Howard Carter was the original tomb raider, discovering King Tutankhamun’s tomb and giving birth to a Hollywood sub-genre that turned Angelina Jolie into an action hero. And today, on what would have been Carter’s 138th birthday, he has a Google Doodle to show for it.
To his fans, the London-born Carter was an Egyptologist, archaeologist and adventurer who was determined to find Tutankhamun’s final resting place -- and the precious objects surrounding him. Critics, however, have a different word for Carter. Plunderer might be the nicest way to put it.
In the early 1900s, Tutankhamun’s tomb -- and the riches it reportedly held -- were akin to the search for the Holy Grail in the world of archaeology. Carter alone spent decades exploring the burial sites of Egypt’s ancient pharaohs before finding the tomb of the boy king who had died 3,000 years earlier, in the 14th century B.C.
While King Tut’s tomb was one of many contained in Egypt’s grand cemetery known as the Valley of the Kings, it had eluded grave-diggers for centuries and as a result was perfectly preserved.
The actual moment of that discovery has become legend, according to the website King Tut One. Carter found the entry to Tutankhamun’s tomb in November 1922 and sent a telegram to his patron, Lord Carnarvon, to come quickly. (There were no cellphones in those days, kids.) It took weeks for Carnarvon to make the voyage.
Finally, when all the necessary parties were assembled, Carter had the honor of making the official entry. Reportedly using a chisel that had been given to him by his grandmother when he was a young explorer just starting out, Carter created an opening just wide enough to peek in using the light of a candle.
Mad with curiosity, Carnarvon cried out, “Can you see anything??” Which led to the now legendary reply:
“Yes, wonderful things.”
Discovering and excavating Tutankhamun’s finds made Carter a living legend. The Google Doodle shows someone -- the nattily-attired Carter? -- admiring Tutankhamun’s gold death mask as well as other catalogued finds.
Carter is credited not just with that discovery, but with helping to modernize the often-tedious science of archaeology and with introducing systematic methods of recording discoveries.
Today’s generation has another reason to be grateful to Carter. His curious ways paved the way for Hollywood screenwriters to create such pop-culture mainstays as “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Tomb Raider” and the “Mummy” series, to name just a few.