“It is I who hinder the sand from choking the secret chamber. I am for the protection of the deceased.” The Anubis Dog-Guardian of the Treasury of King Tutankhamen
On January 9th, 1923, just five months after the tomb of the Egyptian boy-king was discovered, Lord Carnarvon, a wealthy British Earl who had financed this wealthy archaeological expedition, died when he accidentally nicked himself shaving.
Carnarvon had been bitten by a mosquito, and when he cut himself with his straight razor, the wound became infected and he died of pneumonia in Cairo, on the 5th of April, 1923. His death unleashed the phenomenon that is known as ‘The Mummy’s Curse’ or ‘The Curse of Tutankhamen.’ Suddenly there was a media frenzy that reported this curse as a real event. People associated with the opening of this ancient tomb were dropping dead like flies, or so it has been reported.
A dramatic underscoring to this curse, that added fuel to its apparent authenticity, is that a novelist named Mari Corelli had issued a public warning that there would be ill-begotten consequences for anyone defiling the sealed tomb. Other facts had also given credence to the truthfulness of this curse. Howard Carter’s beloved canary was swallowed by a cobra on the very day that he opened the tomb. The cobra was a protector of the Pharaoh, as can be seen on his golden headdress.
Other facts did not all-together add up if you were in need of a purely rational explanation. At the exact moment of Lord Carnarvon’s death the lights of Cairo suddenly went out for twenty minutes. Furthermore, his Fox Terrier, Suzie, after letting out a huge howl, dropped dead at the very instance of his own death.
One newspaper printed the following quote as being right at the tomb entrance of King Tut. They who enter this sacred tomb shall swift be visited by wings of death. This was a fabrication. A side-bar to this is that Lord Carnarvon gave The Times exclusive rights of coverage to the whole excavation event. Out of jealousy, many competing newspapers raised the bar of outrageousness, in an attempt to out scoop their rivals.
The quote that I have given at the top of my article was the correct one. It was an inscription at the Anubis Shrine. The Anubis dog or jackal actually did protect the Treasury section of the burial chamber and was carried (3 & ½ thousand years ago) in the funeral procession by priests or devotees to the Pharaoh.
A number of small figurines were also amongst the items retrieved from the Treasury compartment. Many of these resemble King Tut, and surely have ritualistic properties that are not so clearly apparent to scholars today. Some have identified these figurine- charms as players in ‘the curse.’ I speculate, but the priests may have sprinkled these amulets with conjurings that could ward off intruders. Be Wary, Oh You Outsiders! It must be mentioned here that this sepulcher was never intended to have any human eyes dancing the tango on it, but rather it was deemed to be permanently lost to the sands of time.
The media frenzy surrounding the opening of the tomb and the promulgation of this newly revealed ‘curse’ is to be expected. It sold newspapers like hoola-hoops or Frisbees in the 1960s, and heightened the public’s ravenous appetite for more coverage with a yellow hue to it.
The curse itself finds its origins in literature in the 1820s. Apparently, there was a little sideshow near London’s Piccadilly Circus, a striptease act, where actual mummies were unwrapped. These slip-shot theatrics inspired Jane Loudon Webb to write “The Mummy” (source-The Mummy’s Curse by John Warren).
There were others as well. Louisa May Alcott wrote a short story in 1869 called Lost in a Pyramid: The Mummy’s Curse. Louisa had been influenced by a children’s book entitled The Fruits of Enterprise, where explorers use mummies as human torches to find their way through the winding corridors of Egyptian pyramids. The mummies were a trifle demonic in this portrayal (John Warren article). These works of literature predate the ‘curse legend’ and helped to propel the story forward through time, as it gained momentum in the media.
The famous English author, Arthur Conan Doyle, attributed Carnarvon’s death to ‘elementals’, not souls or spirits. This would mean the actual chemicals or powders that were about the burial chambers would act as shields, protecting the boy-king (The Complete Tutankhamen by Nicholas Reeves).
The priests prepared these magic conjures to ward off thieves or intruders, who might violate Pharaoh’s sacred resting place. Today, according to reputable scientists, these powders would literally be lethal dormant microcosms that could lead to infection or disease. A sort of Mummy’s H1N1 equivalent. This theory has found support within the scientific community!
The half dozen or so articles that I have read have demonstrated only one purpose to them, from what I can tell, and that is to debunk or discredit ‘the curse’ as mere myth, or as blatant yellow journalism. Let me state clearly right here that the remainder of what I will say will be speculation or guesswork regarding my interpretation of said curse, or what it means to this present times of ours. That is to say that it never has left us, but simply has changed its appearance.
It’s been ninety years now since this story first broke dirt and the thing is still very much alive and breathing! I urge you to read and study any printed material or internet entries on this fascinating topic, and then to shift your focus on my theories, to give them grounds for consideration. You will need to gain a tight control of the facts in this case. You then can determine if you agree or disagree with me; please then send me a comment that fleshes out your singular take on this puzzling set of facts. I think you will agree, not everyone is going to walk away believing that ‘the curse’ is a falsehood, a figment of a fertile imagination.
