THE VALLEY OF THE KINGS:
Howard Carter and the Discovery of Tutankhamen's Tomb
Myerson, M.A., M.Phil.
Pub Date: 2009
A major new book on the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun, the
passion of archaeologist Howard Carter, and the supposed
"curse" that befell its discoverers.
In 1922, British archeologist Henry Carter opened
King Tut’s tomb, illuminating the glories of an ancient civilization.
And while the world celebrated the extraordinary revelation that gave
Carter international renown and an indelible place in history, by the
time of his death, the discovery had nearly destroyed him. Now in a
stunning feat of narrative nonfiction, Daniel Meyerson has written a
thrilling and evocative account of this remarkable man and his times.
Carter began his career inauspiciously. At the age
of seventeen—unknown, untrained, untried—he was hired as a copyist
of tomb art by the brash, brilliant, and boldly unkempt father of modern
archeology, W.F. Petrie. Under Petrie’s haphazard guidance, Carter
struck out on his own a few years later, sensing that something amazing
lay buried beneath his feet, waiting for him to uncover it.
But others had the same idea. And the ancient,
forgotten cities were crawling with European adventurers and their
wealthy sponsors, each hoping to outdo the others with their
discoveries—even as growing nationalist resentment against foreigners
plundering their society’s most treasured antiquities simmered
dangerously in the background.
Not until Carter met up with the risk-taking,
adventure-loving, occultist, Lord Carnarvon, did his fortunes change.
There were stark differences in personality and temperament between the
cantankerous Carter and his gregarious patron. Still, together, they
faced endless ridicule from the most respected explorers of the day.
And, seven dusty and dispiriting years after their first meeting, their
dream came to glittering life.
But there would be a price to pay for this
partnership, their discovery, and the glory and fame it brought both
men—and the chain of events that transpired in the wake of success
remains inexplicable to this day.
A fascinating story never so wonderfully told before,
In the Valley of the Kings is an unprecedented tale of mania and greed,
of fame and lost fortune, of history and its damnations. As he did in
The Linguist and The Emperor, Daniel Meyerson’s exciting storytelling
powers are on full and astonishing display, revealing an almost
forgotten time, when past and present came crashing together, and with
it, the power to change or curse men’s lives.
BUY ON AMAZON
San Antonio Express-News—“Beyond Beach Reads”—5/31
Long Island Newsday
KBUL Newsradio970 am (Billings, MT)—6/16 or 6/18
Corcoran Gallery of Art—July 20
REVIEWS FOR IN THE VALLEY OF THE KINGS
“Anyone planning a trip to the Valley of the Kings should not leave without a copy of Mr. Meyerson's fine book.”
–The Washington Times
“In the tradition of the great excavators, Meyerson has unearthed untold treasures–the story behind the story, and the one behind that, too. With its cast of colorful characters–tomb robbers, peasant diggers, millionaire dilettantes, archaeologists, and hangers-on–this is colonial history as it has never been told before.”—Maura Spiegel, Department of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University
At the moment in 1922 when Howard Carter uncovered the mummy of King Tut, he catapulted both parties from obscurity to fame. In this slim volume, Daniel Meyerson places that moment in the context of biography, archaeology, Egyptology and mythology.
Tutankhamun was the son of a sun-worshipping mad monotheist who abolished the national religion and built his own capital city and burial complex in the mid-1300s B.C.E. The father's death threw the country into religious and political turmoil (Tut himself died young, perhaps in a hunting accident). Ironically, Egypt was in a similar state just 100 years ago, as a native political awakening began to undercut French influence, British domination and Ottoman rule. At the same time, brilliant (and occasionally unscrupulous and sticky-fingered) archaeologists scrambled for wealthy patrons as they panned for the gold of a civilization buried beneath the sand.
Carter, a low-born, little-educated, lonely and slightly crazed British artist who became one of the greatest Egyptologists of his day, is a compelling central character, and his eccentric mentor William Flinders Petrie also commands attention. Carter found the greatest treasure under the desert, but never found peace: Tut's true curse was to be so well hidden that only an eternally dissatisfied man would have the patience to discover his tomb.
Meyerson brings to life the excitement of that hunt.
