The Curse Of King Tut!


Archaeolgist Howard Carter made one of the greatest discoveries of the 20th century. The tomb of King Tut had revealed to the world its splendor and wealth. Moreover, he had been spared by thieves and looters. But did not this invulnerability conceal a well-buried secret with all its treasures? Some spoke of a curse due to a large number of people mysteriously dying after visiting the site. So, true curse, dramatic coincidences or embellished legends? 

In 1922 Lord Carnavon, a wealthy English businessman, fascinated by Egypt, unblocks funds to undertake excavations in the Valley of the Kings. It mandates the famous Egyptologist Howard Carter, who certifies that invaluable tombs are yet to be discovered.

Howard Carter goes to work, but it seems that his expedition is doomed to fail, because after two years of excavations, he still has not found anything.

Then, at the end of 1922, a worker accidentally discovers a series of steps just below the entrance to the tomb of Ramses V.

Howard Carter is excited but he must clear a large amount of rubble so they can reach a sealed door. It is the tomb of Tutankhamun, a king almost unknown at the time.

Howard Carter warns Lord Carnavon, who despite his fragile health, decides to make the trip to attend the opening of the burial.

It remains a tense atmosphere, following the allegations of some workers who say they read a sentence on the front door:”death will touch with its wings the one who disturb the Pharaoh”.   

Little superstitious, Howard Carter first pierces a hole in the door, so that the air can penetrate and purify a little this place remained closed for so many years.

It will take him nearly two months of work before finally reaching the room of the sarcophagus and King Tut’s treasure room. 

But what a treasure!

Howard Carter will take almost four years to record everything in an extremely meticulous way and to transport all the goods to the Cairo Museum. We will take a deep dive into this later on!

The origin of Tutankhamun: Who Was king Tut?

The first thing that needs to be clarified about this king, “one of the best known Kings in the Ancient History of Egypt" (for his age, of course his famous curse and unfortunately not his reign) is his family origin. 

What we can speculate is there was a love triangle between, Akhenaten, Nefertiti and Kiya. But who was Kiya? Her unusual name suggests that she may originally have been a Mitanni princess. Surviving evidence demonstrates that Kiya was an important figure at Akhenaten's court during the middle years of his reign, when she had a daughter with him. She disappears from history a few years before her royal husband's death. We do not know for sure if Kiya was the mother of Tutankhamun, but what we do know is that he was Akhenaten’s son but not Nefertiti’s son, so his mother had to be another woman. Baby Tutankhamen was wet nursed by one of his half-sisters, Meritaten as painted in one of the tombs of Amarna.

As for his original name, we know that it was Nebkheperure, adopting Tutankhaten which was the name given to him at coronation. As you can see, both the name of this king and those of all the other descendants of Akhenaten end with -Aten, in reference to the solar god of Amarna. 

Tutankhamen was married to Ankhesenamun, his half-sister from his father, and his wife, Nefertiti. He ascended the throne when he was a mere boy of 9 and was advised by his vizier, Ay who functioned as the Chanakya to his Chandragupta for a long time.

The arrival to power of King Tut

The young Tutankhaten had ascended the throne at Amarna while still a child. However, shortly after his coronation, perhaps even from his first year of reign, or not much later, he left the city founded by his father.It must be said that the fact that the Court leaves Amarna does not mean that all the people who settled down to live there will also move.

For some time people continued to live in Akhetaten (Amarna), regardless of whether the Court moved back to the city of Memphis, the traditional seat of government from the Old Kingdom.

In a few months all of the religious reforms that had been introduced in the Akhenaten era disintegrated, the old religious ways were restored, at the same time Thebes once again became the great religious center of the country .

Also during that time the name of the king was changed, he would go from being called Tutankhaten (in reference to the god Aten) to being called  Tutankhamun is (in reference to the traditional god Amun).

The Royal Wife

Ankhesenamun was born in 1350 BC to King Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti, the third of their six daughters. Historians believe that her marriage to Tut was not her first or last. There is “compelling evidence” to suggest that after the death of Queen Nefertiti, she might have been taken as a bride by her father. That is after her father had tried to further his family line with BOTH of her older sisters first. However, stories on the family tombs suggest that all of these ended in miscarriage. 

When she married her brother she was around 18 years old. Alongside him, she also changed her name from her given name to the “amun” suffix with the return to the old gods. Tut’s tomb where she was also suspected of being laid to rest holds evidence that the pair tried to further their family line. The mummies of two fetuses between the ages of five and eight months were found. The older of which would have “suffered from Sprengel’s deformity, spina bifida and scoliosis.”

The death of King Tut was likely an uncertain and scary time for her as a young woman with no heirs to take the throne. An undated letter that is suspected of being sent by her to Suppiluliumas I, King of Hittites, contains a “desperate plea” for him to send her a new husband because hers had recently died and she had no new children. Considering Hittites was Egypt’s chief military rival, she must have been desperate to save her country. He agreed and sent Zannanza, Prince of Hittite, but he was killed by Egyptian forces when he tried to cross the border.  After King Tut’s death, evidence points to the fact that Ankhesenamun married Ay before absolutely vanishing  from the pages of Egyptian history.

 King Tut is sometimes referred to as “the boy king”. However, he was not at all the first king in the History of the XVIII Dynasty that ascended to the throne being a boy. Both Thutmose III (1479-1425 BC) and Amenhotep III (1390-1352 BC) were very young when they became kings of Egypt.

Due to this youth, in both cases there was an important female member of the royal family ( Hatshepsut and Mutemwiya) who agreed to act as regent until the children could govern alone.However, in the case of King Tut, this possibility did not exist, since both Nefertiti and Akhenaten had died.Therefore, the role of regent was carried out by a person without blood ties with the royal family, but who was an important army officer, nothing more and nothing less than the commander-in-chief of the army, named Horemheb. This regency assured him a glorious future, and by holding this title he won the right to succeed Tutankhamun as king if he died with no children. Finally, Horemheb would become king, but that is another matter for another blog. 

The Death Of A King

There have been several theories based around the death of King Tut. First of all, from a biological point of view, he was a product of inbreeding. So genetic defect was rampant in him. He was low in immunity, possibly suffering from malaria and also from Kohler Disease maybe, a rare bone disorder which eventually made it difficult for him to walk, which is evident from the many walking sticks that have been found inside his tomb. 

His skeleton raises the most obvious question of all times, how did he break his leg? This brings us to the Chariot Crash theory which was showcased in 2014 on BBC. It was assumed that the young king probably had an accident while he was traveling in a chariot, which resulted in the breaking of his legs and pelvis. This likely led to an infection, which eventually resulted in his early death. The deformed left foot of his points to a possibility of this kind, however, it is not certain that this theory is true. Some historians are also not very sure that only a fracture can kill the Boy King. It most certainly speeded the process but there were some other causes as well.

However it is possible that he was murdered—due to the condition of his skull when they unwrapped him the original belief was that he was murdered by a rival with a blow to the head. But a 2006 scan of his remains found that the damage to his skull was actually the result of “bad handling of his mummy.”

Or was it? Somethings we will never know, none the less King Tut ultimately died at the age of 19, though some sources say 18. As his death was unexpected and creating a massive monument like we see with the great pyramids, takes decades he was “hastily buried” in a tomb in the Valley of the Kings that would have likely been meant for someone less noble and was much smaller than the other pharaohs you find there. He was laid to rest 70 days after his death, which is when they believe that his tomb was sealed.

After his death there is virtually no record of him so he remained unknown for years. And the location of his tomb was lost, the entrance had been hidden under debris near the entrance of the nearby tomb of KingRamses VI.

Howard Carter

King Tut’s tomb was discovered in 1922, and for the next 10 to 17 years archeologists working on the project unearthed the four-room structure. 

The dig was financed by Lord Carnavron (AKA George Herbert the 5th Earl of Carnarvon), an English banker and archeologist. Part of the money came from a deal with The Times newspaper who agreed to give him cash in exchange for exclusive world-wide rights to supply the world with images and news of the discovery. Lord Carnavron was joined by Howard Carter an Egyptologist and archeologist. 

Carter arrived in Egypt in 1891. At the time most of the ancient tombs had been discovered save for the lost tomb of King Tut. After an “extensive search” they uncovered the steps of the burial room of his tomb hidden under debris near the entrance of the Tomb of King Ramses VI in the Valley of the Kings on November 4, 1922. Carter and Carnarvon first entered the tomb on November 26, and found the inner chambers of the room miraculously intact and untouched. It was a small, 4-room tomb that took several years to explore. The biggest find during the discovery was a “stone sarcophagus containing three coffins nested within each other”, the final of which was a coffin made out of solid gold that held the young pharaoh himself. They also uncovered his death mask which was made of over 22 lbs of gold and gemstones, and bore a likeness to Osiris the Egyptian god of the afterlife.  

The discovery of King Tut’s tomb was one of the richest discoveries ever made. Many tombs at the time had been robbed, but because of the loss of knowledge on Tut and his tomb’s location, his had not. That coupled with the complete mystery of the young pharaoh captivated the world. 

Inside the tomb they found over 5,000 objects including golden statues, jewellery, decorated boxes, boats and a dismasted chariot, along with food offerings like loaves of bread, baskets of chickpeas, lentils, dates, meats and even flowers. The four corners of Tut’s “canopic shrine”—which is the case where his internal organs that were removed during the mummification process are stored—were guarded by four statues of Isis, the Egyptian goddess of the moon, life and magic. She was said to protect women, children and heal the sick. Tut’s body was unwrapped in 1925, which is when they discovered that he was so young and identified that his body “carried multiple injuries.”

The opening of King Tut’s tomb made a serious imprint on the culture of the time (and decades afterwards). The treasure and aesthetics found inside the tomb played a big role in inspiring the fashion of the 1920s. And John Balderson, who was the first journalist to see the face of the boy king, went on to write the script for The Mummy which was released in 1932. That script was then loosely remade in 1999 with, again, The Mummy, starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz. And Carter and Carnavron became the inspiration for heroes like those seen in the Raiders of the Lost Ark and Laura Croft: Tomb Raider.

