"Hundreds of unpublished photographs taken by the amateur Egyptologist George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, as he helped to bring the lost tomb of King Tutankhamun to light, have been discovered in the family’s private collection.
Approximately 900 photographs, taken mostly between 1907-14, convey the enormous scale of excavations that Lord Carnavon and the archaeologist Howard Carter conducted in the decade before their most sensational discovery, which was first announced to the world by The Times.
Fiona, 8th Countess of Carnarvon, found the photographs recently inside three ordinary-looking albums in the archives of the family home, Highclere Castle, Berkshire. She spoke of the thrill of discovering the photographs, saying it was “like going back in time”. John Taylor, an assistant keeper in the British Museum’s Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, described the images as “important historically . . . very evocative of what it was like to be an Egyptologist in 1910 and 1920”.
He said: “Lord Carnarvon was a photographer. He took a lot of very good shots of the excavations, mainly before the Tutankhamun discovery. He was working with Carter for a number of years before that and they found a lot of intereresting things. These photos show the work going on.
“They give an idea of the scale of it. Nowadays, Egyptologists are concerned with quite small areas, with small numbers of workers digging. In those days, there were dozens and dozens of workers clearing large areas.
“These photographs show them carrying baskets, the dust flying up, the hive of activity. You see them bringing objects out of the tombs, including mummy cases. You wouldn’t see that kind of thing happening today.”
There are also images of Carnarvon and Carter directing the operation, wearing three-piece suits despite the intense heat of the Egyptian sun. The Earl is shown in shots from 1911 at the cobra-infested Tel el Balamun site in the Delta, and at a tomb discovery in 1910 at Thebes. Carter can be seen staffing a desk as he supervises the workers’ pay day.
Some of the treasures went to Carvarvon’s collection, which is today open to visitors at Highclere Castle. Others were transported to Cairo and the Metropolitan in New York.