In 1922, archaeologist Howard Carter opened the tomb of Tutankhamun in the Valley of Kings, Egypt. As it turned out, the tomb of the Ancient Egyptian ruler contained marvellous treasures, the ruler’s mummy and ancient curses.
Results of the expedition financed by Count George Carnarvon surprised the whole world – they managed to open the untouched tomb of the ancient ruler.
Pharaoh’s protect their resting places with ancient curses
Shortly after the opening of Tutankhamun tomb, people started spreading rumours that members of the expedition had fallen victim to a curse. Writer Marie Corelli had cited an ancient Arab manuscript that told about a terrible punishment for those who disturb the rest of the dead.
Indeed – it is common to find hieroglyphs in ancient sealed tombs. The goal of those hieroglyphs is to help souls find their way to the realm of the dead. Among those hieroglyphs there may also be ones that promise terrible punishment to those who disturb the dead.
Carter gave his friend Sir Bruce Ingham gave an ancient bracelet as a gift. The bracelet featured a written curse that said: ‘Cursed be he who moves my body and severs my hand to use it as a trinket.’ Ingham’s house burned down to the ground shortly after he received this gift. Restoring the house didn’t help – the house was flooded shortly after.
Yellow press promoted belief in supernatural deaths
Count Carnarvon is considered the first victim of the curse. Five years after the opining of Tutankhamun tomb, Carnarvon died of blood poisoning caused by an infected mosquito bite. This story caused such a big shock, causing rumours to start spreading about ‘the mummy’s curse’. Unsurprisingly, other interesting details started to appear as well.
On the day of the tomb’s opening, a cobra ate Carter’s (or James Henry Breasted’s) canary bird. Cobras were considered in Ancient Egypt as protectors of rulers. Many believe that incident to be proof of a curse. Henry Breasted died in 1935 after his trip to Egypt.
There are many deaths presumably associated with the curse
Carnarvon’s half-brother Aubrey Herbert nearly became blind. This happened as a result of improper tooth treatment. He died a couple of months later from blood poisoning. Carter’s personal assistant Richard Bethell was found dead in his bed in 1929. His father, Baron Westbury, committed suicide by jumping off a seventh floor balcony in 1930.
In 1924, radiologist Archibald Douglas Reed allegedly died to the curse. Reed performed X-ray examination of the mummy before it was handed to the museum in Cairo. After visiting the tomb, Prince Ali Kamel Fahmy Bey was shot dead by his wife in 1923. American Egyptologist Aaron Ember was friends with many people who had taken part in the opening of the tomb. He died in a fire in 1926. He could have escaped easily, but he tried to save a manuscript, specifically the Egyptian Book of the Dead.
Archaeologist Hugh Evelyn-White was so afraid of the curse he decided to kill himself before the curse would. He hanged himself. A suicide note he left stated the following: ‘I have succumbed to a curse which forces me to disappear’.
Curse missed Carter
Carter, surprisingly, did not succumb to some mysterious disease. The Egyptologist died from cancer at the age of 64. It is possible that he loved Egypt and archaeology with all his heard and was deeply respectful of both subjects. Richard Adamson, who stood guard at Tutankhamun‘s tomb for seven years, lived until 1972.
Fungi and noxious fumes can seriously affect people’s health
Researchers, it seems, paid no heed to the danger that came with opening the ancient tomb. Mold, formaldehyde, hydrogen sulphide, ammonia – all were found in the sarcophagus. None of them are beneficial to people that have a weakened immune system. Neither Carnarvon nor financier George Jay Gould was healthy when they visited the tomb. Gould became sick after visiting the tomb and died a few months later.
The curse was created by Count Carnarvon himself
It is possible that the legend of the curse appeared with no small help from Carnarvon. The count was so fed up with the press he sold exclusive rights for his stories to Times of London newspaper. To compensate, other media were forced to come up with ‘fine details’. Myths, ancient curses and dead canary birds were great bait for the hungry masses.
Many years later, Egyptologist Herbert Winlock compiled information about ancient curses and concluded that only six out of twenty six people that had visited the tomb had died by 1934. Two out of twenty two people that had opened the sarcophagus had died ten years later. All ten that had seen the mummy survived the alleged curse, as reported by National Geographic.