In the late nineteenth century, Howard Carter, a young archaeologist was convinced that the remains of the ‘Boy King’, the pharaoh Tutankhamun, was buried somewhere in Egypt. Carter arrived in Egypt in 1891, and after some time secured funding for his archaeological digs from the wealthy Lord Carnarvon in 1917. After five years of digging with little success, Carnarvon gave Carter one last spell of financial support. In November of 1922, Carter’s team discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in the Valley of Kings on the West Bank at Luxor. As they dug and removed the covering material, they discovered a set of steps that ended at a door inscribed with the name “Tutankhamun’. Carter ordered that they would do no more digging until Lord Carnarvon reached the site, and immediately sent a telegram back to Britain.
Lord Carnarvon traveled to Egypt and Carter and him entered the tomb. They uncovered a fake room, a storage room and then the burial chamber. Unlike other pharaohs, Tutankhamun had been undisturbed since death, and when Carter had looked in by candlelight, he discovered an unrecounted collection of treasures. The team categorized and documented all items they found, with the most impressive being the king’s sarcophagus – three interlocking coffins, the last of which depicted the earthly form of Tutankhamun in beautiful gold metalwork. Everyone celebrated at finding an unplundered tomb, and Carter’s team felt authenticated in their hunt. However, rumors started to circulate that Carter had removed a sign about the tomb door that read ‘Death shall come on swift wings to him that toucheth the tomb of the Pharaoh’.
In April of 1923, Lord Carnarvon was bitten on the neck by a mosquito. He mistakenly cut the bite while shaving, and the wound became infected. He soon after started suffering from fevers and chills and died shortly after in a Cairo hospital. It is strongly believed that all the lights went out in the hospital when he passed away, and his favorite dog back in England is said to have dropped dead at the same moment. The press delighted in claiming it was the curse of the pharaoh. Most curiously, when the mummy of the Boy King was unwrapped, it had a bite on the cheek in exactly the same spot Carnarvon’s had been. Over the next several years, two of Carnarvon’s relatives, his personal secretary and a few other connected with the discovery died in strange circumstances. Each time one died, the British press had a field day linking the death to the curse.
Researchers believe that the Ancient Egyptians placed poison inside the tombs to gain retribution against grave robbers. In recent years, Scientists have also promulgated many theories that suggest food had been placed inside the tomb to help the dead body’s spiritual journey may have actually assisted the breeding of microscopic spores which entered the explorer’s lungs when the opened the tomb. This immensely fraught fungus, which would have developed unrestrained over the course of 3000 years, would cause terrible fever and fatigue in the bodies it infected. Surely, Lord Carnarvon, who was not already in the best of health, would, therefore, be more susceptible to infection.
This theory does not explain the curse in totality because very few of the people who were actually present at the opening of the tomb died early. Of the 26 people in attendance at the opening of the burial chamber, only six died within the following 10 years. At the opening of the sarcophagus, 22 were present, of whom six died, while nobody who helped unwrap the mummified body suffered an early death. Carter himself, who was at the lead of all the discoveries, died at the age of 66, due to natural causes.
Although, Lord Carnarvon was the one who funded the archaeological dig, and was the first one on site for the opening so it’s very plausible that the curse of Tutankhamun focused directly on him. It is most certainly true that Cairo’s hospital’s lights failed at the time of his death, and the story about his dog has never been debunked. One last intriguing rumor was that Carnarvon has given Carter a pet canary as a token of good luck to find the tomb. On the day of the discovery, it is noted that a cobra, which is an animal symbolic of pharaohs, ate the bird.
In reality, the curse of Tutankhamun did more good then harm. In addition to the widespread media coverage, movies today continue to be made with an underlying theme of the curse. All of this exposure has brought several revivals of interest in Egyptology to the world. Even Tutankhamun himself would have been pleased with the discovery of his tomb. The ancient Egyptians believe that their souls were kept alive when their name was remembered, and this has been ensured.