In a Rare Note, Archaeologist Howard Carter, Discoverer of Tut’s Tomb, Shares a Quotation from the Famous Lotus Chalice
Although the Egyptian “boy king” died nearly 3,000 years ago, the story of King Tutankhamun’s life and death has fascinated generations of people all over the world, resulting in thousands of articles, books, films, and museum exhibitions. Howard Carter’s discovery of Tut’s tomb in 1922–the foremost archaeological discovery of the age–stoked the fervor and continues to resonate in our culture.
At Raab, this powerful story became tangible in the form of a signed note of Carter’s. Written only two years after his major discovery, Carter’s reply to an autograph collector includes his handwritten quotation of a message from one of the 5,000 priceless antiquities excavated from the tomb site. It is the only Carter quotation with such direct reference to Tut’s Tomb that we have ever seen.
The Discovery of King Tut’s Tomb
Howard Carter (1874-1939) was a British archaeologist who had had an interest in Ancient Egypt and its antiquities since childhood. By the age of seventeen, he had been sent to Egypt, mainly to use his artistic skills to capture tomb decorations during excavations and restorations. He later worked in the Egyptian Antiquities Service.
In 1907, Carter began working for Lord Carnarvon, and it was this partnership that would ultimately lead to a great discovery, fifteen years later, in the Valley of the Kings: the virtually untouched tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun.
The Lotus Chalice’s Inscription
One of the artifacts Carter found upon entering Tutankhamun’s tomb was the Lotus Chalice, also known as the King’s Wishing Cup. Carved from a single piece of alabaster in the form of a fully bloomed white lotus with buds on either side, the vessel bears an inscription in hieroglyphs that signifies rebirth and the attainment of eternal life:
“Live thy Soul, mayst thou spend millions of years, thou Lover of Thebes, with thy face towards the North Wind, thy eyes Beholding Felicity.”
Only in 2019 was this quotation revealed to be the same as that which appears on Carter’s own gravestone. As the world-renowned Egyptologist Dr. Zahi Hawass told the Express at the time, it was Carter’s favorite piece from the excavation. Hawass had visited Carter’s grave and recognized the inscription. He added that the chalice was his favorite as well, because of its beauty.
The Treasures of Tutankhamun Today
The Lotus Chalice, which is the property of the Egyptian government, has long been held by the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. In the 1970s, it was one of the original pieces selected to go on world tour in Treasures of Tutankhamun.
From 2018-2020, the cup was part of a traveling exhibition, along with 150 other relics, called Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh, but it has since returned to Egypt where it will be among the artifacts showcased in a new museum, the Grand Egyptian Museum, which is slated to open this fall after more than twenty years of planning and construction.
Needless to say, Tut artifacts will never be offered for sale. A signed note by the man who discovered the tomb, with a direct reference to a well-known and beloved tomb artifact–one that Carter himself held dear enough to make his epitaph–may be as close to this remarkable moment in history as any of us are likely to get. Records indicate that before this signed quotation came to market, another hadn’t been seen in 75 years.