The Curse of King Tut’s Tomb

On February 16th, 1923, Archeologists Howard Carter and George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon (Lord Carnarvon) opened the door to the burial chamber of King Tutankhamen, releasing a curse upon those present.

In 1914, Lord Carnarvon along with Carter had secured the permission to dig in the region of Egypt known as the Valley of the Kings, an area where pharaohs and powerful nobles from the Eighteenth to the Twentieth Dynasties of Ancient Egypt were buried.

The work would initially be put on hold due to the events of the first World War. But in 1917, Carter would return to the valley to begin his search for what he believed to be the tomb of the forgotten King Tutankhamen.     

The Forgotten King

It may be hard to believe now, as the name King Tut is widely recognized around the world, but in 1917, the name had been all but forgotten in history. This was thanks to King Horemheb, who sought to erase the name of King Akhenaton (King Tut’s father). 

During his reign, King Akhenaton abolished Egypt’s previous tradition of worshipping different deities and constructed Atenism, which praised Aten as the only creator of life. Along with changing the religious practices of Egypt, he also moved the capital from Thebes to a new city he ordered built called Akhetaten, which translates to “Horizon of the Aten.”

Despite the fact that, after his father’s death, King Tut would work to reverse many of his father’s wrongdoings, King Horemheb felt it best to erase Tut and his father from Egyptian records, including any records of their lives and of their final resting place.

Another factor that worked against Tut was that in life he was plagued with health issues. Tut would take the throne at the age of 9 (which is why he is often referred to as “The Boy King”), but due to health issues related to malaria and a club foot, Tut would only reign for ten years and die at the age of nineteen. 

Because his death came so suddenly and unexpectedly, his royal tomb had not been finished. As a result, he was buried in a smaller tomb that would have been designated for someone of less noble linage. 

Despite the record books being virtually wiped clean of Tut’s life, Carter believed he had found proof of his existence when, years before, he discovered a cup and burial evidence that bore the name King Tutankhamen. 

This is what fueled Carter with the belief that Tut’s tomb still lay in the Valley of the Kings, waiting to be discovered.

The Tomb Is Found

Carter would spend the next five years searching the Valley of the Kings, but every season he kept coming up empty-handed. Perhaps people were right to believe that everything of significance had already been found in the valley. 

One of those individuals also happened to be Lord Carnarvon, who was becoming tired of funding these costly expeditions without anything to show for it.

Desperate to locate the tomb, Carter begged Lord Carnarvon for one last season. He promised that if, after this last season, he couldn’t find anything of significance, he would give up on his dreams and concede that the tomb was nothing more than a myth.

Lord Carnarvon, sensing the passion within Carter, granted his request of one more season and even gave him a golden canary for good luck.

Maybe it was fate or maybe something far more sinister was at work, but Carter got the idea to search a portion of the valley that had previously been disregarded. 

The reason the area was thought to be insignificant was that smaller huts had been erected in the area; surely it would be unheard of to build on top of a burial chamber that contained a pharaoh of Egypt. Carter and his team decided to move the huts and search the area and, on November 4th, 1922, they unearthed a step hidden in the sand. This step led to the discovery of another and another, and soon they discovered the door to a burial chamber inscribed with the name King Tutankhamen.

Carter decided to leave the door sealed and went to send word to Lord Carnarvon, as he felt he should be present when they opened the tomb.

As Carter was on his way to notify Lord Carnarvon of his discovery, he was given the ominous message from his assistant Arthur Calendar that a cobra entered his hut and swallowed his canary. 

This may not seem significant, but in Egyptian culture, the cobra is a symbol of the pharaoh and royalty and many believed this to be a bad omen. Carter on the other hand thought very little of the event and notified Lord Carnarvon of the discovery. 

On November 23, 1922, Lord Carnarvon and his daughter Lady Evelyn Herbert, would finally arrive in Egypt to witness the tomb of the forgotten pharaoh being opened. 

The Tomb Is Opened 

When Carter and Lord Carnarvon open the sealed door, they discover the tomb’s antechamber, filled from floor to ceiling with treasures that included statues, gold jewelry, a chariot, canopic jars, and weapons, just to name a few of the items.   

At the back of the tomb lay the door to the burial chamber, but before it could be opened, every item had to be removed from the antechamber.

The process would take months and, in total, five thousand items would be removed from the chamber.

