Five facts about… the curse of Tutankhamun’s tomb

Do you believe in the mummy’s curse? Did King Tut punish those who disturbed his resting place?

Five facts about… the curse of Tutankhamun’s tomb © Getty Images

Not long after Howard Carter’s discovery, a rumour started to grow that a curse had been unleashed. How did this rumour start? Is there anything to it? Here are five facts surrounding the mysterious curse…


The death of Lord Carnarvon

Lord Carnarvon, the amateur Egyptologist who funded the excavation, died five months after the tomb was discovered. It caused a media frenzy, which only became more frenetic when it was reported that, at the exact time of his death, there was a blackout in Cairo. Rumours abounded including that on the night he died, Susie, Carnarvon’s dog in England, let out a howl and died herself. His death was blamed on a curse but, in truth, he died of blood poisoning from an infected mosquito bite.


The curse continues

The deaths of other members of the excavation parties at Tutankhamun’s tomb helped the story of the curse grew stronger. But of the dozens of people involved in the excavation, only eight died within 12 years. These included:

• Howard Carter’s personal secretary Richard Bethell was found dead in his bed in 1929.
• Bethell’s father commited suicide in suspicious circumstances in 1930.
• Sir Archibold Douglas-Reid was a radiologist who x-rayed the body of Tutankhamun – he died of a mystery illness in 1924.
• Arthur Mace, a member of the excavation team, died in 1928.
• Even visitors were not safe – Prince Ali Kemal Fahmy Bey was shot by his wife in 1923 after entering the tomb.


Fungal causes?

Several people, including physician and biologist Dr Ezzeddin Taha of Cairo University, have suggested that the mysterious illnesses may have been contracted from breathing in a fungus living on the walls of the tomb. The ancient ailment would have been able survive in the sealed space for thousands of years.


The cobra and the canary

Howard Carter was sceptical of any curse but he was surrounded by superstition. Another curse rumour claims that on the day the tomb was opened, a cobra ate Carter’s pet canary. This was seen as proof of the curse as the cobra is a symbol of the goddess Wadjet, a protector of the kings and queens of Egypt.


Fair warning?

It was reported that an inscription was found above the entrance to the burial chamber reading, ‘Death will come on swift pinions to those who disturb the rest of the Pharaoh’. This seems like an ominous sign but there are two key problems. Firstly, is it really there? Tombs had plenty of hieroglyphics on the walls but they were intended to help the deceased in the underworld. Secondly, who was it for? It is highly unlikely a written curse would put off grave robbers who could not read hieroglyphics.

This article was first published in the February 2014 issue of History Revealed.