The Curse of Tutankhamun: Fact or fiction?


Among the world’s most well-known myths is the ‘Curse of Tutankhamun’.

The tale was created shortly after British Egyptologist Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamun’s intact tomb.

The legend gained more attention because some people who were involved in finding the tomb died not long after it was opened. Also many people associated with the opening died under mysterious circumstances shortly after entering the tomb.

On 25 March 1923, a year after the tomb’s discovery, Lord Carnarvon, who funded the excavation process, passed away after being bitten on his cheek by a mosquito. During his morning shave Carnarvon irritated the bite, which soon became infected. Regretfully, medical attention arrived too late and Carnarvon lost his life.

Although Carnarvon was suffering from poor health before travelling to Egypt to admire the newly discovered tomb, once he died, the media created the ‘Curse of the Pharaoh’ which quickly spread in all the newspapers.

The media at that time claimed that Carnarvon died because Tutankhamun wanted revenge from those who had disturbed his journey to eternity by entering his tomb.

What supported the rumour of the ‘Pharaoh’s Curse’ is that a cobra had killed Howard Carter’s canary and Carnarvon’s dog howled and was found dead at two in the morning when Carnarvon died.

Carter and Carnarvon

Had Tutankhamun really put a curse on everyone who first entered his tomb?

Egyptologists believe the story about Tutankhamun’s curse was invented by Carter in order to stop intruders and robbers from entering the tomb and stealing its funerary collection.

Zahi Hawass, the former minister of antiquities, asserted that there is no truth in the ‘Pharaoh’s Curse’.

He explains that after being sealed for thousands of years, an ancient Egyptian tomb is filled with several kinds of bacteria which release spores into the air allowing it to be inhaled. People who first entered the tomb were in direct contact with these spores and became ill.

“It appears that the bacteria entered through the mosquito bite and contributed to Carnarvon’s demise,” said Hawass, adding that when a new tomb is discovered, a small hole must be made in its door and left for three days. This hole allows the bacteria and the air inside the closed tomb to be released and replaced with fresh air.

Also archaeologists should not have shaved during excavation in order to protect themselves from any bacteria that could enter through the pores, he warned.

Exploring Tutankhmun’s burial chamber

Carnarvon’s daughter, Lady Evelyn Herbert, who was one of the first people to enter the tomb, died in 1980, a full 57 years later after the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb. Meanwhile Carter, who not only discovered the tomb and physically opened it, but also removed the mummy of Tutankhamun from the sarcophagus, lived until 1939, 16 years after that event.

Tutankhamun’s tomb when it was first entered