Was the Curse of the Pharaohs Real? A Coincidence? Or Something Far More Sinister?
In this week's episode of the Misfits and Mysteries Podcast, Emmy and I discussed the Curse of the Pharaohs, and possible explanations for the curse. Check out episode 4 of the podcast to hear our full discussion.
I have stated in the past that I don’t really believe in curses, however, I do sort of believe that mummy curses could exist. While this might seem contradictory, we don’t really know what was going on back then and if the Egyptians could build the pyramids without modern technology, who’s to say they couldn’t also create curses.
The Curse of the Pharaohs
On November 26, 1922, Egyptologist Howard Carter, discovered the Tomb of King Tut in the Valley of the Kings. Although King Tut was not a very significant ruler in Egyptian History, the discovery of his tomb was one of the most significant of the time because it was the first fully intact Egyptian tomb ever discovered. Inside the tomb, there were two life sized statues of the Pharaoh wearing gold sandals and a golden crown stylized with cobras.
This is where the legend of the curse began. That night, after opening the tomb, Carter's pet Canary was killed by a snake. The locals hired to do the excavation allegedly saw this as a bad omen that they should not further disrupt King Tut's tomb. Once excavation began on the tomb, the story of a mummy curse spread like wildfire throughout newspapers. According to the newspapers, “Cursed be those that disrupt the rest of Pharaoh. They that shall break the seal of this tomb shall meet death by a disease which no doctor can diagnose.” was inscribed on King Tut's Tomb. While this story was running wild throughout the newspapers, there is no actual evidence that quote was inscribed anywhere on King Tut's Tomb. While there is probably a logical explanation for all of the deaths associated with the curse, it’s still spooky.
The first of the curse’s victims was George Herbert, also known as Lord Carnarvon. Lord Carnarvon funded Carter’s expedition and was one of the first people to step foot in King Tut’s tomb. A few months after visiting the tomb, Carnarvon accidentally cut open a mosquito bite while shaving and died of blood poisoning, severe pneumonia, and an infection of the skin and underlying tissue. Newspapers quickly jumped on the narrative that Lord Carnarvon was the first victim of King Tut's curse. While it's a crazy coincidence that he died so soon after visiting an allegedly cursed tomb, Lord Carnarvon was an older man, with a weakened immune system, who was already not in the best health. It’s likely that he would have passed away anyway from that mosquito bite regardless of King Tut's curse.
The second victim of the curse was Sir. Bruce Ingham. Ingham was a close friend of Howard Carter and Carter gifted him a mummified hand, which he used as a paper weight. Before we get into any actual curse stuff, seriously, what the fuck. First of all why would you give someone a preserved human hand as a gift? Secondly, why would you think to use a real life dead person’s hand as a paper weight? That's just gross. Alright time to get back on track. Allegedly, the mummified hand was wearing a scarab bracelet that was inscribed with “Cursed be he who moves my body to him shall come fire, water, and pestilence.” Again why would you accept a mummified hand as a gift, let alone one that is clearly cursed? Soon after receiving this gift, Ingham’s house burned down in a freak fire and after he rebuilt his home, it was hit with a devastating flood. He promptly disposed of the mummified hand and was never reported to have suffered from pestilence (or a disease). Out of all the people afflicted by this curse, this one is the hardest to explain away. It seems far too coincidental that his house burned down, then it flooded. I think this guy dodged a bullet here by dumping that hand and honestly made out the best of all of these people.
The next two people to die from the curse were Prince Ali Hemal Fahmy Bey and Sir Lee Stack, Governor of Sudan. Within a year of visiting King Tut's Tomb, both men were brutally assassinated. These two murders are easily the weakest link in the chain. It’s far more likely that both men were assassinated for political reasons, not because King Tut's ghost wanted them dead. I personally chalk up these two deaths to a freaky coincidence.
The next victim of the curse was British MP Aubry Herbert, Lord Carnarvon’s half brother. Allegedly after entering the tomb, Herbert exclaimed “Something dreadful is going to happen to our family.” Shortly after his visit, he died of blood poisoning. I would not want to be related to Lord Carnarvon, all the Herbert’s tend to die of blood poisoning. I would probably explain away this death as bad genetics. If Lord Carnarvon had a weak immune system, it’s not crazy to think that his half brother would also have a weak immune system. Lord Carnarvon’s other brother also passed away from, you guessed it, Malarial Pneumonia and blood poisoning. This further supports my hypothesis that the Herbert bloodline has bad immune systems. Aubry’s quote though is still freaky especially because it came true.
Next on the list is Sir Archibald Douglas-Reid, the technician who conducted the initial x-rays of King Tutankhamun’s body. Reid passed away of a mysterious illness that the doctors at the time could not diagnose or cure. His death really solidified the alleged curse as he died of “a disease which no doctor can diagnose.” While this is a crazy coincidence, I don't think he died of a curse. I think he died of radiation poisoning. At the time, no one really knew the risks associated with radiation, so it's far more likely that he was exposed to deadly levels of radiation and just so happened to finally get poisoned post King Tut. The doctors could not diagnose him because radiation poisoning was not a known illness at the time.
I’m going to be 100% honest there, this next one really freaks me out. H.E. Evelyn-white was an archeologist who was one of the first men to enter King Tut's Tomb. Back in England, white hung himself and in his suicide not wrote, “I have succumbed to a curse.” Honestly this one is a little too much. Something was clearly tormenting him so much that he decided to take his own life. One explanation for this is that he may have been referring to his depression as his curse, as one of his close friends had recently passed away.
Next on the list is A.C. Mace. Mace took over for Carter from 1924 to 1928 further excavating King Tut’s Tomb and making new discoveries. The longer Mace stayed on the site, the weaker he got, until 1928 when he collapsed and died days later of arsenic poisoning. This one is a little crazy. I’m not sure how only he would have been exposed to arsenic and no one else on the crew. Maybe it was a curse? Or perhaps a murder? Honestly I don’t have a good answer here.
The final victims of the Curse of the Pharaohs were Richard Bethall and his father. Richard was Carter’s secretary and was present when the tomb was first opened. He survived until 1929 when he was found smothered to death in his London bed. A few months later, his father jumped to his death from his 7th story apartment, which was filled with Egyptian Relics from the dig site. Again I'm not sure what caused this one either but seems like foul play to me.
While these are some of the most famous cases, it's worth noting that Howard Carter lived until 1939, a whole 20 years after he entered King Tut's Tomb. I think that it’s very suspicious that the man who initially discovered and disrupted the tomb got off scot free and did not die of the curse. Some people have suggested that he may have actually invented the curse himself as a way to scare off potential grave robbers.
Explanations and Conclusion
There are a few possible explanations for the curse of the Pharaohs. The first is that there actually was a curse. I think that this is the least likely explanation because prior to the 1800’s there was no concept of Mummy curses in Egypt. The second and most likely explanation is that the ancient Egyptian artifacts had deadly molds and bacteria growing on them. This idea is strongly supported by the fact that several strands of deadly bacteria and mold have been discovered on Egyptian artifacts. When you consider that most of the people involved with the curse were older and in poor health, it seems far more likely that bacteria and mold did them in rather than a curse.
Overall, I’m not positive I believe in the curse of King Tut, but I personally would steer clear of entering any mummy tombs or using any mummified hands as paper weights. Make sure to check out the Misfits and Mysteries Podcast, you can find us anywhere you listen to podcasts. New episodes out every Thursday.