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Curses! "TutWatch"
March 25, 2005

Was the tomb cursed? Of course not.


The legend of a curse striking those who entered Tut's tomb is famous--Lord Carnarvon dies in Cairo, a black out strikes the city, and in England his faithful dog howls and then keels over. Newspapers printed the text (non existent, really) of an inscription in the tomb: "They who enter this sacred tomb shall swift be visited by wings of death." Even Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes stories and an avowed spiritualist, thought Carnarvon had been struck down by supernatural means. Of the curse, however, Howard Carter said that "all sane people should dismiss such inventions with contempt." In The Complete Tutankhamun (pp. 62-63), Nicholas Reeves debunks the curse, noting that Carnarvon's daughter, Lady Evelyn Herbert, who was present at the opening of the tomb, died at age 79; Alan Gardiner, who studied the tomb's inscriptions, made it to 80; and Douglas Derry, who autopsied Tut's mummy, reached 87. A more systematic tally was made by epidemiologist Mark Nelson of Australia's Monash University in the British Medical Journal (December 2002). An AFP report on his results is viewable on the Sydney Morning Herald website. Nelson found that 25 people were present at critical times--the opening of the burial chamber, opening of the sarcophagus, opening of the three gold coffins, and examination of the mummy--and those 25 died at the age of 70 on average. The curse? "I found no evidence for its existence. Perhaps finally it, like the tragic boy king Tutankhamen, may be put to rest," he concluded.

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  • For more on Tutankhamun and the exhibition, see TutWatch.

© 2005 by the Archaeological Institute of America