Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Curse of the Pharaohs



Canopic coffinette, from the tomb of Tutankhamen.

Thanks to having a honking huge amount of press, King Tut's one of the most famous people ever for being dead. He's really famous for two things. Lots of gold, and for having a cursed tomb that killed those who violated it. 

The story is that everyone who was present at the opening of Tut's tomb died shortly after, and usually in bizarre or freakish ways. 

Common additional examples given as proof of the curse are:

  • Carver's pet canary was eaten by the same kind of cobra as was sacred to the Egyptians.
  • The moment Lord Carnarvon  died, all the lights in the city of Cairo went out. 
  • Somewhere in the tomb was the curse: "Death shall come on swift wings to him that toucheth the tomb of the Pharaoh." 

So where the people who opened the tomb cursed?



No, they were't. 

Statue of Soped, from the tomb of Tutankhamen

Somewhere in the tomb was the curse: "Death shall come on swift wings to him that toucheth the tomb of the Pharaoh." 

Sorry to ruin the dramatic plot twist of many a B rated movie, but there was no curse in Tut's tomb. [*] Now it is true that some tombs did have curses on/in them, but not all of them did. Tutankhamen was one of the ones that didn't. 

Statue of Duamutef, from the tomb of Tutankhamen.

The moment Lord Carnarvon  died, all the lights in the city of Cairo went out.

Shortly after Lord Carnarvon died, the lights in the hospital flickered off for a bit. But they did that several times a day, and it would have been more unusual if the day he died there wasn't a power flicker. For the record, in case you're curious, his full name was George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon. While we're at it, his death wasn't exactly mysterious -- he had been in ill health before the tomb opened. His immune system was compromised by malaria and he died after cutting a mosquito bite infected with erysipelas on his face, which lead to pneumonia. [**]


Cobra collar with counterweight, from the tomb of Tutankhamen. 

Carver's pet canary was eaten by the same kind of cobra as was sacred to the Egyptians.

No. No it wasn't. Carver had a canary, but didn't take his bird with him to Egypt, instead he left it in the care of his friend Minnie Burton. The bird went on to live a long and natural lifespan. [***]


Base of the Emblem of Anubis, from the tomb of Tutankhamen. 

Everyone who was present at the opening of Tut's tomb died shortly after.

The only one to die shortly after opening the tomb was Lord Carnarvon, who had already been in poor health. He was also 57 years old when he passed. The average age at death for those who were present when the tomb opened was 73 years old. Everyone else went on to live an average of 23 year after opening the tomb, and they weren't exactly spring chickens at the time of the opening. [****]

Just to show that for once I have the chance to put my metaphorical money were my mouth is, I took all the pictures in today's post, with zero worries about being cursed. I was lucky enough to be able to visit the Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs exhibition at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, Washington. 

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