On November 26, 1922, archaeologist Howard Carter breached the tomb of Tutankhamun, an ancient Egyptian pharaoh. Almost immediately, whispers of a curse began spreading throughout the region. And then the deaths began. Was the curse of Tutankhamun real? Or just a myth?
The Curse of King Tut?
Soon after entering the tomb, Carter sent a messenger to his house. The messenger discovered that a cobra had killed Carter’s pet canary. Since the Royal Cobra was seen as a symbol of the ancient Egyptian government, the canary’s death was interpreted by the locals as evidence of a curse.
“The pharaoh’s serpent ate the bird because it led us to the hidden tomb! You must not disturb the tomb!” ~ Servant to Howard Carter
A few months later, on April 5, 1923, Lord Carnarvon died from an infected mosquito bite. Since Carnarvon had provided the financial backing for Carter’s excavation, his death was seen as part of the curse. The media reported extensively on the story and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, gave an interview in which he stated his opinion that the death might have been caused by “elementals” or “curses.” Hence, the curse of Tutankhamun was born.
A series of strange deaths followed over the next few years. Captain Richard Bethell (Carter’s personal secretary) died under suspicious circumstances while sleeping at a Mayfair Club. Bethell’s father committed suicide by jumping from his seventh floor apartment. Edgar Steele, who handled the artifacts from London’s British Museum, passed away during a minor operation. All in all, a grand total of eleven people connected to the tomb’s discovery and excavation died seemingly unnatural deaths by 1929. By 1935, this number was up to twenty-one.
Was the Curse of Tutankhamun caused by Murder?
So, what caused these deaths? A true curse of Tutankhamun? Coincidence? An ancient plague? Well, in his new book, London’s Curse: Murder, Black Magic and Tutankhamun in the 1920s West End, author Mark Beynon speculates that the various murders were indeed connected…but not by a supernatural force. Instead, he believes that the murders were “ritualistic killings” masterminded by the infamous Aleister Crowley…aka, “the wickedest man in the world.”
Crowley was a well-known occultist, mystic, astrologist, and magician. He was also a prolific writer, leaving behind an impressive collection of diaries, books, and essays. After reviewing these works, along with various inquest reports, Beynon believes we should add another occupation to Crowley’s long resume…murderer.
Beynon believes that Crowley was motivated by revenge. Specifically, Crowley might’ve considered Carter’s excavation “sacrilegious” since he’d used ancient Egypt’s gods and goddesses to help formulate his own religion, known as Thelema. Also, many of the deceased individuals considered to have been “cursed” died in ways that suggested murder. For example, Captain Bethell’s symptoms matched that of one who’d been smothered to death. And the ability of Bethell’s father to climb out onto the window ledge and commit suicide seems questionable, indicating that he might’ve had help.
Beynon speculates that Crowley, who supposedly “murdered his servants in India,” was obsessed with Jack the Ripper and may have used Jack as an inspiration for his own murders of Carter’s excavation team. However, Beynon’s evidence seems pretty skimpy. Crowley’s connections to the various victims is tenuous at best. Also, he was absent from London for at least two of these deaths. Finally, the fact that Howard Carter – the primary man behind the excavation – survived 17 years after opening the tomb is damning. If Crowley really wished to punish Carter’s team, it seems that he would’ve wanted to do the same to Carter himself. Instead, Carter lived until 1939 before finally succumbing to lymphoma at the age of 65.
Was the Curse of Tutankhamun caused by Disease?
So, what caused “The Curse of Tutankhamun?” One possibility is an ancient disease. In 1962, Dr. Ezzeddin Taha announced that many of the archaeologists and museum employees who worked with ancient Egyptian artifacts suffered from exposure to Aspergillus niger, a fungus that causes skins rashes and respiratory problems. He believed that this fungus might’ve been sealed in Egyptian tombs many centuries ago only to rear it’s ugly head when the tombs were reopened. Another possibility is mold spores. Intriguingly, a 1999 study conducted by microbiologist Gotthard Kramer showed that as many as 40 recovered Egyptian mummies were covered with bits of mold spores. Some mold spores, which can survive for long periods of time, are extremely deadly.
“When spores enter the body through the nose, mouth or eye mucous membranes they can lead to organ failure or even death, particularly in individuals with weakened immune systems.” ~ Gotthard Kramer
Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis
Personally, I think ancient fungal spores may have caused some of the deaths associated with the curse, particularly that of Lord Carnarvon. However, I also believe there was a conspiracy afoot. But not the type of conspiracy brought about by a murderous mystic. No, I think we’re dealing with an entirely different type of conspiracy…a media conspiracy.
The reality of the matter is that many of the curse’s so-called victims played only incidental roles in the discovery and opening of the tomb. According to an analysis prepared by Herbert Winlock, the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, 54 total people were present for the opening of the tomb (1922), the opening of the sarcophagus (1924), and the unveiling of King Tut’s mummy (1925). Out of those 54 people, only 8 had died by 1934 (6 from the opening of the tomb and 2 from the opening of the sarcophagus).
The truth is that much of the hype surrounding the curse was overblown. Many of the so-called victims were only vaguely connected to King Tut’s tomb. In reality, it wasn’t much of a curse at all.
But it sure made one hell of a story.