Pharaoh-d to Discovery: Tutankhamun 100 Years On

‘Never give up, you might be closer than you think’ seems like the kind of statement you would find on a fridge magnet, but also has surprising relevance when it comes to one of the greatest archaeological discoveries in modern history.

After several fruitless dig attempts, Howard Carter and his team were almost at the point of downing tools and leaving the Valley of Kings for good when, one hundred years ago exactly, the steps to the tomb of Tutankhamun were suddenly unearthed, and the field of Egyptology changed forever (Carter, 1972).

Although Carter seemingly adopted an air of nonchalance, simply recording ‘first steps of tomb found’ in his diary (The Griffith Institute, 2022a), the excitement at such a significant discovery must have been palpable. 100 years on, Tutankhamun remains somewhat of a figurehead of Egyptology, and our fascination with the Boy King shows no signs of slowing. In Oxford alone, there are talks and exhibitions celebrating the anniversary of the discovery, and I was lucky enough to assist the Egyptology subject librarian, Susanne Woodhouse, with a book display in the Sackler.

As the Sackler houses a large collection of Egyptology books, there is naturally a plethora of resources related to Tutankhamun. Fortunately for me, Susanne had already decided which books should be featured in the display, focusing on four clear categories: the excavation of the tomb; Tutankhamun and the British Museum; Tutankhamun and Oxford (Howard Carter’s excavation archive was moved to the Griffith Institute, housed within the Sackler by his niece, Phyllis Walker after his death (The Griffith Institute, 2022b)); and Tutankhamun’s place in history. All that was left for me to do was track down the required titles (with a little help from the incredible interactive floorplan of the Sackler) and create a mock-up of the display to make sure it was aesthetically pleasing but with enough structural integrity to prevent collapse if readers wanted a closer look at some of the items, before setting up the final display on the ground floor. As well as the books and journals, we also added some flyers for the exhibition on Tutankhamun at the Weston Library and used a reproduction of one of the painted sides of a box found in the tomb to create a visually striking display (Davis and Gardiner, 1962).

As someone working in the library sector, I particularly enjoyed learning how objects from the tomb were handled- Carter had no formal archaeology training, but working with a small team, managed to carefully catalogue, transport and protect over 5000 items (López and Healy, 2022).

Tutankhamun has captivated people around the world for one hundred years- from cigarette cards and hieroglyphic wallpaper in the 1920s (Masters, 2014/ Riggs, 2019) to today’s increase in Egyptian-led excavations in and around the Valley of the Kings. And with the new 889-million-pound home for the objects found in Tutankhamun’s tomb (The Grand Egyptian Museum) hopefully opening in 2023 (Mueller, 2022), Tutankhamun’s popularity shows no sign of waning.

Although we may never know the full truth about Tutankhamun’s short life and unexpected death, the tomb and its contents still have secrets to share. Professor Yehia Gad, a geneticist and expert in the field of DNA analysis of ancient mummies, is currently studying samples from Tutankhamun with the hope of shedding some light on his family history and potential hereditary conditions (Mueller, 2022).

It’s clear that although Tutankhamun may be long gone, his legacy continues to inspire- who knows what the next 100 years will uncover?


Tutankhamun: Excavating the Archive is a free exhibition at the Weston Library (in collaboration with The Griffith Institute) running until the 5th of February 2023. More information can be found here.

[NB the Sackler Library has now been renamed to the Art, Archaeology and Ancient World Library]


A table with books on Tutankhamun
The finished book display at the Sackler Library




Carter, H. (1972) The tomb of Tutankhamen. [Abridged]. London: Sphere. CHAPTER 5, p.31

Davies, N.M. and Gardiner, A.H. (1962) Tutankhamun’s painted box : reproduced in colour from the original in the Cairo Museum. Oxford: Griffith Institute.

López, A.L. and Healy, P. (2022) Filled with riches- and meaning. Washington: National Geographic. November 2022, pp.74-75

Masters, T. (2014) ‘Tutankhamun: How ‘Tut-mania’ gripped the world’, BBC News, 24 July. Available at (Accessed 31 October 2022)

Matḥaf al-Miṣrī (1926) A short description of the objects from the tomb of Tutankhamun now exhibited in the Cairo Museum. [Cairo: Egyptian Museum].

Mueller, T. (2022) ‘Egypt’s new £889 million museum is fit for a pharaoh’ , National Geographic, 19 October. Available at (Accessed 31 October 2022)

Riggs, C. (2019) Photographing Tutankhamun : archaeology, ancient Egypt, and the archive. London: Bloomsbury Visual Arts (Photography, history: history, photography).

The Griffith Institute (2022a) Excavation journals and diaries made by Howard Carter and Arthur Mace. Available at: (Accessed 31 October 2022)

The Griffith Institute (2022b) Tutankhamun: Anatomy of an excavation. Available at: (Accessed 31 October 2022)


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