In 1891, at the age of 17, Carter began studying inscriptions and paintings in Egypt. He worked on the excavation of Beni Hasan, the grave site of the princes of Middle Egypt, c. 2000 BC. Later he came under the tutelage of William Flinders Petrie.
He is also famous for finding the remains of Queen Hatshepsut's tomb in Deir el-Bahri. In 1899, Carter was offered a job working for the Egyptian Antiquities Service (EAS), from which he resigned as a result of a dispute between Egyptian site guards and a group of French tourists in 1905.
Carnarvon financed Carter's search for the tomb of a previously unknown Pharaoh, Tutankhamun, whose existence Carter had discovered. After a few months of fruitless searching, Carnarvon was becoming dissatisfied with the lack of return from his investment and, in 1922, he gave Carter one more season of funding to find the tomb.
On 4 November 1922, Carter found the steps leading to Tutankhamun's tomb (subsequently designated KV62), by far the best preserved and most intact pharaonic tomb ever found in the Valley of the Kings. He wired Carnarvon to come, and on 26 November 1922, with Carnarvon, Carnarvon's daughter, and others in attendance, Carter made the famous "tiny breach in the top left hand corner" of the doorway, and was able to peer in by the light of a candle and see that many of the gold and ebony treasures were still in place. He did not yet know at that point whether it was "a tomb or merely a cache", but he did see a promising sealed doorway between two sentinel statues. When Carnarvon asked him if he saw anything, Carter replied: "Yes, wonderful things".
The next several weeks were spent carefully cataloging the contents of the antechamber. On February 16, 1923, Carter opened the sealed doorway, and found that it did indeed lead to a burial chamber, and he got his first glimpse of the sarcophagus of Tutankhamun.
Carter's own papers suggest that he, Lord Carnarvon and Lady Evelyn Herbert entered the tomb shortly after its discovery – without waiting for the arrival of Egyptian officials (as stipulated in their excavation permit). Artifacts and jewelry from the tomb were found in Carter's home after his death, suggesting that he had violated his permit.
When he discovered the tomb, it was said he also found 150 gold amulets and even a death mask weighing 11 kilograms, with which the pharaoh was buried. Carter was thought to have used an axe to retrieve the gold charms and the mummy was broken into 18 pieces. Due to the poor archaeological knowledge at the time, Carter left the mummy for hours without protection under the sun (in November, more than 35 degrees Celsius).
Howard Carter is buried in Putney Vale Cemetery in West London. On his gravestone is written: "May your spirit live, May you spend millions of years, You who love Thebes, Sitting with your face to the north wind, Your eyes beholding happiness and "O night, spread thy wings over me as the imperishable stars".