The Ghost of Howard Carter

Behind every door lies the unknown - even a ghost perhaps. Howard Carter broke open the door of the tomb of Tutankhamun on November 26, 1922 and found "wonderful things." Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities opened the door of Howard Carter's residence to visitors about a year ago and has revealed a wonderful glimpse into the life a man who probably felt as cursed as he felt blessed. With a collection of period pieces and some of Carter's own belongings, the SCA has ably re-created his home at the time of his 10 years' work in the tomb of Tutankhamun.

Carter built the house soon after establishing a partnership with Lord Carnarvon. He knew that the project before them, to find a tomb, would require a comfortable base of operations near to the Valley of the Kings. He situated his home on a raise near the base of the escarpment at the point where the desert and the agricultural land meet. Although this was the closest spot to the Valley suitable for a house, Carter still would have had an arduous journey to work every morning by donkey, following the rock-strewn and twisting path through a wadi to reach the burial area.

It took Carter seven years to find the tomb and ten years to excavate it. Fascinating photographs of the work, taken by Harry Burton, are displayed throughout the house along with a few letters from his rais (crew captain) to Carter in England.

The trials and tribulations of discovering a royal tomb are brought to life by the ghost of Howard Carter himself. The holographic film created for the house tells the story of excavation and the difficulties of dealing with thousands of visitors to the site every day. The latter provides a lead-in for discussion of the SCA's own challenges to protect the tombs while providing access to tourists.

Howard Carter deserves commendation for his meticulous documentation of the tomb and each of the 5,398 objects found. He not only described each object in his notes and had Burton photograph it, he also detailed all conservation treatments conducted by his chemist Alfred Lucas. Perhaps Carter learned the necessity of such documentation when working for Sir William Flinders Petrie, who founded excavation standards for Egyptian archaeology. Some of Carter's notes, photographs and drawings are spread across the dining room table and buffet, which is a very plausible re-creation of an archaeologist's dining room.

Less plausible is the re-created neatness of Carter's office; but perhaps the room captures a moment soon after Carter's cleaning man had passed through.

Carter's darkroom for developing plates and photographs is very evocative with the red film-safe light and prints hanging by clothespins from a line to dry. Outside the darkroom door is Harry Burton's large-format camera on its hefty tripod.

The guest bedroom is quite inviting, as is the entire experience of visiting Howard Carter's house.

Carter was known for his hospitality. As Alan Gardiner, the great British Egyptologist whose tome still teaches hieroglyphs to every budding Egyptologist, once wrote: Carter "is quite sociable and decent towards us". Visitors to his home can again stop in for drinks thanks to a cafe operated by the Winter Palace hotel. Prices are dear, but as you sit gazing at the desert escarpment into which mighty pharaohs were buried, your drinking companion is the ghost of the eminent Egyptologist who 'resurrected' one of their kin.

And so, as inscribed on Tutankhamun's wishing cup and Carter's tomb:
May your spirit live, May you spend millions of years, You who love Thebes, Sitting with your face to the north wind, Your eyes beholding happiness.


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Even without the golf-green grass that the SCA has planted since this satellite image (an attraction in itself), Howard Carter's house appears as an oasis in the desert.

Carter House is situated at the intersection that leads to the Valley of the Kings, Gurna. It cannot be missed. Ticket price is LE 20 for adults and LE 10 for students. Be sure to ask the attendant to see the holographic presentation. If you don't ask, Howard Carter's ghost may remain hidden. The t3.wy Project:
Dig Houses in Egypt. Castle Carter II
Highclere Castle: The Home of the Carnarvon Family
Egyptology Exhibition
Heritage Key: Harry Burton and His Camera by Malcolm Jack
Griffths Institute, Oxford: Tutankhamun: Anatomy of an Excavation. Complete database of all objects found in the tomb with Carter's notes and Burton's photographs.

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