According to legend, the curse of the pharaohs will be cast on whoever disturbs the mummy or tomb of an ancient Egyptian. The curse doesn't care if you're a serious-minded archaeologist or an opportunistic thief - and the spell is especially powerful if the mummy happens to be a pharaoh. Over the years, there have been numerous reports of cursed archaeological sites, where excavators and tomb robbers began to experience strange sensations, sudden illnesses, and even death after coming in contact with a mummy or an ancient Egyptian artifact.
Curses were placed on tombs as safety measures. If the body, possessions, or burial place of the deceased was disturbed, then they wouldn't be guaranteed a peaceful afterlife. But those warnings didn't stop people from poking around in them. One of the most famous archaeologists who got cursed was Lord Carnarvon, who, along with Howard Carter, discovered King Tut’s tomb. His death was the first among many related to that site. Some people attribute these deaths to other, more science-based reasons, but there are still a lot of eerie coincidences in these anecdotes.
Whether these curses really exist is beside the point. What’s fascinating is that these curses created such frightening and compelling narratives that the public began to believe that beings could exact revenge from beyond the grave. Read on to discover more about cursed ancient Egyptian tombs and mummies and the poor souls who fell victim to them.
When King Tutankhamen’s tomb was found, journalists reported that the following inscription was near the door: "Death shall come on swift wings to him who disturbs the peace of the King.” In fact, there were several mysterious deaths surrounding the opening of Tut’s tomb. The first and most publicized death was that of the Egyptologist Lord Carnarvon. He and Howard Carter were the ones to open Tut’s tomb. Carnarvon died a few months after the discovery from an infected mosquito bite on his cheek. The death had an eerie tie to Tut: when an autopsy was performed on the pharaoh's body, a similar lesion was found on his cheek. Also, when Carnarvon died, all of the lights in his house were rumored to have suddenly blacked out with no explanation.
Carnarvon wasn’t the only one to fall victim to Tut’s curse. Howard Carter gave his friend Sir Bruce Ingham a paperweight made of a mummified hand, with a bracelet with the following inscription: “Cursed be he who moves my body. To him shall come fire, water and pestilence." After Ingham received this gift, his house burned down. Once he had finally rebuilt it, it was hit by a flood.
George Jay Gould, Audrey Herbert, Hugh Evelyn-White, Aaron Ember, and Archibald Douglas Reed are also said to be victims of the curse. Like Carnarvon, they all died shortly after coming into contact with Tut’s mummy or artifacts within his tomb.
“The Unlucky Mummy” isn’t a mummy at all, but a “painted wooden mummy-board of an unidentified woman.” This mummy-board is currently housed at the British Museum in London, but rumor had it, it got around in its day. Apparently, during its early time at the museum, the staff would hear loud banging coming from the artifact. One man took a photograph of the mummy-board and was horrified by the image that appeared once he developed the photograph.
The eerie events continued until a museum guard died of suspicious circumstances. Believing the coffin was cursed, the museum wanted to get rid of it as quickly as possible, so it was sold to an American archaeologist. He took the mummy-board with him onto his America-bound ship, the Titanic. Some people speculate that the presence of the cursed mummy-board caused its disastrous sinking.
It's a thrilling tale, but one without any evidence: in reality, the mummy-board resided at the British Museum the entire time.
In 1971, during an excavation in Sakkara, Egyptologist Walter Brian Emery found a small statue of the Egyptian god of death, Osiris. At the end of the day, he and his assistant returned to the dig site’s office in a nearby village. Emery took the the statue of Osiris with him. Once at the office, Emery went to the restroom. After a few moments, his assistant began to hear Emery wailing. He ran to the man and found him clutching the sink’s basin, clearly experiencing some kind of trauma. His assistant said that Emery “stood there as if paralyzed. I grabbed him by the shoulders and dragged him onto the couch. Then I ran for the telephone."
Emery was diagnosed with paralysis of the right side of his body and was unable to speak. He died the following day.
In 2004, a man visiting Egypt reportedly stole a relic from The Valley of the Kings, the same region that houses King Tut's tomb. When he returned home to Germany, he was overcome by a fever which progressed to paralysis. The man died shortly after.
His stepson was convinced that the artifact was cursed, and returned the relic to Egypt’s Supreme Council for Antiquities in the hopes that his father’s soul would rest in peace.