The Fifth Earl of Carnarvon George Herbert and Howard Carter were the most unlikely of associates yet the two men, who on the face of it had so little in common, collaborated successfully to make the most famous archaeological find of all time.
A new four-part ITV series Tutankhamun, which begins this Sunday, tells the story of that find and how, thanks to Carnarvon’s riches and Carter’s stubborn perseverance, the 3,300-year-old tomb of the Boy King of ancient Egypt was unearthed in the Valley of the Kings in 1922.
The discovery made both men global celebrities and led to a wave of “Tutmania” across the world but for Carnarvon the euphoria was short-lived as he died just five months later – his untimely demise taken by some as evidence of a mummy’s curse.
“At Cambridge University he was more often at the races than at lectures,” noted Middle Eastern scholar HVF Winstone. Porchy sailed round the world when he was 21 and two years later he inherited his title and the family seat, the magnificent Highclere Castle in Hampshire – later the setting for TV series Downton Abbey.
“His handsome features and rather diffident manner – he was sometimes thought to be a prototype of Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster – made him popular with all classes of people wherever he went,” wrote Winstone.
In 1903 Porchy was driving his car on a country road in Germany at his usual breakneck speed when he swerved to avoid two carts and was seriously injured. His doctors advised him to go to Egypt to convalesce. It was there that he became hooked on Egyptology and decided to finance his own excavations.
Carter had been in Egypt on and off for 16 years when he first encountered Carnarvon. The two men, from very different backgrounds, were both determined to unearth old tombs – and in particular that of the Boy King who had ruled for around 10 years in the 14th century BC.
Carnarvon, the great racing enthusiast, declared that he’d rather find an undisturbed tomb than win the Derby. Carter started working for the nobleman in 1907 but in 1914 his excavations had to be put on hold because of the outbreak of the First World War.
In 1917 he resumed his work with Carnarvon once again ready with the funds. But the years passed and still there was no discovery. By 1922 the Earl had spent around £50,000 on excavations with very little to show for it. Understandably his patience was running out but at Highclere Castle in June 1922 Carter managed to persuade his patron to finance one more season of digging.
“I was struck dumb by amazement and when Carnarvon, unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, ‘Can you see anything?, it was all I could do to get out the words, ‘Yes, wonderful things’,” Carter later wrote. The first press report of the discovery a few days later caused an international sensation.
“In private houses, hotels, subways, suburban trains, theatres and in Wall Street everywhere one goes one hears constantly of the great Pharaoh and his treasures and the light that is about to be thrown on a historical mystery,” it was reported from the US.
On his return to Britain the Earl had an audience with the King. Keen to see a return on his considerable investment Carnarvon sold exclusive newspaper rights and began to discuss film deals. But disagreements with Carter about rights to the tomb’s artefacts occurred.
Just before he died the lights in the Egyptian capital are said to have gone out, with no explanation given for the blackout. But what really inspired the idea of a curse linked to the discovery of Tutankhamun was the news that thousands of miles away at Highclere, the Earl’s devoted dog, a three-legged fox terrier called Susie, “howled inconsolably” and died – at the same time as her master.
In addition there were reports that on the day Tutankhamun’s tomb was opened a cobra – the snake that was regarded as a symbol of royalty in ancient Egypt – had entered Howard Carter’s house and eaten his pet canary.
The Daily Express reported: “The death of Lord Carnarvon has been followed by a panic among collectors of Egyptian antiquities. All over the country people are sending their treasures to the British Museum, anxious to get rid of them because of the superstition that Carnarvon was killed by the ‘ka’, or double of the soul of Tutankhamun.”
With many thanks to Express UK
Picture above:via Twitter. OTD 1922 November 4th, Howard Carter.
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