The Curse of the Pharaohs Exposed

The Curse of the Pharaohs Exposed

Patrick Lynch - January 24, 2017

The so-called ‘Curse of the Pharaohs’ is one of the world’s most famous curses. In late 1922, a British archaeologist named Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in the famed Valley of the Kings. While the Pharaoh, who died in approximately 1323 BC, was relatively insignificant in the history of Egypt, the discovery of his tomb catapulted ‘King Tut’ into the global arena, and he became one of the best-known ancient Egyptian rulers. After several members of the excavation team died in mysterious circumstances, a mythical ‘Curse of the Pharaohs’ was blamed.

The Curse of the Pharaohs Exposed
The ‘Curse’ Is Unleashed. Haunted Author Blogspot

The ‘Curse’ Is Unleashed

The discovery and opening of the tomb led to international press coverage. Carter wanted to keep the press at arm’s length yet at the same time sensationalize the story, so he spread a story that there was a curse on anyone who interrupted the tomb of the boy king. Although Carter didn’t invent the tale, he certainly exploited it.

The first unusual occurrence happened on the day of the tomb opening. Carter returned home to find his canary in the mouth of a cobra; the symbol of Egyptian monarchy. Lord Carnarvon was the first human victim, as he succumbed to the alleged curse several months after opening the tomb. A mosquito bite became infected and killed Lord Carnarvon, the project’s financier. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of Sherlock Holmes, added fuel to the supernatural fire by suggesting that the Pharaoh’s priests created ‘elementals’ to protect his resting place.

Arthur Weigall, a British journalist, tried to make a name for himself by claiming he predicted Carnarvon’s death. When he saw the Lord laughing and apparently disrespecting the tomb, Weigall allegedly said “I give him six weeks to live.” Egyptian Prince Ali Kamel Fahmy Bey was the next victim of the curse. He was shot dead by his wife in 1923.

Other members of the excavation who died unexpectedly included Sir Lee Stack (murdered in 1924), Arthur Mace (allegedly murdered via arsenic poisoning in 1928), Richard Bethell (reportedly killed via suffocation in 1929), and Bethell’s father (committed suicide in 1930). Howard Carter never believed in a curse, but when he died from Hodgkin’s Disease in 1939, further media attention brought the story back into the international spotlight.

There was also a host of mysterious events that perpetuated the belief in a supernatural occurrence. Those who believed in the curse suggested Tutankhamun was protecting his burial spot. In 1925, an anthropologist spoke of how Carter gave his friend Bruce Ingham a paperweight composed of a mummified hand with the wrist attached to a scarab bracelet. The macabre gift carried a message saying that anyone who moved the Pharaoh’s body would be cursed and would suffer pestilence, fire, and water. Ingram’s house burned to the ground soon after he received the gift.

In 1926, Carter wrote that he saw jackals of the same type of Anubis (protector of the dead) in the desert for the first time. The archaeologist had worked in the desert for over 35 years at that point. The ‘curse’ apparently affects anyone who was ever involved in the disruption of the tomb. Dr. Gamal Mehrez of the British Museum laughed at the notion of a curse and said the deaths were a coincidence when he supervised the transport of the tomb’s treasures to London in 1972. He died the night after overseeing the cargo’s transportation. There are plenty of spooky events associated with the disturbance of Tutankhamun’s tomb, but is it all just a big coincidence?

The Curse of the Pharaohs Exposed
Carter and Carnarvon at the entrance to the burial chamber. The Unredacted

The Application of Logic

There were dozens of people involved in the excavation and opening of the tomb (some estimates say 58), yet only eight died within 12 years of the discovery. If there was a Pharaoh’s curse, why was the man who discovered the tomb spared? Carter didn’t pass away for 17 years after opening the tomb and was 64 years of age, hardly young by early 20th century standards.

According to investigator James Randi, the average duration of life after exposure to the ‘curse’ was 23 years. Carnarvon’s daughter was involved and she didn’t pass away until 1980. Richard Adamson guarded the burial chamber for seven years; no European was closer to the tomb than him. He lived until 1982. Randi notes that the group died at an average age of 73, slightly above the life expectancy of their social class and time period. So if it is a curse, it is a very particular or ineffective one!

The Curse of the Pharaohs Exposed
Howard Carter examining the innermost sacrophagus in 1925. Independent

Even some of the mysterious deaths and occurrences are explainable. The issue of the cobra and the canary in Carter’s room for example. It’s likely that an Egyptian released the snake in the archaeologist’s home as an example of how the Pharaoh strikes his enemies. A mosquito bit Carnarvon, and he cut the bite when shaving. The wound became infected and resulted in his death from blood poisoning. Ingham’s house actually burned down twice after receiving a gift from Carter. This is probably a case of bad luck and nothing more.

There is potentially a scientific explanation for the death of Carnarvon. Tests on newly-opened tombs show they contain molds and pathogenic bacteria. They can cause allergic reactions and issues such as bleeding in the lungs. Air samples taken from unopened tombs showed high levels of hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, and formaldehyde. If exposed to substantial concentrations, you could suffer severe burning in the nose and eyes, pneumonia symptoms, and even death.

On the other hand, there is no evidence to suggest Carnarvon succumbed to ancient toxins, and there are no reports of tourists falling ill from bacteria in tombs. In any case, those who died as a result of the curse met their ends in a variety of ways.

In reality, there is no curse. Newspapers sold more copies when they included details of a supernatural, unexplainable ‘curse’ that took the lives of explorers. The notion of a mummy rising from the dead predates the discovery of Tutankhamun by several centuries. Outrageous tales like the Curse of the Pharaohs capture the imagination. Why let the truth get in the way of a good story?