The Mummy's Curse

Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamun in Egypt in 1922. On March 24, 1923, novelist Marie Corelli warned him in the press that bad things happen to those who desecrate tombs. Within two weeks, Lord Carnarvon was dead from an infection brought on by a mosquito bite he suffered just two days after Corelli's warning was published. The mummy's curse caused it, of course.

The idea of the mummy’s curse was already a popular story, but Carnarvon’s demise (and Corelli’s apparent prediction of it) turned it into one of the great legends of the age. Rumours quickly spread that Carter had found warnings in the tomb itself. There were reports of a clay tablet, allegedly found over the tomb’s entrance, that read: ‘Death shall come on swift wings to whoever toucheth the tomb of Pharaoh.’ According to the stories, Carter buried it in the sand in case it scared his labourers into stopping their work. The whole situation was a gift for journalists who, four months after the tomb’s discovery, were desperate for more Tutankhamun-related news. Once the curse story took off, they began running daily updates, roping in scholars to debate whether evil spirits were to blame for Carnarvon’s demise.

In the next twelve years, six of the people who were present when the tomb was opened were dead. The mummy's curse? Not when you consider there were forty people there, and they weren't all young and healthy. Curses against grave-robbing had been around for a long time, and they were particularly attached to mummies when modern archaeologist began to exhume them. How many other mummies were unearthed with no dramatic deaths? But the power of a good story propelled the mummy's curse into popular consciousness. Read how it happened at Aeon magazine.

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