March 31, 2023

The Curse of Tutankhamun the unsolved mystery

There had been stories of curses going back to the nineteenth century, but they multiplied after Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb.

The discovery of the tomb, the boy king, and the myths surrounding it continue to captivate us today. We now know more about ancient Egyptian culture than we did a century ago, but many questions remain unanswered.

The tomb’s objects are beautifully crafted and full of symbolism and meaning, painted or inscribed with hieroglyphs that inspire wonder and intrigue in their mystery.

However, much of the tomb’s contents were never fully published, and work to catalogue the objects and research the excavation is still ongoing. New evidence suggests Carter stole some artefacts, according to recent discoveries.

King Tut and his broken beard -

Tutankhamun and the dig are still part of popular culture. The golden funerary mask is frequently the first or most memorable image of ancient Egypt encountered by the general public.

Many people became archaeologists or Egyptologists as a result of the striped gold and blue mask’s strong hold on their imagination.

The dig also serves as a model for excavation, discovery, and exhibition. The British Museum’s 1972 exhibition of selected treasures from the tomb, including the gold funerary mask, is still the Museum’s most-visited exhibition (1.6 million visitors) and arguably the standard against which all others are measured.

This centennial year has seen hundreds of events commemorating the discovery, Tutankhamun, and his times. With the heritage sector’s increasing emphasis on the ethics of past and present collectors and excavators, the story of the tomb is once again in the public eye, serving as a focal point for revisiting histories and reaffirming Tutankhamun as antiquity’s most famous face.

The Curse of King Tutankhamun

The “Curse of the Pharaoh,” also known as Curse of Tutankhamun, is one of the world’s most famous curses. Since the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, stories have circulated that those who dared to disturb the boy king’s final resting place faced a terrible curse of Tutankhamun.

Though not as dramatic as a murderous mummy, it is widely assumed that many people involved in opening the tomb were soon cursed and died under mysterious circumstances.

The legend gained traction because a few of the people involved in discovering the tomb died not long after it was opened.

The most well-known death associated with the curse was most likely that of George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert, the fifth Earl of Carnarvon, a British aristocrat and amateur Egyptologist who assisted in funding the search.

His death on March 25, 1923, a year after the tomb was opened, is widely regarded as mysterious, but he was in poor health before arriving in Cairo, and died from a decidedly mundane mosquito-borne disease.

The concept of a curse was promoted by none other than Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (who also wrote a book explaining that fairies were real).

There were dozens of people involved in some way in opening Tutankhamun’s tomb (ranging from security guards to archaeologists), and some unexpected deaths could be expected by chance.

According to his book “An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural,” investigator James Randi notes that “the average duration of life for … those who should have suffered the ancient curse was more than twenty-three years after the ‘curse’ was supposed to become effective.

Carnarvon’s daughter died in 1980, 57 years after her father. Howard Carter, who not only discovered and physically opened the tomb, but also removed Tutankhamun’s mummy from the sarcophagus, lived until 1939, sixteen years after the event.”

Sgt. Richard Adamson, a member of Carter’s team who guarded the burial chamber around the clock for seven years and was the European closest to Tutankhamun’s remains, lived for another 60 years until his death in 1982.

And he is not alone, as Randi observes “This group died at an average age of 73 years, outliving the actuarial tables for people of that era and social class by about a year. It appears that the Pharaoh’s Curse is a beneficial curse.”

What’s the point of a curse? (Curse of Tutankhamun)

So, where did the curse originate? Randi claims to have “Tutankhamun’s tomb was discovered and opened in 1922, which was a significant archaeological event.

To keep the press at bay while still giving them something to talk about, the excavation team’s leader, Howard Carter, spread a rumour that a curse had been placed on anyone who violated the rest of the boy-king.”

Carter did not invent the concept of a cursed tomb, but he used it to keep intruders away from his ground-breaking discovery.

In fact, all royal tombs — not just Tutankhamun’s — were said to have the same “curse” and had been opened with no ill effects.

Howard Carter was far from alone in using the threat of supernatural wrath to deter potential grave robbers. Indeed, a well-known author issued a similar curse:

For Iesus’ sake, good friend, refrain from digging the dust that has encircled you. “Blessed be the man who spares these stones, and cursed be the man who moves my bones.”

“Blessed be the man who spares these stones, and cursed be he who moves my bones,” according to William Shakespeare’s epitaph from 1616. Shakespeare, the world’s most famous dramatist, was not being dramatic when he wrote these words.

Instead, he was attempting to prevent something unsavoury from happening that neither his fame nor fortune could prevent: grave robbers digging up his body.

These “anatomists” did not want the Bard’s body out of spite or malice, but for scientific purposes, to sell to doctors for medical use in schools.

Shakespeare was just one of many people concerned about post-mortem theft at the time; grave robbing was common during Shakespeare’s time and long before. It makes no difference whether Howard Carter, King Tut, or William Shakespeare truly believed in curses; what matters is that those who might disturb their graves believe in them. And it worked: many people still believe in Tut’s tomb nearly a century after it was discovered.

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