History Files


Ancient Egypt

Science lifts the Mummy's Curse

BBC News, 20 December 2002

The infamous mummy's curse of Tutankhamun's tomb has little basis in hard science, research has found.

The curse was allegedly placed upon all those present at the opening of the tomb in the Valley of the Kings near Luxor, Egypt, in February 1923.

The legend is thought to have originated with the death of the expedition financier Lord Carnarvon, who died in 1923 after being bitten by a mosquito.

He developed a condition known as erysipelas at the site of the bite, which resulted in septicaemia and pneumonia.

It was said that Lord Carnarvon's three-legged dog howled at the very time his master died, and promptly also gave up the ghost.

According to the writings of archaeologist Howard Carter, 25 westerners were present at the breach of sacred seals in a previously undisturbed area of the pharaoh's tomb, and were therefore potentially exposed to the curse.

A further nineteen were in Egypt at the time but were not recorded by him to have been present at the site at the relevant time.

Life expectancy

Mark Nelson, of Monash University in Australia, followed up the personal history of all those present to see if they had indeed died young.

He established dates of death for all of those exposed and eleven of those who were not present.

He found that the "cursed" group had lived slightly shorter lives - but still made it on average to a respectable three score years and ten.

Among the 25 people exposed to the "curse", the average age at death was seventy years compared with 75 in those not exposed.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, Dr Nelson said: "The Egyptian archaeological dig in the 1920s was inhabited by interesting characters and it was this, and the circumstances of the archaeological find of the modern age, that has kept the myth of the mummy's curse in the public eye.

"I found no evidence for its existence. Perhaps finally it, like the tragic boy king Tutankhamun, may be put to rest."

The findings would have pleased Howard Carter, who had no time for the idea of a curse.

He wrote that "all sane people should dismiss such inventions with contempt".

  Perhaps finally, like the tragic boy king Tutankhamun, [the curse] may be put to rest

Mark Nelson  


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