David Long remembers the wonders of the Tutankhamun exhibition

David Long remembers the wonders of the Tutankhamun exhibition


On the 4th November 1922, archaeologist Howard Carter discovered a set of stone steps that led to the tomb of the boy-king Tutankhamun. To mark the centenary of this momentous moment in history and also celebrate National Non-Fiction November, today on the blog we’re joined by award-winning author David Long as he reflects on the discovery of the tomb and remembers visiting the Egypt exhibition in London as a child.


I only write books about stories which genuinely fascinate me, and the story of how Tutankhamun’s tomb was discovered has fascinated me for much longer than most. In that sense I suppose it’s a book I was always bound to write – and so a perfect one for National Non-Fiction November.

I’m old enough to remember the first time the boy-pharaoh’s spectacular treasures came to London and I have never forgotten the excitement . I still have the illustrated catalogue of the exhibition and nearly 50 years later it still thrills me to turn the pages.

I was only ten or eleven at the time but it was all over the news and I was captivated from the start. Newspapers and televisions all carried pictures of thousands of people queuing down the street to reach the British Museum and I remember how quickly it became the school trip that we all wanted to go on.

For most schoolchildren it was the sight of the young king’s stunning gold funeral mask that really captured the imagination. But the mask was only one of thousands of different treasures and, for me, the story of their discovery was just as exciting as the treasures themselves.

Carter and Carnarvon, the story’s heroes, hadn’t known where to look, they didn’t know what they might find – or even if they’d find anything at all. Most experts thought they were wasting their time looking, and in the end – well, very near the end – they almost gave up having found nothing at all. Carter’s various digs had taken him years and cost Lord Carnavon a fortune. Exactly a century ago Carter was given one last chance but told he’d have to give up after that because there was simply no more money left.

He was desperate and then, just as he and the diggers were about to abandon Egypt and come home, they struck gold – literally.

I find it hard to think of anything more exciting to write about, and I’ve written a lot of books about a lot of exciting adventures. This story still amazes me because people have been exploring the Egyptian desert for centuries and yet Tutankhamun’s is still the only pharoah’s tomb that has been found with all its treasures intact. These are still some of the most amazing treasure ever discovered anywhere in the world, and still possibly the greatest archaeological discovery ever made.

That’s why it appealed to me then and why it still appeals to me now. It’s also why I know it will appeal to young readers all over the world, even though it all took place so long ago.

Naturally everyone wants to see the funeral mask more than anything but actually it’s not the most amazing thing that came out of the ground that day. Egypt’s young boy-king was buried with hundreds, thousands of incredible things, so many of them that it took months just to bring them all out of the tomb and catalogue them. These are just as amazing because, after a hundred years, these more humble objects are still teaching loads about Tutankhamun and about the incredible civilisation he ruled over.

Two tiny mummies found in the tomb, for example, suggest that Tutankhamun might have had two stillborn daughters that no-one knew about before. Scientists examining Tutankhamun himself have also established that he had some medical problems – he needed special shoes and had 130 walking sticks – although we still don’t know why he died so young.

Elsewhere in the tomb pictures on a decorated fan tell us that rich Egyptians enjoyed hunting ostriches. They also loved precious items so that one of Carter’s most extraordinary finds – and a favourite of mine – is a dagger made of metal from a meteorite that is several billion years old. We know too that ancient Egyptians liked to relax because the tomb contained board games made of carved ivory and musical instruments called sistrums. The pharaoh also owned some boomerangs which may have been used to bring down birds as he sailed along the beautiful River Nile.

These things may not be as glittery as Tutankhamun’s golden mask (or his extraordinary sold gold bed) but they are just as valuable and not just to the archaeologists and historians trying to understand how life was lived on the banks of the Nile more than 3,000 years ago. Aged ten or eleven I found that idea thrilling, and nearly half a century later I have to say I still do.

© David Long 2022

Find out more about all of David’s fascinating non-fiction adventures, covering everything from the Titanic to Tutankhamun, Apollo to Everest!