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Curse of Tutankhamun

By , Friday 21st December 2007 in Ancient World

In November of 1922, Howard Carter discovered the Tomb of Tutankhamun. Located in the Valley of the Kings on the West Bank at Luxor, the tomb revealed a fantastic wealth of artefact's and treasure. Because of the uniqueness and quantity of treasure, the world's media was stirred into frenzy and the whole world was looking at Carter and Tutankhamun.

Tutankhamun's Death Mask
Tutankhamun's Death Mask

Photo Source: Wikipedia

Rumours of the curse originated on the day Carter opened the tomb of Tutankhamun, when a cobra swallowed his pet canary. Cobras, as the goddess Wadjet, are the traditional protectors of the Pharaoh.

Maybe because of this event, novelist Mari Corelli published a warning stating that there would be dire consequences for anyone who had entered the sealed tomb.

A few weeks after the publication, Lord Carnarvon, an Egyptologist and the source of Howard Carter's finance, died of pneumonia in Cairo on April 5th 1923, although the media was quick to claim it was an infected mosquito bite. With the media in a frenzy, even Conan Doyle announced that Lord Carnarvon's death could have been the result of a "Pharaoh's curse". At the same time it is reported that all the lights in Cairo went out, and that in London Lord Carnarvon's dog howled and died at the same time as Lord Carnarvon himself.

Shortly after Carnarvon's death, an archaeologist, Arthur Mace, a leading member of the expedition, went into a coma and died soon afterwards.

On hearing of Carnarvon's demise his friend, George Gould, made the voyage to Egypt. Before leaving the port to travel to Cairo he looked in at the tomb. The following day he collapsed with a high fever; twelve hours later he was dead.

Radiologist Archibald Reid, Joel Wool an industrialist, and Carnarvon's personal secretary Richard Bethell also died a mysterious unnatural death.

Newspaper accounts show that around 26 of the people surrounding the tomb's discovery died within a decade of its discovery.

Media Circus

In reality, and a fact withheld by the papers, Lord Carnarvon had been suffering poor health since an accident 20 years previous. As for the 26 people who mysteriously died after the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb, only 6 died within the decade. Many of the workers lived long healthy lives. As for the man himself, Howard Carter spent more time in the tomb than anybody else, so surely he should have born the brunt of the curse? He spent over a decade inside the tomb of Tutankhamun. He died just short of his 65th birthday in 1939, of lymphoma, a type of cancer, at his home in Kensington, London.

Origin of the Curse

Everybody knows that a corpse is a soup of disease and infections that are very bad for the living, especially in a closed environment such as a tomb and a pharaoh such as Tutankhamun was no exception. It is possible that ancient grave robbers, entering tombs shortly after the Pharaohs death, may have been exposed to diseases, and died. The pharaohs went to great lengths to protect their tombs so it is likely they also spread rumours of the curse.
Painted walls in the burial chamber of Tutankhamun
Painted walls in the burial chamber of Tutankhamun

Photo Source: Wikipedia

In 1999 a German microbiologist from the University of Leipzip, studied nearly 40 different mummies and identified several potentially dangerous mould spores. Studies of newly opened ancient Egyptian tombs that had not been exposed to modern contaminants found pathogenic bacteria of the Staphylococcus and Pseudomonas genera, and the moulds Aspergillus niger and Aspergillus flavus. Additionally, newly opened tombs often become roosts for bats, and bat guano may harbour histoplasmosis. However, at the concentrations typically found, these pathogens are generally only dangerous to persons with weakened immune systems. It is speculated that when tombs were first opened, fresh air would have disturbed these spores, blowing them into the air, and possibly created respiratory or health problems.

It is also documented that the ancient Egyptians placed booby traps inside the tombs, some even believe they were the first to use biological weapons, with vessels carrying diseased meat or fungal spores, which were broken upon opening the tomb. According to atomic scientist Louis Bulgarini in 1949 the floors of the tomb could also have been lined with uranium. Rock containing uranium and gold was mined in Egypt.

"It is definitely possible that the ancient Egyptians used atomic radiation to protect their holy places. The floors of the tombs could have been covered with uranium."
Louis Bulgarini

However this theory does not explain some of the more recent deaths.

In 1966 Egypt's director of antiquities, Mohammed Ibrahim, argued with the government against letting the treasure leave Egypt for an exhibition in Paris. In a final meeting with the officials he pleaded with the authorities to allow the relics to stay in Cairo because he had suffered terrible nightmares of what would happen to him if they left the country. After the unsuccessful meeting he stepped out into what looked like a clear road on a bright sunny day, was hit by a car and died instantly.

A bizarre string of coincidences or is the curse of Tutankhamun real? I'll leave that for you to decide.

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