A. H. Gardiner's account
of the opening of the burial chamber of Tutankhamun on February 16, 1923

© Griffith Institute, Oxford OX1 2LG

Concept, transcript and HTML editing: Jaromir Malek

This text is based on a letter of nine pages (of these, pages 3 and 5 are photocopies, and there is no page 4) in the papers of Sir Alan Gardiner in the Archive of the Griffith Institute in Oxford. The letter was written to his mother and purely personal sections of it have been omitted here.

Gurneh, 17 Feb. 23

Early in the morning I had climbed over the hill, and soon was at work with Breasted on the seals of the closed door. Behind all that sealed plaster lay - who knew what? Perhaps nothing, perhaps Tutankhamun himself. At all events we had to work hard. The countless seals which covered the plaster had indeed been photographed and rephotographed, and Breasted had spent two days on them. But in three hours they were to be hacked away, and it would be possible only to preserve a few fragments intact. So the historical evidence which the seals might contain had to be studied now or never.

... It was the first chamber which had contained all the marvellous furniture and treasures. Nothing now remains of all these except the two vast black statues of the king standing on each side of the famous closed door as though to guard it from intruders. The little room called the annex is still full of marvels, but in poor condition mostly and at all events demanding years of restoring work. The door to it originally bore seals, and many are still left for us to study. The small hole which had been made and which enabled us to peep into the annex has now been closed up once more, and will not be reopened for study perhaps for several years to come.

Yesterday it was the sealed door to the right of the first chamber which commanded our interest, and here, as I have said, we were working all the morning. Carter had built a wooden framework all round the statues and a small platform on which he could stand to cut down the wall. ... But we had to wait fully an hour more before the great shrine or catafalque was revealed in all its magnificence. It ... measured at least 24 x 16 x 10 feet. All the sides were of gold plate, the interstices between the ornamental symbols being of deep blue faience. A marvel of marvels, such as we never dreamt of. The side, - for it was the side, not the front, which was turned to us as we looked, was hardly more than a couple of feet behind the plastered door where we had been studying the seals, and the whole catafalque, or shrine, very nearly filled the room enclosing it. It was not without much difficulty that one could squeeze by to the right of the shrine.

... At last my turn came to be allowed to pass into the new rooms, and with a little difficulty I squeezed along its front side ... The great heavy door of the catafalque had been forced open by Carter, and we could just peep into it. Inside was yet another golden shrine of just the same kind, and only a little smaller! The inner shrine is sealed and intact. How many more similar catafalques will be found before the sarcophagus of the king (and queen) are found? It looks as though the mummies had been cased in as by a series of those chinese boxes you have often seen, each smaller than the last. We shall not know the answer to this riddle for another year at least.

In the tiny space between the outer and inner golden shrine we could just discern marvellous things. Most delightful alabasters, one with a wonderful carved cat upon it, and another with a charming Nile-god. Over the inner shrine hang a pall of leather, tattered and torn. Had the robbers ceased their plundering just at this point, dismayed by the obstacle of a series of inner shrines? In the right hand corner were a number of sticks and staves of office, all ornamented with gold.

But we had more yet to see, so as our visit was to be a short one, Breasted and I pushed on to the inner room. Here the sight was still more miraculous. Boxes everywhere, boxes of inlaid ivory, of ebony, of white wood - all deliciously carved. At the back of the room was a large golden shrine, somewhat after the style of the golden catafalque, and doubtless including the Canopic jars - the jars holding the viscera of the dead king. But the strangest and most novel feature of the golden Canopic chest was that all around it were carved golden statues of goddesses, holding their arms out in the most graceful attitude, and coquettishly looking over their shoulders. Never could we have imagined that Egyptians would have invented such figures!

Carter lifted the lid of one of the boxes, and there lay the Pharaoh's ivory fan, with marvellous ostrich feathers in perfect preservation. Beside it stood a beautiful box with a pattern of golden ankhs all over it. There may be twenty-five boxes in all, and only two or three have been opened. The doors of a shrine-like box stood open, and within we saw two statuettes, about 20 inches high, of Tutankhamun standing upon a puma. The king's face at least was gold, and I am not sure that the puma was not gold as well. Everywhere in this inner room there are boats, model boats with elaborately painted cabins, boats with sails up, boats with sails down, etc. In a corner I espied a box with two strangely swatched figures. Were they ushabtis or were they the mummies of tiny babies? No one has been able to step across to them, and that is one of twenty mysteries yet to be solved.

© Griffith Institute, Oxford

(January 13, 2002)

How the same occasion was described by A. C. Mace.

Back to Tutankhamun: Anatomy of an Excavation