In early 1923, British archaeologist Howard Carter and his financier friend George Herbert, Lord Carnarvon, ceremoniously opened the long-obscured burial chamber of the boy pharaoh Tutankhamen in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. Two months later, Carnarvon was dead, killed by blood poisoning from an infected mosquito bite on his cheek. Newspapers speculated that he was the victim of the “mummy’s curse” or “curse of the Pharaohs,” which supposedly promised death to anyone who disturbed the rest of the kings and queens buried in the valley. The rumors only increased after the sudden, early deaths of several others connected to the excavation of Tut’s tomb. But is the curse real?
Not according to the British Medical Journal, which did a study in 2002 on the survival rates of 44 Westerners whom Carter had identified as being in Egypt when the tomb was examined. (The curse was said not to affect native Egyptians.) The study compared the mean age of death for the 25 of those people who were present at an opening or examination of the tomb with the others who weren’t. It found no significant association between potential exposure to the mummy’s curse and survival, as well as no sign at all that those who were exposed were more likely to die within 10 years.
Some theorists seeking a scientific explanation say that Carnarvon’s death may have been linked to toxins within Tut’s tomb. While some ancient mummies have been shown to carry potentially dangerous species of mold, and the tomb walls could have been covered in bacteria known to attack the respiratory system, experts dismiss this hypothesis. They argue that Carnarvon was chronically ill before he ever set foot near Tut’s tomb. Besides, he didn’t die until months after his first exposure, and the toxins would have done him in much earlier.