Exhibitions/ Discovering Tutankhamun

Discovering Tutankhamun: The Photographs of Harry Burton

December 19, 2006–April 29, 2007
Exhibitions are free with Museum admission.

Exhibition Overview

On November 4, 1922, after a seven-year search, the British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamun. On November 24 in the presence of his sponsor, Lord Carnarvon, he opened the tomb and found "wonderful things." Carter soon realized the enormous task that lay ahead in removing, recording, and preserving the thousands of objects that filled the four chambers of the tomb. He sought the assistance of The Metropolitan Museum of Art and its Theban Expedition, which generously lent several staff members, including the photographer Harry Burton. Over the next ten years, Burton photographed many of the more than 5,000 objects found in Tut's tomb, both in situ and in his studio, on some 1,400 glass-plate negatives. In addition to his work in black and white, Burton also photographed many objects in color and made movies of the objects as they were removed from the tomb.

Harry Burton (1879–1940) was trained in art photography in Florence, Italy. In 1914 he went to Egypt to photograph the Theban tombs for the Museum. His masterful use of natural and artificial light, as well as his experience and high standards, make the photographs not only valuable scientific records but also works of art. Burton remained in Egypt after the Metropolitan ceased excavating in 1935, and continued to record the monuments. He died there in 1940 and is buried in the American cemetery in Asyut.

The exhibition includes Harry Burton's spectacular black-and-white images of the entrance passage to the tomb, the opening of the sealed chambers inside, the first view of the contents and removal of the objects, and the beautifully made and decorated treasures that were found. The four chambers of the tomb were crammed with objects such as gold-covered chariots; elaborately inlaid furniture and chests; a vast array of the king's personal belongings, including jewelry; a series of shrines and coffins that protected the king; and the famous solid-gold mask that adorned his mummy—one of the most iconic examples of ancient Egyptian art ever to have come to light.


The exhibition is made possible by The Friends of Isis, Friends of the Department of Egyptian Art.

Featured Media

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The tomb of Tutankhamun was discovered in the main part of the Valley of the Kings. Howard Carter's house, located a short distance outside the Valley, is still standing today. The Metropolitan Museum Expedition House, where Harry Burton and the other staff members lived when they were assisting Carter in the documentation and emptying of the tomb, is situated in Deir el Bahri, directly over the mountain from the Valley; it is now being used by a joint Egyptian-Polish mission that is restoring the mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut. Drawing by Anandaroop Roy.

The plan of Tutankhamun's tomb differs from that of royal tombs of the time, both in size and in layout. It did, however, contain all the necessary ritual spaces, but only the Burial Chamber was decorated.

The Entrance Passage and Antechamber

The tomb is entered through a twenty-five-foot-long corridor that had been filled with rubble to deter robbers. At the end Carter found a small painted wood head of Tutankhamun as a child that symbolized the rebirth of the dead king. When he opened the blocked doorway, a fantastic scene confronted him: furniture, elaborately decorated chests, alabaster jars, and baskets piled all around massive gilt couches embellished with animal heads. Dismantled chariots filled one end of the room and two life-size guardian statues of the king stood at the other, flanking the sealed entrance to the Burial Chamber.

The Burial Chamber

The Burial Chamber was almost completely filled by four massive gilded wood shrines, one inside the other. The doors of the second and third shrines were secured by their original clay sealings, raising Carter's hope that Tutankhamun's mummy was undisturbed. The body, adorned with amuletic jewelry and a gold mask, had been placed inside three coffins, the innermost one made of solid gold. These coffins in turn rested in a massive red quartzite sarcophagus guarded by four winged goddesses and inscribed with invocations to the gods to protect the king in the afterlife. Ritual and magical objects had been carefully placed in the narrow space between the outermost shrine and the walls of the burial chamber.

The Treasury

The room Carter called the Treasury was connected to the Burial Chamber and guarded by a linen-robed statue of the jackal god Anubis on a portable shrine. There, he found Tutankhamun's alabaster canopic chest inside a gilded shrine flanked by statuettes of four winged goddesses. Each of its four inner compartments held an inlaid miniature gold coffin containing the king's mummified internal organs. Elsewhere in the room there were elaborately decorated chests filled with the king's personal possessions, model boats, and sealed wood shrines containing magical statuettes of the king and the gods.

The Annex

The Annex, the final chamber of the tomb, was entered through a small opening in the Antechamber under one of the animal-headed couches. Robbers had ransacked this room as well, and its contents—sometimes in piles several feet high—nearly covered the floor. The Annex was a storeroom for oils, unguents, food, wine, furniture, and other items that could not be accommodated in the Antechamber and Treasury. The final room that Carter cleared, in 1927, it contained more than 283 groups of objects.

All of the photographs taken by Harry Burton in the Tomb of Tutankhamun, as well as Howard Carter's notes and tomb cards can be found on the Griffith Institute website.

Arnold, D. The Royal Women of Amarna: Images of Beauty from Ancient Egypt. New York, 1996.

Carter, H. E., and A. C. Mace. The Tomb of Tut·ankh·amen, Discovered by the Late Earl of Carnarvon and Howard Carter, 3 vols. New York, 1923–33.

Eaton-Krauss, M. The Sarcophagus from the Tomb of Tutankhamun. Oxford, 1985.

Eaton-Krauss, M., and E. Graefe. The Small Golden Shrine from the Tomb of Tutankhamun. Oxford, 1985.

Edwards, I. E. S. Tutankhamun: His Tomb and Its Treasures. New York, 1976.

Hawass, Z. Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs. Washington, D.C., 2005

Johnson, G. B. "Painting with Light: The Work of Harry Burton, Archaeological Photographer," with a biographical essay by Marsha Hill. KMT 8:2 (Spring 1997), pp. 58–77.

el-Khouli, A., R. Holthoer, C. A. Hope, and O. E. Kaper. Stone Vessels, Pottery and Sealings from the Tomb of Tutankahmun. Oxford, 1994.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Wonderful Things: The Discovery of Tutankhamun's Tomb. New York, 1976.

Reeves, C. N. The Complete Tutankhamun: the King, the Tomb, the Royal Treasure. London, 1995.

Tutankhamun's Tomb Series. Griffith Institute, Oxford 1963–

No. 1. H. Murray and M. Nuttall. A Handlist of Howard Carter's Catalogue of Objects in Tutankhamun's Tomb. 1963.

No. 2. J. Cerný. Hieratic Inscriptions from the Tomb of Tutankhamun. 1965.

No. 3. W. McLeod. Composite Bows from the Tomb of Tutankhamun. 1970.

No. 4. W. McLeod. Self Bows and Other Archery Tackle from the Tomb of Tutankhamun. 1982.

No. 5. F. Filce Leek. The Human Remains from The Tomb of Tutankhamun. 1972.

No. 6. L. Manniche. Musical Instruments from the Tomb of Tutankhamun. 1976.

No. 7. W. J. Tait. Game Boxes and Accessories from the Tomb of Tutankhamun. 1982.

No. 8. M. A. Littauer and J. H. Crouwel. Chariots and Related Equipment from the Tomb of Tutankhamun. 1985.

No. 9. D. Jones. Model Boats from the Tomb of Tutankhamun. 1990.