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The curse of Tut’s tomb

An ancient tomb is creepy enough. Add a fatal curse to the mix and you have the makings of a great horror story.

Only in this case, the story might turn out to be true.

British Lord George Carnarvon was obsessed with Egypt, so when archaeologist Howard Carter approached him for a loan, saying he had evidence of an undiscovered pharaoh’s tomb, it was a match made in heaven…or perhaps some other place. Carnarvon of course ignored the warnings of a clairvoyant who told him he would find danger in the tomb. Nothing would keep him from this great adventure!

Carnarvon’s enthusiasm and wealth joined forces with Carter’s skill and knowledge, and eventually the two men found the tomb of King Tutankhamen in 1922. When the tomb’s door was at last opened, a cobra killed Carnarvon’s pet canary. Since the pharaohs wore cobras on their headdresses as a symbol of protection, this was seen as a very bad omen indeed.

Carnarvon

Lord Carnarvon

A mere ten days after the men found Tut’s tomb, Carnarvon was dead–from a mosquito bite, of all things. He’d cut the bite while shaving, and it became infected, leading to blood poisoning. Some reports claim that the lights went out in Cairo and Carnarvon’s terrier howled and dropped dead when the lord expired, but that seems a tad farfetched.

However, whether you believe in curses or not, it’s difficult to ignore the rash of mysterious deaths that followed Carnarvon’s. Even those who survived were struck by misfortune. Sir Bruce Ingram, a friend of Carnarvon’s, lost his house in a fire soon after he received a mummified hand from the tomb. When he had the home rebuilt, it was again destroyed–this time by a flood.

A documentary about the tomb reported that 22 people involved in the excavation died from early and mysterious deaths, including the radiologist who examined Tut’s body before collapsing from exhaustion. Another man died from a high fever hours after opening the tomb. Carnarvon’s own wife died of an insect bite. Years later, an archaeologist’s son committed suicide, blaming Tut’s curse for his misfortune. Other causes of death include arsenic poisoning, assassination, and pneumonia.

According to Wikipedia, however, only eight people died within a dozen years. (Still, if I was in a group of less than 60 people and almost 10 were dead in a decade, I’d be nervous.) One of those who survived was Carter, who died of cancer in 1939 at the age of 64. Carter, though skeptical of the curse, was unnerved to see jackals similar to Anubis, ancient Egypt’s guardian of the dead, in 1926. It was the first time he’d ever seen them in over 35 years of working in the African desert.

Howard Carter

Howard Carter

Do you believe there was a curse surrounding Tut’s tomb, or were the mysterious deaths a coincidence? Would you have ignored the warnings, as Carnarvon did? 

PS: If you’re interested in curses, you’ll love reading this story about James Dean’s car.

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22 Comments

  1. I would so love to believe in that curse!

    Why is it, though, that people only see what they want to see? Then as well as in mordern times? We tend to forget that this was a different era: before antibiotics became commonplace (after WWII), it was very easy to die of something minor. Like a cut, or an insect bite that got infected.

    And who knows what nasty diseases had survived in that tomb? A dead body isn’t exactly sterile, mummified or not. It’s well known that bacteria can go dormant and survive for centuries, ready to be reactivated as soon as the conditions improve. Usually that means: when there is sufficient moisture again. Guess what our exhaled breath contains? Exactly!

    This was a disaster waiting to happen the moment those people stepped inside.

    As for everyone else: bad luck happens. The story doesn’t tell what other stupidities Ingram was up to that were completely unrelated to that mummified hand. Cancer at 64 is unfortunately not strange, and suicide is more likely to be the result of severe mental illness than a curse, even if it can feel the same.

    Pity, really. Much as I love cursed tombs, this one depends too much on exaggerated facts tied together with conspiracy theory logic.

    Does that make me a spoil sport? ;P

    Reply
    • JH

      Not at all, Chris. It makes you a realist!

      Do you actually know what other stupidities Ingram was up to? I’m curious.

      Reply
  2. They filmed Downton Abbey at his old castle so the curse wasn’t fatal for everyone in the family, lol. No, I don’t believe in curses. I do believe that facts can be twisted to make a meaning out of whatever some person wants to convey. (Does that make sense?)

