Among the most infamous aspects of mummies in films are their tremendous riches and a curse that leads treasure hunters to their deaths. The idea of a curse, on the other hand, was not invented by Hollywood.
When King Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt, was discovered in 1922, the “mummy’s curse” became well-known worldwide.
Because of the little hole that Howard Carter made in an ancient Egyptian tomb to see inside and discover treasures that had been hidden for 3,000 years, ancient Egypt piqued the attention of people throughout the globe.
Tut’s glittering jewels received a great deal of interest, especially when the burial chamber was uncovered on February 16, 1923, as did sensationalise reports of expedition supporter Lord Carnarvon’s death, which gained widespread attention.
In reality, Carnarvon died as a result of blood poisoning, and only six of the 26 people who helped discover the tomb died within a decade of the discovery. On the other hand, Carter lived until 1939, more than 20 years after the tomb was found, giving him a good target for any curse that may have been cast upon him.
While the pharaoh’s curse may have lost some of its venom, it hasn’t lost its ability to mesmerise audiences, which is most likely how it got started in the first place.
How the curse was born
After a thorough investigation, the late Egyptologist Dominic Montserrat concluded that the notion originated with a peculiar “striptease” in 19th-century London.
“My analysis certainly proves that the mummy’s curse notion precedes Carnarvon’s Tutankhamen discovery and death by a hundred years,” Montserrat said in an interview with the Independent (UK) a few years before his own death.
Montserrat thought that a vibrant stage play featuring genuine Egyptian mummies being unwrapped prompted one writer, then numerous others, to create mummy vengeance stories.
Louisa May Alcott took up the thread in her little-known book Lost in a Pyramid; or, The Mummy’s Curse.
“My study has not only shown that the mummy’s curse notion has no ancient Egyptian foundation, but it has also revealed that it did not start in the 1923 newspaper hype surrounding the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb,” Montserrat told the Independent.
However, Salima Ikram, a National Geographic Society grantee and Egyptologist at the American University in Cairo, thinks the curse existed in ancient Egypt as part of a rudimentary security system.
She points out that certain mastaba (early non-pyramid tomb) walls at Giza and Saqqara were engraved with “curses” intended to scare anyone who might damage or loot the royal tomb.
“They usually threaten desecrators with a divine vengeance from the gods’ council,” Ikram remarked. “Or a death at the hands of crocodiles, lions, scorpions, or snakes.”
Why a curse?
So, what was the source of the curse? “When Tut’s tomb was uncovered and unveiled in 1922, it was a significant archaeological event,” Randi says. To keep the press at away while still giving them something exciting to report about, Howard Carter, the chief of the excavation crew, spread a rumour that “a curse had been cast upon anybody who defiled the remainder of the boy-king.” Carter did not develop the concept of a cursed tomb, but he did use it to keep outsiders out of his historic find.
In reality, all royal tombs — not only Tutankhamun’s — were thought to have the same “curse” and had been opened without causing any harm. Howard Carter wasn’t the only one who used the prospect of supernatural vengeance to frighten away would-be tomb thieves. Indeed, a well-known author issued a similar curse:
For the love of Jesus, do not scrape out the dust that has encased your ears. “Blessed are you who spare these stones, and cursed are those who disturb my bones.”
Let’s Blame Shakespeare
“Blessed be the one who preserves these stones, and cursed be the man who disturbs my bones,” says William Shakespeare in his 1616 epitaph. Although being the world’s most famous playwright, Shakespeare was not being theatrical when he penned these remarks. Instead, he attempted to avoid something that neither his celebrity nor his riches could prevent: his body being dug up by grave thieves. These “anatomists” didn’t desire the Bard’s corpse out of spite or hate; instead, they wanted it for scientific purposes, to sell to physicians for medical use in schools.
Shakespeare was only one of many people worried about post-mortem theft; tomb-robbing was frequent during Shakespeare’s day and earlier. So it makes little difference if Howard Carter, King Tut, or William Shakespeare believed in curses; what matters is that people who would desecrate their tombs do. And it worked: many people still believed in Tut’s tomb over a century after it was discovered.
