Monday, 26 November 2012

Tutankhamen's Tomb

Ninety years ago today, on November 26th, 1922, Howard Carter and Lord Caernarvon stood outside the doorway of tomb KV62 in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. At the beginning of the month, Carter had discovered a set of 16 steps, leading to a doorway. Although it was sealed and plastered, there was evidence it had been penetrated by grave robbers. Beyond the door was a descending passage to a second sealed door.

Carter had to await his sponsor’s arrival in Egypt before he opened the second door. Lord Caernarvon arrived in Egypt on November 23rd, and three days later he watched as Carter made a hole in the door.

What a tense moment that must have been! Would the tomb have been stripped by the grave robbers?

Carter leaned in, holding a candle. In his own words: "At first I could see nothing, the hot air escaping from the chamber causing the candle flames to flicker, but presently, as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues and gold - everywhere the glint of gold.

For the moment - an eternity it must have seemed to the others standing by - I was dumb with amazement, and when Lord Carnarvon, unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, 'Can you see anything?' it was all I could do to get out the words, "Yes, wonderful things."
The tomb of Tutankhamen, as we know, was intact, and contained an amazing amount of treasures, not least the three gold coffins, one inside the other, and then the mummified body of the boy king, with its wonderful gold mask.
The discovery of the tomb has fascinated me ever since I first learnt about it when I was at school, and later, as a history teacher, I used to tell my classes about the discovery, in the hope that they would share my fascination with this amazing discovery.
Twenty years ago, I visited Cairo, and saw the treasures in the Egyptian Museum, but I still longed to see the tomb itself.

Two years ago, I fulfilled that long-held dream. On the first day of our tour, which began in Luxor, we went (very early in the morning) to the Valley of the Kings on the west bank of the Nile. Our Egyptian tour guide was eager for us to see the beautifully decorated tombs of the other pharaohs but there was only one tomb I really wanted to see. We had to pay extra for this (I guess the Tourist Authority recognises the extra interest in Tut’s tomb!) – but I didn’t care. As we walked down the steps and then the sloping passageway, I could hardly believe I was finally about to enter Tutankhamen’s tomb.
Was it what I’d imagined? No, it was much smaller. I could hardly believe that all those treasures had been piled up in a relatively small antechamber. Did it live up to my expectations? Yes, I stood in that room, pictured all those treasures, and imagined Carter's excitment. Then I leant on the wooden rail to peer into the burial chamber where the sarcophagus had been found intact.
I remembered Howard Carter’s words when, having cleared the antechamber, he finally saw the burial chamber. Again, using his own words: “After about ten minutes' work, I had made a hole large enough to enable me to [peer inside]. I inserted an electric torch. An astonishing sight its light revealed, for there, within a yard of the doorway, stretching as far as one could see and blocking the entrance to the chamber, stood what to all appearances was a solid wall of gold.”
This visit to Tutankhamen's tomb was one of the highlights of my visit to Egypt (the other main one was seeing the Abu Simbel temples), and that visit inspired my novel, ‘Her Only Option’. Although it’s a romance between a cruise ship tour guide and an archaeologist working in the Valley of the Kings, I hope it captures some of the wonders of Ancient Egypt.
Here’s an excerpt from ‘Her Only Option’ when Ross calls Neve (who’s on a brief visit to London) to tell her what he’s found in the tunnel he’s been excavating, leading from the burial chamber of one of the Pharaohs:
“Hi, Ross. Is everything okay?”
“Yes, everything’s fine. In fact, it’s more than fine. Ask me what we’ve found.”
She heard a tinge of controlled excitement in his voice. “Go on then. What have you found?”
“A doorway with the seals intact.”
“Ross, that’s fantastic!”
“It’s about twenty yards further along the passage from where we got to when you came into the tunnel. We found the broken remains of a couple of gilded statues in the rubble yesterday, but I didn’t raise my hopes until they cleared some more stuff and uncovered the top of the doorway early this morning. I thought there’d probably be signs of it being broken into by tomb robbers, so when I realised it seemed to be intact—oh, God, I wish you were here, Neve.”
“I’ll be back in two days. When are you going to open the door?”
“Not sure yet. The engineers will work overnight to put up more supports in the last section of the passage where the ceiling is very fragile, and I’ll have to call Malik too. He’ll want his photographers to get some shots of the doorway before we break the seal. We may be able to open it later tomorrow or early Sunday.”
“I think I’m as excited as you sound. Ross, you could be hitting the world headlines by Monday morning.”
“I’m trying not to get too excited. It might still turn out to be a dead-end with nothing behind the door. Sometimes it’s better to be pessimistic rather than over-optimistic.”
“If I were there with you, I’d be cracking open a bottle of champagne tonight.”
Ross laughed. “Maybe we can do that on Sunday evening when you get back, either to celebrate or drown our sorrows.”
“Think positive—and I’ll keep everything crossed for you. I’ll be on pins tomorrow, waiting to hear what you’ve found.”
'Her Only Option' is available from Amazon
Neve Dalton loves her job as a tour guide on a River Nile cruise ship as much as she values her independence. She isn’t ready to settle down with her Egyptian boyfriend, despite his repeated proposals and his father’s desire to see him married.
Nor is she ready to meet Ross McAllister, a compelling and fascinating archaeologist.She struggles against her growing attraction to him until she can no longer ignore what her heart is telling her. This is the man who sets her soul on fire.
When she starts receiving cryptic messages, and Ross’s work in the famous Valley of the Kings is threatened, Neve has to make a heart-breaking and life-changing decision which she feels is her only option.
Can they discover whose enmity is forcing them apart before it’s too late?


  1. Thanks, Claudia - several people have said it's my best one yet :-) Must admit I'm still in love with my hero in that story!

  2. Yes, fascinating excerpt, plus a fascinating cover!

    Morgan Mandel