One of the biggest discoveries of the twentieth century also turned into one of its biggest mysteries. Did Tutankhamun’s tomb really curse all who entered it? Let’s explore this bizarre history, starting with the life story of the boy king himself.
The Story of King Tut
Tutankhamun was born around 1342 BC and thought to be the son of King Akhenaten, a controversial leader. Akhenaten made radical, and mostly unpopular, religious changes. Stepping away from polytheism, Akhenaten instead made Egypt’s official religion Atenism, which centred solely on the cult of Aten. The records are foggy when it comes to the exact identity of Akhenaten’s successor but what is certain is that Tutankhamun became king not long after his father.
Tutankhamun was a pharaoh of Egypt from 1334 – 1325 BC, taking the throne when he was only eight or nine years old. He had a short reign but sought to restore the land to polytheism. Ultimately he died young at the age of roughly eighteen. Scientists believe he may have had several ailments and illnesses, including possible malaria, bone necrosis, scoliosis and epilepsy. Despite this, there is no confirmed cause of death and his passing seems to have been quite sudden to ancient Egyptians. Theories about his death vary widely, from murder by a blow to the head to a chariot accident to his ill health.
During antiquity, Tutankhamun’s tomb was robbed twice. Nearly all the tombs in the Valley of the Kings are thought to have been ransacked in the Twentieth Dynasty but what makes Tutankhamun’s tomb unique is the scale of what was left behind. Even though a lot of riches were taken away nearly 3,000 years before Howard Carter’s excavation, there was still so much for Carter and his team to discover. The reason for this is because King Tut was almost completely removed from historic records. Fury over Akhenaten’s religious reform led to those after him aiming to destroy any reference or monument to him or those associated with him, including any mention of his son. Tutankhamun’s anonymity may have protected his tomb from further damage before the 1900s because the robbers simply didn’t know it was there.
That Infamous Excavation
So, speeding ahead 3,000 years we get to 1914 when George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon financed a project exploring the Valley of Kings. He put Howard Carter in charge of the excavations and waited to hear for news. Years went by with few interesting discoveries and he decided that 1922 would be the last year he would provide funding for a project that was reaping little of what he sowed. It was in November of that very year that Carter’s water boy accidentally discovered the top of a staircase leading to a doorway. Word was sent to Carnarvon and Carter, the Earl and his daughter, Lady Evelyn Herbert, were the first to enter the tomb.
Upon realising just what they had discovered, help was drafted in to begin cataloguing the many artifacts. On the 16th February 1923, Carter entered the burial chamber of King Tut. Just seven weeks later, Canarvon died of blood poisoning. He is thought to be the first victim of the King Tut’s curse.
Ok, so context aside, here is where the spooky bit comes in… as if talk of tombs and ancient mummies wasn’t spooky enough as it is. There are a lot of (probably fabricated) details when it comes to the supposed curse and considering the excavation and the curse itself became big news stories back in England, it’s not hard to imagine the most extreme were probably made up by the media.
But, here we go, these are just a few of the people related to Tutankhamun’s tomb who died in mysterious circumstances or had strange things happen to them:
- Sir Bruce Ingham – Carter gave Ingham a mummified hand to use as a paperweight (main question here being why?) then Ingham’s house burnt down.
- Financier George Jay Gould – died of pneumonia after visiting the tomb.
- Hugh Evelyn-White – took his own life two years after working on the excavation.
- Carter’s secretary Richard Bethell – found dead in his bed in Mayfair after being smothered.
The list goes on a bit however one key person in all this who got off scot-free is Howard Carter himself. Carter lived a full life, as did many people who worked on the excavation. There is definitely something spooky about the idea of a mummy’s curse but there is no evidence of it aside from some strange coincidences. No curses have been found written on the walls of the tomb itself and neither have archaeologists or scientists found any substance in the tomb that would cause death to those who enter. This is a bit of a non-point considering the variety in causes of death anyway.
I personally think the idea of a curse and the reason the story flooded the media is because there is something just wrong about the idea of exploring a burial site. Even when that tomb is thousands of years old and definitely a place a historical interest, there’s still this feeling that where someone is put to rest is where they should stay. King Tut might have been young but he was a king and there was a reason he was given the lavish burial he was. I’m not saying I think excavations themselves are wrong. If that excavation had never happened, Tutankhamun may have ended up being a name lost to history. Disturbing the final resting place of the dead is incredibly spooky and maybe the ultimate risk you take isn’t a curse, it’s learning to live with your decision to explore that grave in the first place.
Hmm… that got a bit deep. Anyway, point is I don’t think the curse is real but it’s an excuse to chat about some Ancient Egyptian history. Bye for now!