Howard Carter was born on March 9th, 1874 in Kensington, London. He was the family's youngest son, out of eight children. He spent most of his childhood in Swaffam, North Norfolk, England, studying art under his father, Samuel. The family business involved painting portraits of people and animals, but Howard aspired to greater things.
In October of 1891, he accepted a position with the Egyptian Exploration Fund as a tracer and set sail for Alexandria, Egypt. The job entailed creating copies of art and inscriptions in Egyptian tombs for later study. His first assignment was at Bani Hassan, which contained the graves of numerous princes of Middle Egypt. He was a hard worker and copied inscriptions and art all day long, sometimes even spending the night in the tombs.
In 1892, he was assigned to Flinders Petrie's team at El-Amarna. Petrie, a well-known and respected archaeologist, initially didn't think Carter would make a good excavator. However, Carter managed to unearth numerous finds in El-Amarna, which was the capital of Egypt under Akhenaten's rule. Petrie took Carter under his arm, teaching him everything there was to know about archaeology and excavations.
Following his work with Petrie, Carter was given a promotion and served as Principle Artist in the excavations at Deir el Babri, where Queen Hatsheput was buried. In 1899, he was promoted to First Chief Inspector General of Monuments for Upper Egypt, which involved supervising and controlling archaeology work along the Nile River Valley.
After several years of service, Carter became involved in an unfortunate incident. Some drunken tourists at a tomb became abusive to the Egyptian guards there and Carter allowed them to defend themselves. The tourists later complained to Egyptian officials, including Egyptian Consul General Lord Cromer, but Carter refused to apologize. Carter was subsequently forced out of his position and was transferred to the town of Tanta, later resigning in 1905.
Unemployed, Carter was forced to find odd jobs as painter and guide for tourists. For several years he survived, eventually meeting the fifth Earl of Carnarvon. The two hit it off and Carnarvon decided to hire Carter as supervisor of the excavations he was funding in Thebes. Carter made numerous discoveries over the next several years, amassing one of the largest collections of Egyptian artifacts. He also decided that he wanted to find the tomb of Tutankhamun, a pharaoh depicted in other tombs, but whose own tomb had not yet been discovered. He convinced Carnarvon to fund searches in the Valley of the Kings through 1922.
By 1922, it looked like Carter might have been mistaken and the tomb was not actually there, but he convinced a reluctant Carnarvon to fund just one more search. Work began on November 4, 1922 and his team uncovered the top of a staircase after three days. Over the next three weeks the full staircase was uncovered, revealing a sealed doorway. On November 26, 1922, the seal was opened, revealing the interior of King Tutankhamun tomb.
Although it appeared that grave robbers had already breached the seal of the tomb, they found that it was largely untouched and a tremendous number of artifacts were still there, including many gold treasures. Carter, Carnarvon, and the world were thrilled by the discovery and it made news all over. Tragically, Carnarvon caught pneumonia and died soon after the tomb opening, a death that the media hyped as being caused by the mummy's curse.
Carter spent the next decade producing one of the most detailed records ever made of an archaeological site, carefully cataloging every item in the tomb and photographing the original state of the tomb. His procedure, although slow, set a new standard for archaeology and influenced much of modern archaeology procedures. Eventually, he reached the burial chamber, discovering the mummy of Tutankhamun within several beautiful caskets and a now-famous gold mask.
Eventually, Carter was satisfied with his work and the artifacts were sent to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Tutankhamun mummy was once again laid to rest in the tomb and it was locked. Carter decided to retire from archaeology, becoming a collector of Egyptian antiquities. He died in Albert Court, Kensington, London on March 2, 1939.