A series of strange deaths

First to discover the tomb. When the archaeologists broke through to the first room they found two statues of Tutankhamun. The statues were life-sized, and on each head was a crown decorated with stylized cobras. The locals who were working with Carter were spooked by the images of the snakes, because cobras were symbolic of the king's justice. Later that day Howard Carter's pet canary was eaten by a cobra, that spooked the locals even more. Some of them believed the spirit of the dead king was warning the archaeologists to stay away.

 Carter and his team encountered a written curse in the antechamber. The curse was inscribed into a clay tablet and it went like this: "Death will slay with his wings whoever disturbs the peace of the pharaoh." 

King Tut was buried wearing "innumerable amulets of beauty and ghostly merit," and then there was also another cobra — this one was on his mummy's forehead along with a vulture, which was another deity meant to protect him in the afterlife. Before anyone saw all that, though, they saw the stub where his head had once been because in their eagerness to reveal the face of the boy king, Carter and his workers tore his whole head off along with the mask they were trying to remove. 

A few months after the burial site was revealed, Lord Carnavon died at the Cairo hospital following the infection of a mosquito bite. At the moment of his death, a power outage occurs and affects the entire city.

It does not take more for the avid journals to see his death more than a mere coincidence. Six months after the death of Lord Carnavon, his brother Aubrey Herbert and the Lord’s nurse died tragically.

Shortly after, Carter’s secretary and Lord Westbury’s only son, Richard Bethell, leaves the world of the living. Mad of sorrow.

Professor Lafleur, a close friend of Howard Carter, arrives a week after Lord Westbury’s death at the site of the tomb. He will only stay there a few weeks before dying of a mysterious illness.

Come close to Arthur Mace, Carter’s close collaborator who bowed out a month later. It seems he lost all his strength after entering the funeral home. He died a month later.

Dr Evelyne White, a close associate of Carter, fell into a strong nervous breakdown after being one of the first to enter King Tut’s death chamber.

Her illness unfortunately pushed her to end her life three months later. Archibald Douglas Reed, who was ordered to X-ray the mummy of Tutankhamen before being transported to the Cairo Museum, succumbed a few days later due to discomfort.

Finally, professors Douglas Derry and Garries Davis also died of mysterious death after examining the mummy or objects from the tomb. In total, 17 people died after being in contact in any way with the tomb or Tutankhamun….!

The Valley of the Kings is ALSO haunted.

Visitors have reported a spectral pharaoh in a chariot roaming the valley. Strange noises, including footsteps, screams and shuffling without a source have been reported by watchmen in the area, some of whom believe that these sounds are restless spirits who are disappointed their tombs have been desecrated and their treasures removed.

Finally, the Ghost of Akhenaten of the 18th dynasty (none other than Tut’s dad) roams the Egyptian desert in the area.

Is the curse of King Tut real?

It is clear that all these deaths in so short a time seem particularly curious, and the story of a curse striking those who plunder the tomb of the king Tut takes on a magnitude rarely reached in the history of archeology.

And then there is the phenomenon of the excavation of a tomb, which, in our civilization as well as that of the Egyptians, is only little understood and admitted, even if it is destined for a scientific purpose.

It goes beyond looting and goes against the basic principles of religion. All these elements are fast, through the journalists, to give rise to many stories of curses. But what is it really? And can we rationally explain all these deaths?

At the time, forensic tools were not the same as today and some diseases were not yet well understood and treated.

In particular, tuberculosis and pneumonia, which are in many cases responsible for many deaths. Lord Carnavon , for example, was already suffering from pulmonary troubles for several years. His fragile health was also an aggravating factor in the infection that struck him down.

Now it is a question of relativizing certain facts that have occurred. First, the inscription on the entrance door of the tomb.

This one never existed, and was assembled from scratch by the journalists. Then, the death of the canary, which remains to this day subject to caution.

While Howard Carter speaks in his diary, it seems that this episode was to the credit of a fierce opponent to the excavations and who would have introduced a cobra   in the cage of the bird.

Because to find a cobra in Egypt at this time of the year, would be to find a marmot on the Cote d’Azur in the middle of January…? Howard Carter, however, was never troubled by illness and lived until 1939, like many around him in his digs.

One answer to these diseases came to us in 1985 during the restoration of Ramses II's mummy. His analysis allowed updating small fungi toxic to humans.

And according to Howard Carter’s notes, we know that one of thought to cause precipitin pneumonia.

What many scientists and specialists have suffered during an exposure too pronounced? Concretely, one should therefore speak more about the archaeologist’s disease than a curse of a mummy.

But the legend is launched, and already we adapt films retracing the curse of the mummy. And when fiction goes beyond reality, it is difficult to contradict or stop it.  All these deaths are primarily due to unfortunate illnesses and coincidences.

Most have been well embellished by the media, who have given themselves a pleasure to use this vein. The spirit of the young pharaoh was far less vengeful than that of the journalists, and in any case, 
Ancient Egypt does not need a curse to make us dream historically.