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Ancient Egypt

Science Lifts the Mummy's Curse

Edited from BBC News, 20 December 2002

The infamous mummy's curse of Tutankhamun's tomb had little basis in hard science according to new research which was published in 2002.

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, twenty-five 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 on average they still made it to a respectable three score years and ten. Among the twenty-five people exposed to the 'curse', the average age at death was seventy years compared with seventy-five for those not exposed.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, Dr Nelson stated that 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, which had kept the myth of the mummy's curse in the public eye.

Dr Nelson found no evidence for its existence. Perhaps finally it, like the tragic death of the boy king Tutankhamun, could now 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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