What’s Behind the Myth of Tutankhamun’s Curse – DW – 08/10/2023

In 1922, the world witnessed one of the most impressive archaeological discoveries in history: Howard Carter and his team discovered the tomb of the young pharaoh Tutankhamun in Egypt. The British archaeologist spent six years searching for royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings near Luxor. They found all kinds of furniture, jewelry and wealth in the tomb, but it wasn’t until February 1923 that they discovered the real treasure: the burial chamber where the pharaoh’s mummy lay, intact for centuries. The opening of the ancient seal marked the beginning of a series of tragic events that fueled legends of the curse.

Victim of the curse?

Carter’s pet canary is said to have been eaten by a cobra, a symbol of pharaoh’s power, on the same day the underground staircase leading to the tomb was completed. Just two months after the Chamber of Secrets opened, the project’s patron, George Herbert, Lord Carnarvon, died of complications from mosquito bites. Not long after, his dog Suzie died.

When American financier George Jay Gould died of pneumonia in May 1923, just months after his grave was visited, rumors of the curse continued, JSTOR reports.. In 1923, Philip Livingston Poe also contracted pneumonia a few months after visiting the grave, but he did not die. When Howard Carter’s secretary, Richard Bethell, died in 1929, various reports say he was the ninth, tenth or thirteenth person to die in connection with the excavation .

The discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb is one of the most important archaeological discoveries in history as it reveals everything about life in ancient Egypt.Image: Reuters/M.Abdul Ghani

debunk the curse

The death toll from the curse, according to newspapers, ranged from nine to more than 20, depending on whether tourists who visited the grave and the excavator’s family were included.

Rumors of a “Pharaoh’s Curse” began to circulate, suggesting that those who disturbed the rest of ancient kings and queens were doomed. An inscription on Tutankhamun’s tomb is said to have warned of “swift death for those who disturb the Pharaoh’s rest”.

However, this myth is beginning to falter as scientists look at these events from a more objective perspective. While deaths may appear suspicious or at least surprising, many of these deaths may be attributed to natural causes or arbitrary circumstances. Science is starting to refute the idea of ​​supernatural curses and point to more mundane explanations.

Fungi and Pneumonia: A Scientific Explanation

The most popular theory is that fungus may have been the cause of death. Aspergillus can cause coughing and difficulty breathing In 2003, two doctors published a letter in The Lancet claiming that Aspergillus, a common mould, could have made Lord Carnarvon sick, when Lord Carnarvon Already in poor health, a car accident damaged his lungs.

But subsequent investigations found that the previously found signs of fungus and bacteria were no longer active and therefore posed no threat to visitors or the painting.

It is impossible for us to know whether Aspergillus or another fungus actually caused the deaths of Lord Carnarvon or Gould. Today, archaeologists wear gloves, masks, and sometimes disposable clothing to protect themselves from mold, according to Hazardous Locations: Health, Safety, and Archeology. Indeed, many people go to the grave, so relatively few people die.

Frank McClanahan treating Lord Carnarvon in Luxor, interviewed in 1972. “If you examine any large group of people, you’ll find a certain percentage of them die.”

Edited by Isabella Escobedo

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