Discovering Tutankhamun

Exploring the story of one of the most significant archaeological discoveries of the 20th century.

Howard Carter came to Egyptology through his skills as a draughtsman and artist, having been commissioned to copy hieroglyphic inscriptions and tomb paintings at the age of 17. After establishing himself as a successful archaeologist he was employed by George Herbert, the fifth Earl of Carnarvon, to lead excavations of ancient tombs on the Theban west bank.

In 1914 the men jumped at the chance to search for one of the last royal tombs to be located; that of Tutankhamun. Little was known about him at the time, with most reports suggesting he was a king of minor historical importance.

Unfortunately for the team, their excavations were largely unsuccessful and by 1922 Lord Carnarvon could no longer afford the costs to continue the work. Carter was able to persuade him to undertake one more season of digging, and just days later on 5 November the archaeologist recorded in his diary: “Discovered tomb under tomb of Ramses VI / Investigated same & found seals intact”. What they found caused a sensation.

The Times of London was given exclusive access to the excavation and soon photographs of the tomb and its contents appeared around the world. An enthralled public quickly became swept up in by ‘Tutmania’, and Egypt and its boy-king were celebrated in film, advertising, popular music, fashion, and design.

This exhibition brings together objects, photographs and archive material that reveal not only the story of the discovery, but also the significance of the tomb and its contents and how modern historians continue to interpret the evidence.

Don't miss

On display are pictures taken by excavation photographer Harry Burton, Carter’s hand-written diaries and the sketches and records that were made in the tomb as it was cleared from 1922–32. Much of this material is drawn from the Tutankhamun archive in the University of Oxford’s Griffith Institute and has never before been exhibited in public.

Other highlights include artefacts from the Amarna Period (c 1350–1330 BC) and objects which illustrate the frenzied enthusiasm for ancient Egyptian culture that followed the discovery in the 1920s.


Venue details

Ashmolean Museum Beaumont Street, Oxford Oxfordshire OX1 2PH 01865 278000 www.ashmolean.org

Entry details

£4.50 with National Art Pass (standard entry £9)

Tue – Sun, Bank Holiday Mon, 10am – 5pm

Closed 24 – 26 Dec

Member offers

10% off shop purchases