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Curse of the Pharaoh: Why is There a Never-dying Interest in Boy King Tut's Mummy?

Tutankhamun's mummy kept on display within the tomb in the Valley of the Kings in the KV62 chamber. (Image: REUTERS)

Tutankhamun's mummy kept on display within the tomb in the Valley of the Kings in the KV62 chamber. (Image: REUTERS)

The curse of the pharaohs is what in popular culture is something alleged to be cast on anyone who disturbs a mummy of an ancient Egyptian, especially a Pharaoh.

One of the most fascinating and widely known relics from the ancient Egyptian era of the New Kingdom when the pharaohs ruled is of the boy King Tut or Tutankhamun. Discovered by British archaeologists Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon in November 1922, the tomb has still retained excitement and interest among many for several factors. What preserved a lot of interest in the tomb and the mummified body of the young king was the fact that it remained largely untouched despite years of looting and stealing that many of the tombs of the pharaohs were subjected to after the reign of the kings ended.

The Boy King

There have been several theories and speculations based on scientific and other research regarding Tutankhamun’s death, such as Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder to malaria to even murder. But while the exact reason remains a mystery, the boy king was said to be all of 19 years when he passed.

Howard Carter, the British Egyptologist and his financial backer, the 5th earl of Carnarvon have been attributed as the founders of the mummy. In 1914, Lord Carnarvon had gotten the concession to dig in the Valley of the Kings but in between a World War and barely-there results, he was planning to stop funding the project. But Carter’s perseverance convinced the former to fund one last excavation and King Tut’s mummy was found.

In November 1922, an antechamber, a treasury, and the door to the tomb itself were uncovered. And it was on November 26 that same year when Carter opened up a small gap in the door to see a room filled with gold treasures. It was here that Carter, upon being asked by Carnarvon as to what could he see, that the former, while holding a candle and peeping in through the gap said, “Yes, I see wonderful things."

Although it took a considerable time after this to uncover more about the Egyptian boy pharaoh, there was also something else that seems to have been spread far and wide regarding the boy king’s tomb- the curse of Tutankhamun’s mummy.

So what prompted the rumours?

The Curse of the Pharaoh?

The curse of the pharaohs is what in popular culture is something alleged to be cast on anyone who disturbs a mummy of an ancient Egyptian, especially a pharaoh and is said to bring bad luck, illness or death.

A very popular instance people point out is the death of Lord Carnarvon six weeks or so after the mummy was opened. He died of blood poisoning but many presumed that his passing could be due to the “curse." Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of ‘Sherlock Holmes’ also piqued interest in the death further when he had reportedly commented that Lord Carnarvon’s death was caused by mythical creatures created by Tutankhamun’s priests to guard the tomb.

Even Howard Carter’s pet canary’s death was said to be the result of the “curse." The bird was reportedly killed by a cobra and even though the reptiles are not much seen in Egypt, they were, in ancient times, thought to have been a symbol of royalty as Pharaohs wore their symbol on their forehead. Four years later, AC Mace, a member of Carter’s excavation team also died from pleurisy and pneumonia in 1928.

There have been several explanations given to rationally explain the deaths but as always, the speculations have not absolutely died out just yet.

Tutankhamun’s mummy remains is now kept on display within the tomb in the Valley of the Kings in the KV62 chamber inside a climate-controlled glass box.

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first published:November 26, 2021, 17:21 IST