Howard Carter is one of the most famous archaeologists in the history of the world, but no one ever would have predicted this - not even Carter himself - by judging from his humble beginnings. He was born on 9 May 1874 in Kensington (Reeves and Taylor 1993, 10)…
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Perhaps Howard Carter's artistic abilities were never fully cultivated because his family did not have much money, or perhaps it was because Carter spent much of his early life as a very sickly, weak little boy (10). Whatever the reasons were, Carter never saw himself as good as his father, who taught Carter all he knew about drawing (11). However, Carter was good enough to get a job as an assistant copyist with Percy Edward Newberry (20). The recommendations of a family friend, Mrs. Margaret Tyssen-Amherst also helped to secure this position (22), thus began Howard Carter's career as an archaeologist.
In the autumn of 1891, when Carter was just 17 years old, he made his first trip to Egypt and experienced sea-sickness for the first time (Reeves and Taylor 1993, 23). The voyage across the Channel is vividly - although not too fondly - remembered by Carter in his autobiographical sketches:
It was then that I discovered I was not physically fitted for a sailor; that an appetite for food oozy with oil, and the motion of the ship caused very adverse sensations which centered around the sensitive nerves of the solar plexus, and which in my case resulted in a complete 'knock-out' (23-24).
Carter was extremely relieved when the ship at last landed in Alexandria (24). From there, he journeyed to Cairo, where he met the famous archaeologist William Matthew Flinders Petrie (24). A few days later, he joined Newberry's archaeological work in Beni Hasan (24).
Howard Carter soon proved his merit as a copyist. As Newberry wrote to one of his acquaintances:
I never reckoned on getting done so fast. It is astonishing how much can be done by two men working hard when the hands are willing. I believe that Carter and I could almost trace all the tombs in Egypt in five years!!! On Sunday last I tried Carter at painting and found he could copy things here very well indeed (Reeves and Taylor 1993, 27).
Not only did Carter copy quickly, he also copied with great attention to detail. A sketch he did of a relief in a tomb at Deir el-Bersha shows a complex and faithful rendering of how a gigantic stone statue was transported from the stone quarry where it was carved (31). When it is compared with other copies of the same picture, there is no doubt that Carter's is far superior (31).
Carter's successes at the excavation of Queen Hatshepsut's tomb in Deir el-Bersha earned him a position as the first Inspector General of Monuments for Upper Egypt at the very young age of 25 (Warren 2005). He was responsible for supervising all archaeological activities that went on in the Upper Nile Valley, including the ancient city of Thebes (Warren 2005). During his tenure, he conducted extensive excavations and preservations, and established electric lighting in the Valley of the Kings and the temples of Ramses II and Nefertari at Abu Simbel (Warren 2005). Carter also made a significant discovery at the Tomb of the Horse, or Bab el-Hosan. He found a sepulchre with what he thought was a human body, but it turned out to only be a statue (Reeves and Taylor 1993, 66-67). The usually meticulous Carter informed the British Consul-General in Egypt, Viscount Cromer, of the discovery before he had actually examined it closely. His friend and employer, Gaston Maspero, describes the incident in this way:
[Carter] had announced his discovery too soon to Lord Cromer. Lord Cromer came
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