“Yes, wonderful things.”
Those were the reported words of Howard Carter nearly 90 years ago when the English archaeologist — asked by the Earl of Carnarvon whether he could see anything — finally cast his eyes on the tomb of Tutankhamun, and the golden objects therein.
Today, Google visually unveils some wonderful things itself to celebrate the 138th birthday of the celebrated Egyptologist, who gained lasting fame with the 1922 discovery of the tomb and the subsequent, laborious excavation. The homepage Doodle depicts just a few of the thousands of objects that were removed from the tomb — a process that took the better part of a decade and stirred the public imagination.
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Carter — born May 9. 1874, in London — had been searching, and sometimes finding, for the burial sites of ancient pharaohs for nearly three decades when he led the discovery of the 18th-dynasty of Tutankhamun’s tomb, more than 3,000 years after the “boy king” was laid to rest.
Carter came to Egypt as a teenager, and was named first chief inspector of the Egyptian Antiquities Service while in his 20s, but his greatest find would elude him till November 1922, when a worker found the steps to the secret tomb.
What Carter found among those wonderful things was a remarkably intact tomb — unplundered like so many other sites in the Valley of the Kings. The Doodle suggests the sheer variety of the unearthed objects. (As an artist, Carter — the son of a painter — was also skilled at replicating these ancient artifacts.)
“In the dim light they could see the glint of gold everywhere,” wrote the New York Times in Carter’s obituary. “As the scene grew clearer, a whole roomful of objects came into view — couches, chairs, alabaster vases, chariots, a throne, stools and chests, all glistening with inlay and gold, and a sealed doorway leading still beyond. When the doorway was opened a wall of gold was revealed — the side of an immense gilt shrine shielding the sarcophagus of the buried king.”
By entering Tutankhamun’s tomb, Carter also soon entered popular culture — as his discovery minted him as a global celebrity, and his name popped up in music and, in time, on the screen. He was a real-life Indiana Jones.
Carter died in London in 1939 (of lymphoma), at age 64, his fame assured not only because of his finding the tomb, but also because Tutankhamun’s artifacts continue to hold our profound fascination and curiosity.
Happy birthday, Howard Carter. Dig your work.
THE FIRST-PERSON ACCOUNT:
STEVE MARTIN’s “KING TUT”: