Cairo, Egypt. February 16, 1923, and a discovery that would have made Indiana Jones himself envious: archaeologist Howard Carter opened the sealed doorway leading to the burial chamber and sarcophagus of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings.
Just a few weeks earlier, after making a “tiny breach” in the top left hand corner of the tomb doorway, he was asked by his patron Lord Carnarvon if he could see anything.
Howard replied: “Yes, wonderful things” and added: “As my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist: strange animals, statues, and gold. Everywhere the glint of gold.”
Some people believe that by opening the tomb, which had remained undisturbed for nearly 4,000 years, Howard unleashed the “Curse of the Pharaohs,” which is said to herald catastrophe for anyone who disturbs the mummy of an Ancient Egyptian person.
In any case, some six weeks after Tutankhamun’s tomb was opened, Lord Carnarvon, who had paid for the expedition, was dead. He had been bitten on the cheek by a mosquito and made matters worse by shaving over the bite, causing an infection, blood poisoning, pneumonia and death.
At the time of Carnarvon’s demise in a Cairo hotel, the lights went out across the city and in England the earl’s saluki pet dog, Susie, howled and she fell down dead too.
Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes also intrigued (and tricked) by Cottingley’s Fairies pictures, was a devoted spiritualist and claimed to have a direct line to Ancient Egypt. He thought doctors were being naive in declaring that the mosquito bite led to Carnarvon’s death.
He believed in fact the earl died because he had desecrated the pharaoh’s tomb and unleashed the Curse of Tutankhamen.
Sceptics point out, however, that Howard Carter, who was the first to enter the tomb, lived on happily and healthy until 1939 when he died of lymphoma in London at the age of 64.
Among the deaths popularly attributed to Tutankhamun’s curse are also George Jay Gould I, a visitor to the tomb, who died in the French Riviera on 16 May 1923 after he developed a fever following his visit. Ali Fahmy Bey of Egypt died 10 July 1923, shot dead by his wife. Colonel The Hon. Aubrey Herbert, MP, Lord Carnarvon’s half-brother, became nearly blind and died on 26 September 1923 from blood poisoning related to a dental procedure intended to restore his eyesight. But there are also Sir Archibald Douglas-Reid, a radiologist who x-rayed Tutankhamun’s mummy, died on 15 January 1924 from a mysterious illness, Sir Lee Stack, Governor-General of Sudan, who died on 19 November 1924 assassinated while driving through Cairo, and A.C. Mace, a member of Carter’s excavation team, died in 1928 from arsenic poisoning.
Captain The Hon. Richard Bethell, Howard Carter’s personal secretary, died on 15 November 1929 in bed in a Mayfair club, the victim of a suspected smothering.
However, of the 58 people who were present when the tomb and sarcophagus were opened, only eight died in the following decade.
And if curse of “King Tut” had simply lost its potency after 4,000 years?