Is the Tombs Toxin A Threat?
Some have hypothesised that the pharaoh’s curse was biological in origin in recent years.
Could microorganisms be present in sealed tombs that are harmful or even fatal to individuals who uncover them thousands of years later, particularly those with weaker immune systems like Lord Carnarvon?
The mausoleums contain the corpses of people and animals and sustenance to keep them alive in the afterlife.
According to lab investigations, mold, such as Aspergillus niger and Aspergillus flavus, which may cause congestion or bleeding in the lungs, was found in certain ancient mummies. In addition, bacteria that attack the lungs, such as Pseudomonas and Staphylococcus, may develop on tomb walls.
Although these compounds make tombs seem hazardous, experts appear to concur that they are not.
According to F. DeWolfe Miller, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Lord Carnarvon was probably safer inside Tut’s tomb than outside, given the local circumstances.
“You wouldn’t call Upper Egypt in the 1920s hygienic,” Miller added. “It’s difficult to conceive that a subterranean tomb, after 3,000 years, would contain some strange germ in it that would kill someone six weeks later and look precisely like [blood poisoning].”
In reality, according to Miller, no archaeologist — or even a single visitor — has ever been afflicted by tomb toxins.
The mythology of the mummy’s curse, like the cinematic mummies who evoke the malediction, seemed destined to live forever.
Some believe the claimed curse is nothing more than a trap devised by the ancient Egyptians to safeguard their mummified kings and queens, employing certain bacterial strains, poison, or other methods.
If an intruder disturbs the calm king sleeping down there, a sentence is usually carved somewhere on the tomb’s interior in hieroglyphics outlining the invader’s doom.
Not long after Howard Carter and his team unearthed King Tut’s tomb, the deaths of his team members began to dominate the front pages of newspapers all over the globe, igniting a global obsession for Ancient Egypt and the curse of its rulers.
The first strange incident occurred when an Egyptologist, James Henry Breasted, dispatched a courier to Howard Carter’s home and discovered a cobra snake inside his bird’s cage, encircling it. Naturally, the bird was devoured, so started one of the stories that led to the Pharaohs curse.
The first fatality among the discoverers participating in the magnificent find occurred six weeks after King Tut tomb was opened. Lord Carnarvon died of drunkenness a few days before being bitten by a mosquito. Many people assumed this was a punishment or retribution for breaking the tomb’s quiet, but it’s still a mystery.
The Victims Of The Curse
The names of some of the strange curse’s victims are listed below. These fatalities were linked to the fact that they had come into contact with King Tut’s mummy at some point.
- Lord Carnarvon: Howard Carter’s secret collaborator and financier throughout his research and quest to uncover King Tut’s tomb.
- Georges Benedite, a French Egyptologist best renowned for uncovering Akethetep’s tomb at Saqquara, died not long after seeing King Tutankhamun.
- Hugh Evelyn-White was an archaeologist who worked on the King Tut tomb excavation. He is supposed to have committed himself as a consequence of his extreme fear of the curse, as well as the fact that several of his colleagues who were part of the finding team had perished shortly after the tomb was discovered. He was found hanged, with only a message stating, “I have succumbed to a curse that compels me to vanish.”
- Richard Bethell (Carter’s personal secretary) died of a respiratory ailment in 1929, seven years after the discovery.
- Archibald Douglas Reed, a radiologist, was in charge of doing an X-ray examination on King Tut’s mummy before it was transferred to the museum. Three days after the test, this man died.
- Gamal Mehrez, a former antiquities director who died of a heart attack.
So there you have it. Don’t act as if you weren’t forewarned. Keep this in mind. Sundays are usually the day of the week when the curse takes its toll and takes the life of anyone who comes to disturb the peace of a Pharaoh, particularly Tutankhamun, bear in mind this is not entirely accurate, as Howard Carter, the leader of the significant discovery, lived a long life and died in a completely normal manner. So, unless it’s a Sunday and you’re near King Tut, don’t worry.
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