The discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb shown in colour for the first time

The world’s greatest archaeological discovery was revealed when the tomb of Tutankhamun was opened by Howard Carter in November 1922. Now you can see that historic discovery unfold with a series of newly colorised photos taken during the excavation process. The original black and white images were taken by British photographer Harry Burton, who accompanied Carter to the Valley of the Kings, but his original glass plate negatives have now been transformed into colour images for a new exhibition in New York called The Discovery of King Tut.

Tutankhamun tomb
Howard Carter, Arthur Callender and an Egyptian worker open the doors of the innermost shrine and get their first look at Tutankhamun’s sarcophagus © Harry Burton, The Griffith Institute, Colour reconstruction by Dynamichrome

Inside Tutankhamun’s tomb

Tutankhamun’s grave was hewn during Egypt’s 18th dynasty – by this time, the embalmers had perfected the art of mummification, and craftsmen, the art of tomb building. They cut the burial chambers with simple tools like wooden hammers and copper chisels. The interior was decorated with religious and magical inscriptions that were believed to empower the dead.

The body of Tutankhamun was buried in the Valley of the Kings near modern-day Luxor. The Valley was protected by a sacred mountain that seemed to swallow the setting Sun. In antiquity, this strange and atmospheric burial ground was shrouded in mystery; the craftsmen who worked there were separated from society and established in a remote desert town.

Tutankhamun tomb
A gilded lion bed, clothes chest and other objects in the antechamber. The wall of the burial chamber is guarded by statues. © Harry Burton, The Griffith Institute, Colour reconstruction by Dynamichrome

Secrecy was essential to the prevention of ancient tomb robbery, for many individuals risked life and limb in order to plunder the resting places of their royal ancestors. The tomb, known as a House of Eternity, contained unimaginable riches. Inevitably, as time passed, most of the royal tombs were looted by ancient treasure hunters. Fortunately, the tomb of Tutankhamun survived detection – probably as it was small and well hidden; over time it was gradually forgotten.

Inside the funeral chambers, a plethora of grave goods had survived. These treasures included great golden shrines and magnificent coffins; on a smaller scale, Carter found caskets of the king’s linen clothing – these included tunics that still bore rich bands of embroidery, while among the pharaoh’s family heirlooms was a lock of his grandmother’s hair. All finds, from the splendid funerary mask to the small floral garlands found on Tutankhamun’s mummy, are equally invaluable to our understanding of the life of this enigmatic young ruler.

Tutankhamun tomb
Carter, Callende, and two workers remove the partition wall between the antechamber and the burial chamber. © Harry Burton, The Griffith Institute, Colour reconstruction by Dynamichrome

Who was Howard Carter?

Howard Carter was originally sent to Egypt as an artist. His elegant reproductions of ancient tomb paintings were well received. Carter fell in love with Egypt and began to take a more active role in excavating, making many important discoveries. Carter was sensitive and temperamental; his meticulous working practices and impatience with the politics of Egyptology led to his reputation as a maverick. Egyptian archaeology was dominated by the upper classes who thought Carter ‘unpolished’. Carter, funded by Lord Carnarvon, an Egyptology enthusiast, began to dig in the Valley of the Kings. It was here, after several years of searching, that he found the tomb of Tutankhamun. Carter was never formally recognised for his achievements.

Tutankhamun tomb
Carter and a worker examine the solid gold innermost sarcophagus. © Harry Burton, The Griffith Institute, Colour reconstruction by Dynamichrome

Inside the tomb

Tutankhamun tomb
Inside Tutankhamun’s tomb

King Tut tomb facts


It took many years to clear the tomb of Tutankhamun. During this time Carter was persecuted by the authorities and at one point was even barred from the site.

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The face of the mummy was covered with its famous golden death mask. Carter found it difficult to remove; eventually he had to use hot knives to lift off the mask.

Food for the gods

As well as invaluable treasures, Tutankhamun was also buried with a large supply of wine. The special vintage was accompanied by a selection of fruit, bread and meat.


Two foetuses were also discovered within the tomb. They are believed to be the unborn children of Tutankhamun and his wife Ankhesenamun.

Tomb robbers

There is some evidence to suggest that the tomb was robbed in antiquity. The plunderers were caught in the act however. The penalty for this crime was death.

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Plus take a look at:

Tutankhamun’s likely cause of death uncovered 

The Egyptian mummification process

Who was the longest serving Pharaoh of Egypt?