Jul 07, 2018 I Brett Tingley

The Curse of the Pharaoh and the Man Who Discovered King Tut’s Tomb

Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun (or “King Tut”) remains one of the most well-known of all the ancient Egyptian rulers thanks to the fact that his tomb was discovered almost entirely intact in 1922. Tut’s tomb provided Egyptologists with a rare glimpse into the life and death of an Egyptian pharaoh. That’s not to say that there isn’t still a great deal of mystery surrounding Tut, due to long-held beliefs that there might be hidden chambers surrounding his tomb containing yet untold wonders - or even the remains of the queen Nefertiti.

Actually, ground penetrating radar revealed that Nefertiti is not in fact hiding somewhere close to Tut’s tomb. Still, Tut and his tomb still present several archaeological mysteries which are still unsolved today. Among the most controversial of them is the legend that there is a curse related to Tut’s tomb. In the years following the discovery of the tomb, it was said that the explorers and archaeologists who entered the tomb began dying untimely and unexplained deaths. Over time, a popular urban legend arose describing a “Curse of the Pharaohs” which hunted down any mortals who happened to step foot in these hallowed tombs.

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Egytpologist Howard Carter excavating Tut's sarcophagus.

It’s true that some of the first individuals to step into Tut’s tomb after its opening died within a short time. George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon and the financier of the expedition to discover Tut’s tomb, died within a few months after a mosquito bite became infected. Another visitor, George Jay Gould, died of a fever a month later. In all, there were 11 untimely deaths of individuals related to the discovery of Tut’s tomb within the first 10 years of its discovery. However, recent studies have found that these rates of death are in no way higher than is to expected, particularly when you consider the conditions some of these explorers had to face. Still, there are some suspicious and unexplained deaths of these Egyptologists, even an assassination. It’s even been alleged that some of these deaths may have been at the hands of Aleister Crowley. Could there really be a Curse of the Pharaohs?

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Carter and Tut

The man who discovered Tut’s tomb doesn’t think so - and he wasn’t happy about all the attention the supposed “curse” got either. British archaeologist and Egyptologist Howard Carter gained international fame after discovering Tut’s tomb, later touring the world giving lectures about the find. Last month, a newly revealed set of Carter’s personal correspondences were sold at auction and reveal Carter’s feelings on the curse.

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Carter in 1924.

After the contents of the letters were made public, it turns out that English journalist Arthur Weigall is largely responsible for creating the idea of the alleged “curse” after publishing an exclusive story on the supposedly suspicious deaths of the tomb’s explorers. In one of Carter’s letters, the Egyptologist says Weigall’s idea of the curse is ultimately a “menace:”

His inventions had no basis and thus a menace to archaeology. Those of them for temporary excitement and amusement at the expense of others. The ‘Tut Curse’ was his invention. The media in the 1920s found plenty of evidence that something was punishing the excavators of the most perfect ancient Egyptian burial chamber ever found.

Carter’s letters sold at auction for £5700, or around $7,500 USD. Carter died at the age of 64 due to complications from Hodgkin’s Disease. His final years were spent in bitterness, having been beaten down by constant squabbles with government officials and by feeling his discovery was overshadowed by public’s obsession with the idea of the Pharaoh’s Curse. Could that be the real Curse of the Pharaoh?

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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