Lord Carnarvon, a wealthy man who helped pay for Carter’s excavation, became ill 5 months after the discovery of the ancient pharaoh’s tomb and was then brought to Cairo, Egypt. He died a few days later, on April 5th, 1923, at 57 years of age.
It was reported that the cause of death was blood poisoning, arising from a mosquito bite he had infected by cutting it while shaving. The death was just weeks before the tomb’s official opening.
By 1935, the press had connected eight deaths to the “Mummy’s Curse”. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was among those who believed in the curse, saying:
“Powerful elementals or spirits placed on guard by ancient Egyptian priests to protect the tomb of King Tutankhamen may have caused the death of Lord Carnarvon. I consider it probable that, during the Tutankhamen era, priests possessed the power to create guardian elements.”
One of the archaeologists on the excavation team, Hugh Evelyn-White, was said to have been so terrified of the curse that he hanged himself. He wrote, “I have succumbed to a curse which forces me to disappear.”
But was it the supernatural or science he really had to fear?
It was later found that the tomb was filled with deadly fungus and bacteria over the years that was released once the tomb was opened. When the air quality was tested from a sealed sarcophagus, they also found high levels of ammonia, formaldehyde and hydrogen sulfide.
As for Lord Carnarvon’s death, there is an explanation for that as well. The pharaoh’s tomb was stocked with food, of which the ancient Egyptians believed their King would need in the afterlife. Over the years, it is certainly possible that it could have attracted bugs, as well as bacteria and mold.
Further investigations showed that mummies can indeed carry dangerous molds, including Aspergillus niger and Aspergillus flavus. Tomb walls can also hold dangerous bacteria, such as Pseudomonas and Staphylococcus.
This is one reason why modern archaeologists wear protective gear while working in tombs or with mummies, which is something Carter’s team did not do.
Most, if not all, of the hype surrounding the curse can be credited to the press. Stories of this curse definitely sold well, and so most of it was probably blown out of proportion. It even attracted so much attention that the movie, “The Mummy’s Curse”, was made in 1944.
Did the Statement of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Possibly Carry Some Truth?
Priests of Ancient Egypt were known as the practitioners of magic, or heka. They were seen as the keepers of secret knowledge, given to them by the gods to “ward off the blows of fate”.
The most respected were the lector priests, who could read the books of magic kept in temples and libraries. They used this magic in rituals to protect their Pharaohs, and help the dead rebirth, among other things.
Priests were not the only ones to practice magic, however. Women who were respected and considered wise were sometimes consulted to help figure out what deity was causing someone trouble, and there were also those who created amulets that were seen as a source of protection.
Magic was mainly used to heal and help those in need, but there were also practices of magic that were considered dark. One of these things were, indeed, curses.
Priests would perform ceremonies to curse enemies of the divine, such as Apep, a demon of Egyptian myth who resembled a serpent and was a god of chaos.
Priests also cursed human enemies of their Kings. They would also sometimes create figurines, using directions from books on destructive magic.
Could one of these have ended up in King Tut’s tomb, in order to protect him from those who opened it? It’s possible, but now that evidence has been found to explain the alleged curse, it’s unlikely that the “magic” of Ancient Egyptian priests had anything to do with the deaths of Howard Carter’s excavation team.