Before the discovery, Tut was a “barely known king,” says Silverman. After all, the ancient Egyptian civilization spanned thousands of years, from about 3100 B.C. to 332 B.C. Tut’s rule lasted only a decade—and later pharaohs largely erased him from public records.
Tut took the throne in 1333 B.C. at just 8 or 9 years old, after the death of his father. At the time, Egyptian life centered on the Nile River, which had become a key trade route and had stimulated a lucrative agricultural economy on its banks.
Tut’s reign ended when the pharaoh mysteriously died at age 19. Experts today still debate the cause of his death. Some suspect Tut was murdered, while others say he was in poor health and likely died from an infection.
Ancient Egyptians, believing in life after death, preserved Tut’s body as a mummy and buried him with items they thought he would need in the afterlife, including robes, sandals, jewelry, board games, furniture, musical instruments, and food.
Carter believed Tut’s tomb lay in the Valley of the Kings, a royal burial ground near the Nile. Dozens of pharaohs had been buried there, and robbers had raided many of their tombs in ancient times. Carter wondered: Had Tut’s tomb been spared?
On Nov. 26, 1922, with Carnarvon by his side, Carter was about to find out. As Carter entered the tomb through a narrow passageway, his hand trembled in the darkness. He held up a candle to peer through a hole he had chipped in a second door.
“Can you see anything?” Carnarvon asked. “Yes,” Carter answered. “Wonderful things.”
The room glittered with gold, and it was piled with golden chariots, jeweled chests, and dazzling statues. It was the only pharaoh’s tomb to be found intact, and no one in modern times had seen anything like it.
Deep inside the tomb, the biggest find of all awaited. Behind the sealed door of Tut’s burial chamber rested a massive stone sarcophagus with three coffins nested inside. The last one, made of solid gold, held Tut’s mummy, which wore a magnificent gold mask.