Rising like a mirage from the arid desert, the rock-hewn tombs and stone sepulchers in the Valley of the Kings serve as immortal reminders of Egypt’s greatest rulers and pharaohs. Yet the Valley’s most famous burial chamber—the tomb of Tutankhamen (better known as King Tut)—is ironically one of the most mundane: 16 stone steps lead to an underground lair that looks more like a cellar than a pharaoh’s funerary fortress. Inside, however, lies a treasure trove of exquisitely made jewelry, clothing, furniture, artwork, and more—giving a clearer picture of the lavish lifestyle led by the boy pharaoh, who was the last ruler of the 18th Dynasty of Egypt. Orion (the constellation the ancients believed to be the soul of Osiris, god of the afterlife) is positioned directly above the nondescript entrance, silently standing guard over the chamber, further signifying the importance of the late pharaoh buried within.
In 1922, down-on-his-luck archaeologist Howard Carter traveled to the Valley in hopes of finding the tomb. King Tut was a relatively unknown and insignificant pharaoh, who had ascended the throne when he was around nine and who died unexpectedly almost a decade later. The archaeological undertaking was slated to be Carter’s last: Lord Carnarvon, a wealthy English aristocrat who financed the excursions, had grown weary as previous digs proved unfruitful.
Most archaeologists—including Theodore Davis, who unearthed scores of tombs in the Valley and once came within six feet of finding Tut’s tomb himself—believed the area had been thoroughly exhausted. Carter, however, had a hunch that they were wrong. And, as fate would have it, his intuition proved correct.
After clearing away several workmen’s huts, Carter stumbled upon the discovery of a lifetime. “At first, I could see nothing,” Carter wrote in his book The Tomb of Tutankhamen, “the hot air escaping from the chamber causing the candle to flicker, but presently, as my eyes became accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues, gold—everywhere the glint of gold.” When Lord Carnarvon asked what he could see, Carter uttered his now-famous words: “Wonderful things.” Despite his short life, King Tut has been immortalized in death because his tomb is the most intact burial chamber ever unearthed in Egypt.