Finally, on that fateful day of February 16th, Carter and Lord Carnarvon opened the sealed door to the burial chamber and inside they found the solid gold sarcophagus of King Tut.

The Curse Claims Its First Victim

On March 19, 1923, while in Cairo, Lord Carnarvon was bitten on the face by a mosquito, which normally wouldn’t be of any concern, except this bite refused to heal. Lord Carnarvon even nicked it a couple of times while shaving.

A week went by and the wound had grown into a blistering patch on his face. Lord Carnarvon went to the hospital where he was diagnosed with blood poisoning; the bacteria from the wound on his face had spread throughout his entire body.

Over the next week, Lord Carnarvon proceeded to get sicker and sicker. What was working against Lord Carnarvon was that, in 1903, he was involved in a motor vehicle accident that weakened his immune system.  

Lord Carnarvon developed a fever and soon his lungs began filling up with fluid.

On April 5, less than two months after he opened the burial chamber to King Tut’s tomb, Lord Carnarvon died in a hospital room in Cairo, the cause of death being blood poisoning that progressed to pneumonia.  

What makes his death even stranger is that it’s reported that, at the moment of his death, all the power in Cairo went out at the same time.  

And if this wasn’t enough, during their excavation of the tomb, they discovered a warning that read:

“I will kill all of those who cross this threshold into the sacred precincts of the royal king who lives forever – They who enter this sacred tomb shall swift be visited by wings of death.”

Could Lord Carnarvon’s death be the work of an ancient curse placed upon the tomb? After all, his death ultimately come in the form of a mosquito.   

The Curse Claims Its Second Victim

Unlike Lord Carnarvon, the second victim of the curse, Sir Bruce Ingham, didn’t need to step foot inside the tomb to become a target.

Ingham, a friend of Carter’s, was given a mummified hand from the dig site that reportedly wore a bracelet with the inscription:

“Cursed Be He Who Moves My Body: To Him Shall Come Fire, Water, and Pestilence.”

Soon after receiving the gift, Ingham’s house was destroyed in a freak fire. After rebuilding his home, it was hit by a devastating flood.

Not waiting to see if the disease would come for him next, Ingham decided to get rid of the hand. 

No additional events reportedly occurred to Ingham, meaning that he, unlike Lord Carnarvon, had managed to escape the curse with his life.

The Curse Claims Its Third Victim

In May of 1923, the curse would claim another victim. This time, it would be railroad tycoon George J. Gould.

Gould had decided to come to Cairo to visit the excavation site of King Tut’s tomb. Like the curse’s first victim, Lord Carnarvon, Gould would enter the burial chamber that contained the body of King Tut.

And unfortunately, like Lord Carnarvon, on May 16, just two weeks after he visited the Tomb, Gould would also die of pneumonia.

The Curse Claims Its Fourth Victim

The next victim of the curse would be British Member of Parliament Aubrey Herbert.

Herbert was born with poor eyesight, but following his trip to the tomb, it was reported that he soon became completely blind.

Following the advice of his doctor, Herbert had all his teeth removed, believing that his rotten teeth were the cause of his complete loss of vision.

This would be Herbert’s downfall, as he would die on September 23, 1923, just five months after the procedure. His official cause of death would be blood poisoning.   

What makes the story worse is that Herbert was the half-brother of Lord Carnarvon, who also developed blood poisoning following the mosquito bite.

It was also reported that, upon visiting the tomb, Herbert proclaimed:

“Something dreadful is going to happen to our family.”

The Curse Claims Its Fifth Victim 

The next victim of the curse, radiologist Sir Archibald Douglas-Reid, once again proved that you didn’t have to step foot inside the tomb to fall victim to the curse. 

His transgression against the king came when he x-rayed the body of King Tut before handing it over to museum authorities. The following day, Douglas-Reid would become ill and, on January 15, 1924, just three days after examining Tut’s body, he would die of a “mysterious illness.”

His death only added fuel to the theory of a curse, as there is an ancient Egyptian curse that warns about a disease that no doctor can diagnose.

The Curse Claims Its Sixth Victim 

The next victim of the curse would be archaeologist Hugh G. Evelyn-White, who had been a member of Carter’s team and present at the opening of the tomb.

After seeing the misfortunes that befell those involved in the excavation, Evelyn-White started to develop a feeling that the curse was coming for him next.

