There are few places in this world as permeated and imbued with wonder and mystery as ancient Egypt. This is the land that gave us the mysteries of the pyramids and various other legendary enigmas that stretch back into the furthest reaches of history and the murky depths of time. Of all of these various mysteries, one that truly stands out is that of a mystical curse, said to have been bestowed upon the tombs of the ancient kings, and which has gone on to become a popular legend and point of speculation in the world of the paranormal. Here we have a bit of mystery, adventure, and exploration, mixed with deadly magical evil. This is the curse of King Tut.
The rulers of ancient Egypt, known as the Pharaohs, were seen by their people as actual gods, and this reverence for them continued on even when their earthly form inevitably died. In order to make sure that these beloved kings could more effectively make the journey to the afterlife, the Pharaohs were carefully and meticulously embalmed and mummified, preserving the body forevermore, after which they were ensconced within extravagant, ornate tombs. These tombs were loaded with vast riches, countless valuable artifacts, and often livestock or servants who were sealed away in the perpetual dark along with their master, and everything else the Pharaoh would possibly need in order to live on in the next realm.
The tombs themselves were carefully sealed in order to keep away would be grave robbers, sometimes booby trapped as well or containing numerous false doorways or labyrinthine passages that led to nowhere in order to sow confusion, and in some cases the entrances to the tombs were inscribed with powerful curses for the purpose of bringing down strife, misfortune, and death upon any who would dare defile the final resting places of the Pharaohs. Many of these curses are quite ominous and threatening indeed, such as the one carved into the stone of the the tomb of Khentika Ikhekhi, of the 9th and 10th dynasty, which reads, “As for all men who shall enter this my tomb… impure… there will be judgment… an end shall be made for him… I shall seize his neck like a bird… I shall cast the fear of myself into him. As for him who shall destroy this inscription: He shall not reach his home. He shall not embrace his children. He shall not see success.” This was rather common for such curses, and they seem for the most part to have been something not to trifle with.
Rumors of the “Curse of the Pharaohs,” as well as the ancient secrets of Egypt itself, gained great interest and popularity in the West during the 19th and 20th centuries, mingling with the romantic allure of this far away exotic land to imbue it with a sense of dark magic and legend. Regardless of the curses supposedly hanging over these tombs, grave robbers had still managed to loot many of these sacred places, stealing the treasure and priceless relics contained within and proving to be a bane for the numerous European adventurers and archeologists who began pouring into the region looking for intact, untouched tombs and ancient treasure for them to study, but mostly finding ones that had long ago been pillaged and gutted of their valuables. Nevertheless, this was an age of real life Indiana Jones adventures, as the outsiders spread out under the desert sun and these scorched lands to look for ancient secrets buried out in the sands.
One of the adventurers who made it to this faraway land of long dead Egyptian kings and their mysterious tombs was a British archeologist by the name of Howard Carter, who was in particular obsessed with locating the lost tomb of the great King Tutankhamun, commonly referred to as simply King Tut. In life, Tutankhamun had been the ruler of all of Egypt from 1332 B.C, taking over the role from his father, Pharaoh Akhenaten, at the tender age of just 9 years old, giving him the nickname The Great Boy King, and he made sweeping changes under his short but illustrious rule. King Tut would die under mysterious circumstances at the age of 19, after which there were a great many efforts by successrs to actually physically remove him from the face of history by erasing his name from all records. Obviously this did not work, and King Tutankhamun would later go on to become one of the most famous of all Pharaohs, partly due to the fact that his mysterious lost tomb had never been found and partly due to the efforts of Carter and his team, as well as the ominous rumors of a curse that would follow.
Carter came to Egypt in the 1890s with the backing of a Lord Carnarvon, who also just so happened to have been an avid amateur Egyptologist who believed that not only was King Tut’s tomb out there to be discovered, but that it was one of the few such tombs remaining that was still sealed and undefiled. Carter spent years scouring the desert looking for the tomb without success, and Lord Carnarvon almost called the whole thing off after sinking so much money into endless expeditions that failed to produce any results. Just when it seemed that Carnarvon was going to give up and pull his funding, Carter managed to stumble across what they had been looking for in November of 1922, after accidentally discovering a series of deep cut steps leading down into the earth right up beside a pyramid. They followed these steps by digging deeper and deeper into the earth, uncovering more steps as they went into the gloom, until they came to an inscription marking the sealed entrance of Tutankhamen’s tomb.
At the time it was a marvelous and groundbreaking discovery, an ancient Pharaoh’s tomb that was actually still for the most part intact and free of any looting. The possibilities for what lie beyond that inscrutable thick stone slab were endless, and Carter immediately sent for Lord Carnarvon to come join him at the dig for the purpose of penetrating this long sealed place hidden away from human eyes for millennia. That very same night there would be the first in what would be a long line of oddness when Carter was told by a panicked servant that a cobra had broken into the cage of the canary that the explorer had been using to gauge the safety of the air in the tomb and had eaten the bird. The servant took this to be a dire warning from beyond the grave, and allegedly told Carter, “That is the Pharoh’s servant and he has sent it to kill the bird for leading you to the tomb! You must not disturb Pharoh Tutankhamun’s peace!”
