolen from the tomb, and one person accused of taking some of the treasure is the archaeologist himself, Carter.

In the years after the unsealing of the tomb there were rumours and fears of the “Curse of Tutankhamun”. Novelist Marie Corelli warned readers of New York World and The Times that “the most dire punishment follows any rash intruder into a sealed tomb”. Rumours were further stoked when English peer and aristocrat Lord Carnarvon, who was the financial backer of the excavation of Tutankhamun's tomb, died in unusual circumstances. Carnarvon died of pneumonia in March 1923, after suffering a severe mosquito bite which became infected by a razor cut. Arthur Conan Doyle feared that “an evil elemental” spirit created by priests to protect the mummy could have caused Carnarvon’s death. Furthermore, over the next few years, the deaths of various members of Carter’s team, and visitors to the site, kept the story alive. Carter dismissed the curse as “tommy rot2, but when he died alone of Hodgkin’s disease at the age of sixty-four, the theory of the curse was revived in popular folklore.


Authored by Katherine Waite

Katherine Waite

Katherine Waite is Head of Publishing at British Online Archives. Katherine studied History at Newcastle University, graduating in 2016. She has worked in the editorial and content teams at British Online Archives. As Head of Publishing she is currently working on curating a collection on the history of pandemic disease in the United Kingdom.


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The British Online Archives Notable Days diary is a platform intended to mark key dates and events throughout the year. The posts draw attention to historical events and figures, as well as recurring cultural traditions and international awareness days, in both religious and secular contexts.

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