The curse that falls onto those who open a mummy’s tomb is one of the supernatural tales that pop-culture has well and truly run away with. We can put it on par with ghosts and demons when it comes to what makes for a good scary story, but does this myth really have any ground to stand on?
What is the curse?
The curse of the pharaohs is a superstitious belief that an ill fate will befall upon those who disturb the resting place of an ancient Egyptian mummified corpse, especially a pharaoh. This curse can be responsible for back luck, illness or even death.
This belief didn’t come out of thin air, and actually, some ancient tombs did include cursed inscriptions as a means of scaring away grave robbers at the time because as we know, many pharaohs were buried with their riches to prepare them in the afterlife.
When did the legend of the curse begin?
It might surprise you but Hollywood is not the creator behind the cursed mummy myth. Although granted Rick and Evelyn O’Connell’s exploration of tombs in the Sahara Desert during The Mummy franchise will forever hold a special place in our pop-culture memory, but sadly this urban legend dates back a lot further.
Side note: anyone else still scarred from those scarab beetles?
In reality, the curse of the pharaohs gained global notoriety in 1922 when archaeologist, Howard Carter discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings near Luxor, Egypt.
The 3,000-year-old undisturbed tomb contained plenty of riches and treasures and of course the mummified body of King Tutankhamun himself inside an inscribed cursed tomb – or so legend says.
In truth, the tomb did not contain any inscribed curse but this did not stop the rumour mill from churning especially when many bizarre deaths began to swarm the original team of people who had contact with the tomb or the mummy.
What lives do people believe the curse claimed?
For those who believe in the curse of the pharaohs, it was the many odd and untimely deaths of individuals who had worked on the excavation site of King Tutankhamun that really solidified their superstition. Here are just some of the cases of truly bizarre deaths that followed the discovery of the tomb…
George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon
Role: Expedition sponsor
Cause of death: Septicemia (blood poisoning)
Date: 1923 (Two months after the burial chamber was opened)
Egyptian Prince Ali Kamel Fahmy Bey
Cause of death: Shot by his wife
Date: 1923 (The same year the burial chamber was opened)
Sir Archibald Douglas Reid
Role: X-rayed the mummy
Cause of death: Mysterious sickness
Date: 1924 (A day after he entered the tomb)
Cause of death: Suicide with a note stating ‘a curse forces me to disappear’
Date: 1924 (A year after the burial chamber was opened)
Role: Member of the excavation team
Cause of death: Arsenic poisoning
Date: 1928 (5 years after the burial chamber was opened)
Role: Howard Carter’s assistant
Cause of death: Smothered in his bed
Date: 1929 (6 years after the burial chamber was opened)
Howard Carter himself
Cause of death: Hodgkin’s disease
Date: 1939 (16 years after the burial chamber was opened)
This barely scratches the surface on the long list of people who are believed to have met their grisly fates due to their part in disturbing Egyptian tombs. Of course, it is also worth mentioning that there are many more names on the list of people who have had contact with excavations, tombs and mummies and not met their demise so I guess it’s really all about how you want to view it.