As spooky as all of this was, Carter was a man of science, and did not put much stock in this superstitious nonsense. He had the servant dismissed and awaited the arrival of Lord Carnarvon, while the media began to work itself into a fervor over the discovery of this long lost and very much intact tomb that had been there sitting in the dark for thousands of years. On the day that the tomb was opened, Carter began by poking a small hole through the entrance, through which he peered by candlelight, the first eyes to meet what lie within for millennia, the first light to hit it, and stated that he could see “wonderful, wonderful things.”
As they pushed into the inner sanctum, their thirst for discovery overriding any talk of ancient nefarious curses, one very vocal proponent of the curse was the novelist Marie Corelli, who lamented, “the most dire punishment follows any rash intruder into a sealed tomb.” These warnings were drowned out in the celebratory fanfare, and as the explorers pushed into the murk of the actual burial chamber they uncovered a treasure trove of findings, including religious objects, wealth, gold, paintings, statues, scrolls, and a gold encrusted sarcophagus containing the mummified remains of King Tutankhamen himself. According to the lore, there was also allegedly found a stone tablet inscribed with a curse, which simply read “Death shall come on swift wings to him who disturbs the peace of the King.” Carter would later deny that any such tablet had been found, but the strange phenomena that would orbit the discovery from then on would speak for itself.
One of the first victims of the “Curse of King Tut” would be Lord Carnarvon, who was bitten by a mosquito on his cheek not long after the discovery and would subsequently cut the bite while shaving. Bizarrely, the cut would become hellaciously infected and he would go on to die of acute blood poisoning. Oddly, it was allegedly to be found that the body of King Tut displayed a similar wound upon the cheek, in precisely the same spot as Carnarvon’s ultimately lethal injury. His death really catapulted the talk of ancient curses into the spotlight, and before long there was much gossip on the awakening of a sinister curse that should have stayed buried down there beneath the sand forevermore. It was all further fueled by a statement from Sherlock Holmes author Conan O’Doyle, who speculated that the death had been caused by elemental spirits tasked with guarding the tomb. Other rumors that would spring up to reinforce this are that Lord Carnarvon’s dog let out a howl before dying at the same time as him, as well as the story that the power in Cairo temporarily went out when the Lord died.
Another rather notorious aspect of the King Tut curse comes in the form of a small golden scarab bracelet that had been found in the burial chamber attached to the mummified hand and had then been presented to a Sir Bruce Ingham. The bracelet apparently had born the sinister inscription, “Cursed be he who moves my body, to him shall come fire, water and pestilence,” and sure enough Ingram’s house is said to have burnt down under mysterious circumstances shortly after receiving it. In the meantime, Carter, who did not believe one iota in any sort of supernatural curse, did claim to have seen the presence of a type of jackal similar to the same type depicted in the Anubis, roaming about a region of the desert where they had not been seen for decades.
Whether Carter believed any of this supernatural stuff or not, the string of deaths concerning those who had been involved with the discovery of King Tut’s tomb would continue. Prince Ali Kamel Fahmy Bey of Egypt was shot dead by his wife in 1923, Sir Archibald Douglas Reid, who had helped to X-ray the mummy, died under mysterious circumstances in 1924. George Jay Gould I, a visitor to the tomb, died in 1923 after developing a mysterious fever, Sir Lee Stack, Governor-General of Sudan, died after an assassination in 1924, Arthur Mace, of Carter’s excavation team, died of arsenic poisoning in 1928, another died in a horrific accident, Carter’s secretary Richard Bethell was suffocated in his bed in 1929, Bethell’s father committed suicide in 1930, and a Lord Westbury killed himself by jumping from the roof of his home. Indeed, by 1935 there was a total of 21 deaths supposedly linked to the relentless “Curse of King Tut,” and Carter himself would die of lymphoma in 1939 at the age of 64, funnily enough after long adamantly dismissing all talk of curses surrounding the tomb.
The suspicious number of deaths congregating around this “cursed” tomb and others like it have been cause for a good amount of speculation over the years. One is that the toxins and chemicals used in the embalming process might become concentrated enough in these sealed, confined spaces to produce dire health problems down the line. There is even the idea that the curse was caused by some form of illness triggered by a type of fungus commonly called “black mold” (Aspergillus niger), or something similar, which can cause all sorts of health issues ranging from fever to diminished immune systems, organ failure, and much worse, although it is hard to reconcile some of the deaths here with the effects of a fungus.
Of course there is a lot of skepticism pointed at the talk of a curse. When the tomb was opened there were many people present, most of whom went on to live long and healthy lives, and even the ones who died are not beyond what would be expected, After all, several of them already had health problems, and of course someone is going to eventually die. It has been pointed out that there is nothing particularly statistically anomalous about the deaths revolving around King Tut’s tomb, so perhaps the media talk of diabolical ancient curses has just managed to color the deaths that did happen and cast them in a more sinister light? It is hard to say. It all fits into a similar trend with other cursed places and items, in that it is difficult to tell if this is all freaky coincidence or if there is something truly paranormal going on. Whatever the case may be, the curse of King Tut’s tomb has gone on to become legendary, and it remains a most curious historical oddity and companion to an era of discovery and adventure.