--The Washington Post
(also ran in Long Island's Newsday)
“Can you see anything?” an onlooker asked as Howard Carter first peered inside the pharaonic tomb he
had searched after for three decades. “Yes, wonderful things.” It was one of the greatest moments in
Egyptology, and the character of the man who found Tutankhamun in 1922 provokes discerning, bemusing
portraiture from Meyerson, author of The Linguist and the Emperor (2004), on Rosetta Stone decoder
Jean-François Champollion. Meyerson explains the archaeological clues that induced Carter to conjecture
that Tut’s sepulchre was somewhere in the Valley of the Kings. Requiring an extremely determined
personality to maintain it, Carter’s hunch was fortunately rooted in a driving pride that caused him much
trouble, such as getting sacked from a prestigious archaeology job. A warts-and-all picture of Carter
emerges from Meyerson’s relation of the tomb-hunter’s tribulations. Voicing jocular exasperation with
Carter’s flaws, Meyerson tempers such impatience with the feeling that Carter’s foibles were inextricable
from his success. Equally colorful about Carter’s eccentric financial patron, Lord Carnarvon, Meyerson
crafts an entertaining profile of the discoverer of “King Tut.”
— Booklist, Gilbert Taylor
In the Valley of the Kings: Howard Carter and the Mystery of King Tutankhamun's Tomb Daniel Meyerson. Ballantine, $25 (256p) ISBN 978-0-345-47693-7
Meyerson (The Linguist and the Emperor) delves into the career and psyche of Howard Carter, the British archeologist who in 1922 discovered the 3,300-year-old gold- and jewel-laden tomb of the boy king Tut. Lower-class and lacking a formal education, Carter worked with his father, a painter of animal portraits for the aristocracy. He was discovered and hired in 1892 by the Egyptian Exploration Fund to copy paintings, ancient inscriptions and friezes in Egypt's dark tombs. Carter debuted as an excavator under the tutelage of Flinders Petrie, the single-minded father of modern archeology, at Amarna, the capital of Tut's father. Intense, irascible, brooding and obsessed, Carter searched for Tut for seven years, funded by the fifth earl of Carnarvon, a bon vivant millionaire who came to excavations with fine china and table linens and who died from septic poisoning after nicking a mosquito bite while shaving. Although Meyerson favors a playful writing style that can be intrusive and rambling, his work is also well researched and entertaining, and brings to life the ancient pharaohs and their tumultuous reigns as well as the excavators who disturbed their eternal sleep. Photos. (May)
— Publishers Weekly
A sprightly look at the grand era of tomb plundering.
Meyerson (The Linguist and the Emperor: Napoleon and Champollion’s Quest to Decipher the Rosetta Stone, 2004, etc.) presents an enjoyable portrait of the megalomaniacal British artist and antiquities excavator Howard Carter (1874–1939), whose discovery of King Tut’s tomb in 1922 became the greatest find in the fabled Valley of the Kings and marked the culmination of years of dogged work and punishing setbacks. In Meyerson’s digressive study, which dashes erratically among the movements of the various players, Carter emerges as an irascible, determined, brilliant man who truly cherished the ancient art and artifacts he unearthed—that they also fetched a good price on the antiquities market was certainly appealing as well. A largely uneducated son of a working-class family, Carter learned to sketch and paint from his artist father, and got his break at age 17 when he was sent to Egypt to work as an apprentice copyist at the Beni Hasan tombs under the aegis of William Flinders Petrie, “the father of modern archaeology.” Meyerson embarks on a dizzying exegesis of the reign of renegade pharaoh Akhenaton—who ruled during the 1300s BCE and was married to Nefertiti—his son Tut and their mutable entombments. The author also scrolls through the nascent field of Egyptology. Only after his partnership with his wealthy patron Lord Carnarvon did Carter finally make his life’s discovery. The many years prior were plagued by fruitless digging, a world war and the suspicion—by everyone but Carter—that the Valley of the Kings had already been exhausted of its booty. Even after the Tut discovery, Carter was denied access and credit.
Meyerson makes a valiant case for this strange, compelling character in a breezy gambol through the annals of Egyptology.
Reviews (for The Linguist and The Emperor)
"Here is some entertaining history that's told with gusto and goes
down like a pleasant aperitif -- one part Napoleon, another of
Champollion, a dash of Josephine and a bit of Lord Nelson. Stir in the
elements surrounding the mystery of hieroglyphics, and, voilà, you have
Daniel Meyerson's The Linguist and the Emperor....[A] page-turner."
cinematically juxtaposes significant events in both men’s lives,
taking readers unexpectedly back and forth in time to enhance the plot
lines....With little currently available about Champollion, this book
will serve as an engaging introduction for public library patrons.”
provides a good deal of biographical information on the
little-understood Champollion, chronicling his studies and discoveries
and relating them to Egypt’s storied history....An interesting account
of one of the most significant contributors to the study of Egypt.”
who has taught writing at Columbia, NYU, and Bennington...has inhaled
his rich material. It is as if his normal respiration were in cursive,
demotic, or hieratic scripts and acrophonic principles--as if he had
always been able to read obelisks and coffins."
Rights: Contact Ballantine