    Reply
    • JH

      For sure. And yes, some people definitely escaped “the curse.” But enough people were affected to create an endurable legend.

      Reply
  3. I think those willing to believe in the curse were more susceptible. But if that many died, I’d be nervous as well.

    Reply
    • JH

      Me too, Alex! I imagine anyone who was a part of the expedition was freaking out.

      Reply
  4. I think there might have been an environmental cause to a lot of the deaths. Virus, mold, or whatever that hadn’t been exposed to the air for however long and they breathed and touched it. I wouldnt be surprised. They didn’t have the strict rules for contamination we have today in archeology. And if it was a curse, then it’s their fault for digging him up in the first place.

    Reply
    • JH

      I’ve heard that theory, Djinnia. It’s an interesting one. Wouldn’t it be cool if the pharaohs really did intend to curse anyone who disturbed their slumber, but it turned out nature did the dirty work?

      Reply
  5. I love anything and everything to do with King Tut. Not sure I believe in the curse . . . but it sure does make for a great story! 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      That it does. It’s one of my favourites. There’s just something about a good curse story.

      Reply
  6. Curses are fun. I like reading about the theories surrounding the deaths, but I’m pretty firmly in the “not a curse” camp. I mean, it’s all so tantalazing, isn’t it? An ancient tomb of a powerful king complete with mystical curse! Sadly, I don’t believe it.

    Reply
    • JH

      They are a lot of fun, aren’t they? I’d love to think there’s something to them…sort of like believing that some kind of magic does exist in this world.

      Reply
  7. I know this curse of Tut’s tomb well and I do believe his dog died at the same time he did just from what I read. So many died that it does make me question the curse thing. I do find it weird but I would be tempted to look at other Egyptian finds and see if other people died soon after.

    Reply
    • JH

      Good idea, Birgit. We hear of Tut’s curse so often, but what about the other tombs?

      I didn’t know about the dog. I just read he howled, and the bird died. If they both died, that’s even weirder.

      Reply
  8. I have a hard time believing in curses. I would have to be present and see the consequences with my own eyes to believe them. I don’t think I would be stopped by the signs and curses before setting out on an adventure. I like to think nothing can stop me when I have an exciting journey ahead. But, the knowledge of people dying trying to perceive an adventure would scare and caution me. Only once did superstition get the best of me. But, after taking action, nothing really changed and bad luck kept following us…

    Reply
    • JH

      Now that’s a story I’d love to hear, Lisbet! What did you do to stop the bad luck? Or is it still following you?

      Reply
  9. This isn’t really related to your post but…When I was a kid I LOVED learning about Ancient Egypt and mummies. I remember learning a lot about it in 6th grade, and it was the first time I actually volunteered to read aloud because I loved it so much.

    With how the Egyptians were, I am inclined to believe there’s a curse. I’m a little superstitious that way. If someone tells me something is cursed, I wouldn’t even want to test it out.

    Reply
    • JH

      Smart woman! Why tempt fate? I’d be afraid that the power of suggestion alone would be enough to make bad things happen.

      I was fascinated by Egypt too…still am. I’m determined to go there in the next couple of years.

      Reply
  10. The story of the discovery Tut’s tomb and then the deaths of many involved, always fascinated me. In fact, I think I was about ten when I first read about it, and I decided I’d be an archaeologist. That idea didn’t stick, but the fascination has never left.

    Reply
    • JH

      I wanted to be an archaeologist too, until I found out 90% of their lives are spent doing paperwork in a lab. That killed it for me.

      Reply
  11. Creepy! I’ve read about a few horror movies that boast “curses” and had a number of strange occurrences on the set or deaths following production. I’m not sure about curses, but I believe in luck, and sometimes you just get a string of bad luck. It’s not too unbelievable that the lights went out in Cairo. This country has notoriously poor infra-structure. And dogs can be very sensitive beasts. Great post!!! (I admit I’m biased toward anything to do with Egypt!)

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Lexa! It’s cool to have someone living in Egypt weigh in. Have you ever been to Tut’s tomb? Any pics to share? 🙂

      Reply

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