It has often been asked, why did Howard Carter not die soon after the discovery of King Tut’s tomb? “Wasn’t he the primary perpetrator of this blasphemous violation,” it has so often been claimed? For me, the answer is no. If you will study the developments of the archaeological diggings of the site, along with the careful preservation methods employed in the handling of these artifacts, you will see that Carter remained ignoble throughout the entire affair.
It is Carnarvon (not that this makes him particularly evil) who wanted to send the Tut treasures back to the British Museum; but it never was Carter who wanted this transgression to come about. He was content on working harmoniously with the Egyptian government, and preserving these precious finds for posterity, for history, and keeping the items with their rightful owners, the Egyptians. Thus, he was spared a sudden death (by my take on ‘the curse’).
For me, ‘the curse’ is really a metaphor for the political wrangling between westerners, attempting to gain control over the ancient heritage by way of art treasures, and the Egyptians. This is what so drove the story, what made it headlines in the 1920s and this is what keeps it alive today.
If the curse is really about western intrusion on Egyptian rights to possess their own ancient heritage, then it is logical that Lord Carnarvon clearly symbolizes this exploitation factor. This is why he had to die first. On the other hand, Carter buckled under to the Egyptian authorities, and was thus spared an untimely death.
A new book, The Murder of King Tut, by James Patterson and Martin Dugard, is very popular now, it’s number six on The New York Times Book Review, in the non-fiction category. I have not read it, but it espouses the theory that King Tut was murdered by family members, who made a power play for the throne.
This theory is supported by forensic evidence where x-rays show a skull fracture on the boy-king. Other scholars support this murder theory also. Thus, the Tut spirit would have a motive to put a spell on anyone, especially westerners, who would try to violate his final resting place, and steal his sacred relics, that so vigilantly guarded his sacred burial chamber. Granted, this is a spin, but it does take on that meaning, when you apply the curse to these new revelations that lie within this book.
Moreover, popular culture, such as movies, has gone a long way towards propitiating the longevity or legs of ‘the curse.’ For it was ‘popular culture’ that propelled the curse in the first place, and it has perpetuated it there after and kept it alive for the next ninety years! A whole series of movies, that were thinly veiled retellings of the King Tut discovery, came out (after 1922) and continue to be released today. Last night I saw The Mummy’s Curse with Lon Chaney as Kharis with oily, soiled wrappings and a limp as blatantly fowl as Chester’s on Gunsmoke. There were several of these, The Mummy’s Hand and The Mummy’s Ghost, all of which were spin-offs of the original Boris Karloff film from 1932, The Mummy.
This curse just won’t die! It takes on new meanings and current events can appear as further manifestations of this perceived or possibly real curse. Yesterday (Saturday-10/21/2009), in The New York Times, an article appeared written by Michael Kimmelman -When Ancient Artifacts Become Political Pawns. I urge you to read it, but it does tell you that Egyptian authorities want the Nefertiti bust to be returned to Egypt. It currently resides at the Neues Museum in Berlin.
Nefertiti was King Tut’s stepmother, and the wife of Akhenaten, Tut’s actual father. For me, this is a resurrection of the curse. Really, this scourge is a conflict between the opportunism of the West and the cradle of civilization, ancient Egypt. The guilt of the west is newly emerging, its record of exploitation and colonialism is currently revealed, and the return of art treasures to their rightful owners will be a trend of the future.
The real rub here, to my way of thinking, is not so much whether the curse is really true, but rather the rub is why this story has so much staying power. I will suggest that it’s because we want to believe it. Why do we so much want to believe this hair-raising tale fantastical?
It is because of our deep-seated guilt over the obvious violation by westerners of these hallowed tombs of these Pharaohs, who have remained in isolation, resting peacefully for more than three and half thousand years. That, my friend, is the reason why. These precious treasures belong to the Egyptians exclusively, not to the British, Germans or even Americans. It is a travesty when you cast a glimpse on these antiquities in a foreign museum. Beware, Good Christian!
I myself visited the King Tut exhibit many years ago. As I walked past the golden relics an eerie sensation came over me. I itched and quivered as I pondered the head of Ammut, the devourer. Were we kids allowed to ogle these sacred items? Weren’t these amulets meant to remain sealed in the womb of The Valley of the Kings for all of eternity? Though I marveled at this exhibit, I now wish I had never attended this accursed traveling medicine show! The Curse of the Mummy is on me…Ahhh…
There are many depictions of ‘The Curse of the Mummy’ on the internet. I’ll give you the link of one the best ones that I saw: Howard Carter and “The Curse of the Mummy.”
A True Tale of Woe I, in case you missed it!