On September 9, 1924, the body of Evelyn-White was discovered. He had committed suicide by hanging.

Along with his body, a note was discovered written in his blood that read:  

“I have succumb to a curse which forces me to disappear.”

The Curse Claims Its Seventh, Eighth, Ninth and Tenth Victims 

American Egyptologist Aaron Ember, who had been a close friend of Lord Carnarvon and present at the time the tomb was opened, would become the next victim of the curse.

Ember, who didn’t learn from the tragedy that befell Sir Bruce Ingham, decided to take a few of the artifacts from the site home with him for his own personal collection. 

When he finally returned home in June of 1926, Ember decided to host a dinner party to proudly show off pictures of the site and the artifacts he had brought home with him.

A half-hour after the guests left, a fire broke out in Ember’s home (Cursed Be He Who Moves My Body: To Him Shall Come Fire). 

Rather than immediately run for safety, Ember went after a manuscript he had been working on, while his wife went for their son.

Unfortunately, no soul would make it out of the house, as on June 3, 1926, the curse would claim the lives of Ember, his wife, their son, and Ember’s maid.

Ironically, the name of Ember’s manuscript was: The Egyptian Book of the Dead.

The Curse Claims Its Eleventh Victim 

Archaeologist Arthur Cruttenden Mace would arrive at the dig site on December 25, 1922.

Mace would work closely with Carter in preserving the fragile artifacts that were removed from the tomb. Reportedly, Mace even assisted Carter in removing the shroud from King Tut’s body. 

The longer Mace stayed on the site, the sicker he appeared to become until, after only two years on the site, Mace was forced to leave in 1924 for health reasons.

By 1928, Mace would develop pleuritis (inflammation of the membranes that surround the lungs). Although the initial cause of infection was unknown, Mace would eventually develop pneumonia as result (just like Lord Carnarvon and Gould) and, on April 6, 1928, Mace would eventually succumb to complications from pneumonia.

However, during the autopsy, doctors discovered the cause of death was actually arsenic poisoning. It was uncertain how the arsenic would have gotten into his system.

Could Mace have suffered from the same fate as Sir Archibald Douglas-Reid? Death by a disease that no doctor can diagnose.

The Curse Claims Its Twelfth Victim 

It appears the curse was not finished with Lord Carnarvon’s family, as the next victim of the curse was The Honourable Mervyn Herbert, another half brother of Lord Carnarvon.

While passing through Rome, Herbert somehow contracted malaria.

His condition would worsen and, on May 26, 1929, Herbert would die of pneumonia, the same cause of death as Lord Carnarvon. 

The Curse Claims Its Thirteenth Victim 

The next victim of the curse was Captain Richard Bethell, who had been Carter’s personal secretary.

On November 15, 1929, the body of Bethell was found in a London gentlemen’s club. He appeared to have been smothered to death in his room. 

There was speculation that the curse had been targeting Bethell after it was revealed that a number of mysterious fires had broken out in his home over the past year.

It was revealed that Bethell had a number of artifacts from the site stored in his home.

The Curse Claims Its Fourteenth Victim 

A few months later, on February 20, 1930, Captain Richard Bethell’s father, Richard Bethell Sr, would commit suicide by jumping from his seventh-floor apartment.

He would leave behind a suicide note that read:

“I really cannot stand any more horrors and hardly see what good I am going to do here, so I am making my exit.”

His apartment was reportedly filled with artifacts from the tomb that had been given to him by his son. 

What of Howard Carter?

Following the excavation work, Carter retired from archeology and, in the years that passed, grew more reclusive. He was soon isolated from the world and is said to have had only a few close friends. 

Carter would die on March 2, 1939 at the age of 64. His cause of death would be Hodgkin’s lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system).

Reportedly, only nine people attended his funeral when he died.

Perhaps that was his curse: to be forgotten like King Tutankhamen.

Can I See King Tut?

King Tut is currently on display at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Following the completion of the Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza, Egypt, Tut and all the artifacts recovered from the tomb will be on display for the first time in history.

For those who wish to visit the tomb of King Tut, you are in luck: There are daily tours to the Valley of the Kings and, more specifically, to the tomb of King Tut.

But remember to heed the warning,

“I will kill all of those who cross this threshold into the sacred precinct of the royal king who lives forever.” 

Do you dare incur the wrath of the pharaohs?