Howard Carter looted Tutankhamun's burial treasure

British archaeologist Howard Carter, one of the discoverers of Tutankhamun's tomb. / AFP

An unpublished letter reveals that the British archaeologist stole valuable objects from the burial chamber of the boy pharaoh and resealed the tomb before its official opening

Michael Lorenci

The prestige of Howard Carter, one of the discoverers of Tutankhamun's tomb, was already in question. But he falls apart in this year in which November marks the centenary of the discovery of the marvelous treasure of the young pharaoh of the XVIII Dynasty in the Valley of the Kings. A hitherto unpublished letter reveals that Carter ransacked the tomb before his discovery was officially reported. He that he opened it and resealed it. This confirms the suspicions, expressed by the Egyptians as early as 1922, that his discoverer lied and profited from the legendary and mediatic archaeological find.

The rumor about Carter was also a hundred years old, although so far no one had provided evidence of the robbery. But everything has changed with the publication of a handwritten letter in 1934 by Sir Alan Gardiner, a prestigious British philologist, academic and member of Carter's excavation team, and whose contribution was definitive in deciphering and translating the hieroglyphics in the tomb of the buried young pharaoh 3,300 years ago.

The letter reveals that Carter gave Gardiner an amulet used in mortuary offerings, assuring him that it would not come from the tomb of the young pharaoh. But Gardiner showed the object to Rex Engelbach, the then British director of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, who noted the similarity of the piece with others found in the tomb, all from the same mould.

Engelbach understood without hesitation that the amulet had come from Tutankhamun's burial chamber and that Carter had lied to his colleague. An angry and disappointed Gardiner wrote to Carter giving an account of Engelbach's appraisals and blaming him for rewarding him with a stolen item. "I deeply regret being put in such an awkward position. Naturally, I did not tell Engelbach that he had obtained the amulet from you », reads one of the paragraphs of the letter advanced last weekend by the newspaper 'The Observer'.

irrefutable proof

The compromising and revealing letter belongs to a private collection that Oxford University Press will publish in its entirety in the book 'Tutankhamun and the Tomb that Changed the World' ('Tutankhamun and the Tomb that Changed the World'). Its author is Bob Brier, a prestigious Long Island University Egyptologist for whom the new letter is "definitive proof" of Carter's theft.

Carter, before the entrance to the burial chamber of the boy pharaoh in 1922. /


"Carter was known to have items, and people suspected he might have been taken advantage of, but these letters are irrefutable evidence," insists Brier. She explains that Carter "never admitted" to the accusations, but that there is also "no official denial", even though "the Egyptian government excluded Carter from the excavation for a time". "There were a lot of bad feelings towards him and they thought he was stealing things," adds the American Egyptologist.

Brier, who has no doubts about Carter's immoral and reprehensible behavior, reminded 'The Observer' that the Egyptian archaeologists and authorities suspected from the beginning that Carter and some members of his team entered the tomb and took objects earlier than expected. which they reflected in their diaries and official communications. “It was suspected that they entered the tomb before its official opening and that they looted objects and jewelry that were sold after their deaths,” says Brier.

It confirms that the Egyptians were unable to prove their early suspicions, but were convinced that Carter was planning to steal a wooden head of Tutankhamun in his possession, along with many other items of his property that were found in the Egyptian antiquities market. and that they "clearly came from the tomb."

Carter (l) with Lord Carnarvon, who made possible the excavation of the tomb in the Valley of the Kings. /


Lord Carnarvon financed the expedition that Carter supervised until 1932, such as the transfer of the objects from the tomb to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Carter claimed that the most valuable treasures had been looted in ancient times, a statement that many Egyptologists questioned. 'The Observer' recalls that as early as 1947 a Carter employee, Alfred Lucas, claimed in an Egyptian scientific magazine that his boss had secretly opened the door to the burial chamber and that he then sealed it again.


November marks the first centenary of the discovery of the funerary chamber of the child pharaoh and its fabulous treasure. On November 4, the first rung of the ladder leading to the chamber in which Carver first glimpsed "wonderful things" on November 26 through the hole was discovered. The tomb, which was later named KV62, housed divans, thrones, altars, chariots and hundreds of funerary objects necessary for the journey to the afterlife of a young king who died at the age of 19 and who had to cross the shore to the world. of the dead, according to Egyptian beliefs.

Detail of the gold funerary mask of Tutankhamun. /


The discovery in the vicinity of Luxor that fascinated the world, renewed interest in Egyptology to the point of turning it into 'Egyptmania'. Among all the objects in the burial chamber, the gold funerary mask of Tutankhamun stands out, becoming the most recognizable emblem of the Ancient Egyptian and today the star piece of the Cairo Museum.

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