Forget Carter - hidden story of the other Englishman behind Tutankhamun discovery

Barnsley-born Harold Jones started the search for the Egyptian tomb at the start of the 20th Century

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The centenary of the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb has been marked worldwide with exhibits and festivals befitting the ancient Egyptian royalty it celebrates.

While the proudest honour is undoubtedly reserved for Egypt, where the archaeological wonder was unearthed, the tomb’s discovery by British historian Howard Carter has made the 100 years since its finding a cause celebre in the UK.

With the financial backing of a Welsh aristocrat named George Herbert, Carter from South Yorkshire in England had been searching the Egyptian sands for six years when he dug up the final resting place of the famous Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun, or King Tut for short.

While Carter is the Englishman most venerated for the famous unearthing, there is another less credited compatriot who uncovered the first clues to the location of the hidden tomb.

Born in Barnsley in South Yorkshire, artist-turned-archaeologist Harold Jones was a friend of Carter’s who had been excavating around the site of the Valley of the Kings since 1905.

Archaeologist Harold Jones. Wikimedia Commons

During the course of his digging he unearthed rings and small objects bearing the name of Tutankhamun, which led him to suspect that a tomb of someone by that name existed.

Unfortunately, an early death from tuberculosis in 1911 put paid to Jones’s quest but the mantle was carried forward by his dear friend Carter who went on to make the famous discovery the following decade.

An exhibition called TUT’22: the Life of Tutankhamun at the Experience Barnsley museum in Jones’s home town pays homage to his lesser known influence on one of the 20th Century’s greatest archaeological discoveries.

Curated by another Barnsley native, BAFTA award-winning TV Egyptologist Prof Joann Fletcher, the exhibit is an attempt to write Jones back into the history books.

The burial mask of Tutankhamun on display in 2015. Getty Images

“Carter built on his legacy to eventually discover the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922,” Prof Fletcher said.

“But, as I always say, it was our lad, Harold, Barnsley born, who first lit that fire on the trail to Tutankhamun.”

The tomb of Tutankhamun, who ruled for about ten years after taking over the throne when he was 9 years old in around 1332 BC, was eventually found inside the Valley of the Kings in Egypt during the archaeological dig which began on November 4, 1922.

More than 3,000 years-old, the tomb had been hidden for several centuries. When it was finally found, a hoard of treasures, including a solid god coffin, a dagger made from meteorite iron and Tutankhamun’s famous golden death mask, were discovered alongside it.

Men build a single track railway through the Valley of Kings to transport cases of relics from Tutankhamun's tomb in Luxor in 1923.  Getty Images

Carter’s discovery in Egypt, a UK colony at the time, was eagerly followed by the British king and queen and gained him great renown for creating new standards in archaeology.

The archaeologist spent more than a decade cataloguing the 5,398 items discovered inside the tomb and the techniques and tools Carter used when recording his findings were copied by historians and archaeologists in future digs.

Found almost entirely intact and undamaged, Tutankhamun’s tomb allowed Egyptologists to better understand the rich ancient history of the North African country.

Updated: November 04, 2022, 2:21 PM