Discovering The Tomb
To unravel the mystery of the mummy’s curse, we have to go way back to the 1920s when King Tut’s intact tomb was discovered by Howard Carter and George Herbert.
The tomb was unusually small considering Tut’s royal status. Experts say this probably means his death occurred unexpectedly, before the completion of a grander royal tomb, so that his mummy was buried in a tomb intended for someone else.
In the years after his burial, the entrance to the tomb was covered by stone chips from subsequent tombs, either dumped there or washed there by floods. Eventually, people seemed to have forgotten it was there.
In later years, some huts for workers were built over the tomb entrance, clearly without anyone knowing that Tut’s remains were resting peacefully inside.
An Ancient King Disturbed
After the 1920s excavation of his tomb, several of the people involved — both directly and indirectly — died under mysterious circumstances.
Some pointed to the mummy’s curse, saying that King Tut’s spirit, angry at having been disturbed, was seeking vengeance against those who trespassed in his burial place.
The Curse Strikes
The death most associated with the mummy’s curse is that of George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert, the fifth Earl of Carnarvon, who donated money so that archaeologists could continue the search for Tut’s tomb.
He suddenly dropped dead just months after the tomb was opened, after suffering a mosquito bite on his cheek.
Lord Carnarvon’s pet bird was then eaten by a snake, and his dog died back in England at almost the exact moment he passed away in Egypt.
But poor Lord Carnarvon and his pets weren’t the only casualties.
A radiologist who supposedly x-rayed the mummy died of a mysterious illness.
A rich American died of pneumonia after visiting the tomb, and a member of Carter’s excavation team was said to have died of arsenic poisoning.
A Curse Or Something Else?
Of course, when news of these untimely deaths reached the public, people went wild with speculation.
The idea of a curse was even promoted by Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (who also wrote a book explaining that fairies were real).
At the time, there seemed to be no good explanation as to why all of these people associated with the excavation of King Tut’s tomb would be dying.
In the decades since, scientists and historians have concluded that the mummy’s curse was nothing but an old wives’ tale. So what was really going on?
In 2005, National Geographic reported that Lord Carnarvon‘s death could have been caused by exposure to ancient, toxic pathogens that overwhelmed his immune system when released from the tomb upon its opening.
Others say the mosquito that bit Carnarvon’s cheek could have been carrying some sort of disease that killed him when left untreated.
According to the Guardian, “the expedition mortality rate was no higher than you’d expect among the imperial British at the time,” leading us to believe that the other deaths were coincidental and probably caused by similar explanations.
After all, Howard Carter, the man who led the expedition and actually opened the tomb, lived for years after its discovery. He finally succumbed to cancer some 16 years later.
Origins Of The Mummy's Curse
So if the curse wasn’t true, where did it start?
Egyptologist Dominic Montserrat spent time searching for the answer to this same question and discovered a very unlikely source.
According to ListVerse, Montserrat writes about “a sort of mummy striptease and stage show that was all the rage about 100 years before Howard Carter made his historic discovery. The show was all about unwrapping mummies on stage and before audiences…”
Tales of these shocking performances inspired authors to include sensationalized versions of the act in their books. One of the most famous of these authors was Louisa May Alcott, who wrote a story called “Lost in a Pyramid, or the Mummy’s Curse.”
Montserrat was certain that Alcott’s story was the source of the idea of the curses associated with mummies, but some Egyptologists claim that it started even earlier than that.
Apparently, “some of the earliest mastabas in Egypt were inscribed with images of crocodiles, lions, and scorpions as a warning of the fate that awaited anyone who disturbed the remains.”
Obviously, all historical sites and artifacts should be treated with the utmost respect, because that’s the right way to preserve and study history. But perhaps avoiding a mummy’s curse is also a strong reason to leave ancient tombs such as this undisturbed.
What do you think caused the deaths of those close to the King Tut excavation? Tell us in the comments.
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