On this day in history : 4th November 1922 – The tomb of boy-king Tutankhamun is discovered by English archaeologist Howard Carter….

Howard Carter – Chicago Daily News Inc. photographer – Public doman

Pharaoh Tutankhamun died in 1323 BC at around 18-years-old…. His tomb was discovered in the Valley of the Kings, across the Nile from Luxor – where Pharaohs had been buried from the 16th-11th Centuries BC…. Most tombs had long been plundered and stripped of their riches – however, this time the tomb had been left undisturbed….

Tutankhamun’s golden mask – Roland Unger CC BY-SA 3.0

Many believed in the curse of the Pharaohs – anybody who disturbed the mummy of an Ancient Egyptian, especially a Pharaoh, would receive bad luck in the form of illness or death…. And it didn’t take long for the rumours of a curse to start circulating after the discovery of Tutankhamun…. Famous Egyptologist of the day, James Henry Breasted, who was part of the team that first entered the tomb, allegedly arrived home one day to find a cobra in the cage of his pet canary….the bird still hanging from its jaws…. The cobra is the symbol of the Egyptian monarchy – kings bore its symbol upon their headdresses to represent protection…. Not a good omen finding one has eaten your canary then….

James Henry Breasted, 1928 – Chicago Daily News Inc. photographer – Public domain

Whether or not you believe in curses – it has to be said a surprisingly large number of deaths occurred over the following decade….all directly or indirectly connected with either Howard Carter himself of the tomb of Tutankhamun….

The ‘curse’ first struck in April 1923…. Lord Carnarvon, a keen amateur Egyptologist and who had financed the project, was part of the team to first enter the burial chambers…. On the 5th of April he died from blood poisoning – having nicked a mosquito bite whilst shaving which subsequently became infected….

Lord Carnarvon, his daughter Lady Evelyn Herbert and Howard Carter on the steps leading to the tomb of Tutankhamun, November 1922 – Harry Burton, photographer – Public domain

The following month, on the 16th of May, George Jay Gould, aa financier who had visited the tomb, developed a fever and died in the French Riviera….

Sir Bruce Ingram was given a paperweight by his friend Howard Carter, which contained a mummified hand wearing a bracelet – supposedly inscribed with the words ‘Cursed be he who moves my body’…. Soon after Ingham’s house burned down….and when he rebuilt it – a flood destroyed it….

Prince Ali Kamel Fahmy Bey, an Egyptian aristocrat who visited the tomb, was shot by his wife on the 10th of July 1923…. The couple were holidaying in London and had been to see the opera ‘The Merry Widow’ one evening before returning to their suite at the Savoy…. They got into an argument – as they frequently did – and she shot him several times….he died in Charing Cross Hospital…. By claiming to be a victim of brutality and sadism she was acquitted on all charges….

Colonel The Right Hon. Aubrey Herbert MP had never visited the tomb – but was related to Carnarvon as his younger half brother…. Having suffered with poor eyesight all his life he was almost blind by his early 40s…. Bad medical advice resulted in him having all his teeth extracted in an attempt to restore his eyesight…. He got blood poisoning and died on the 26th of September 1923….

The Right Hon. Aubrey Herbert – Public domain

Some six years later Herbert’s brother (and another half brother to Carnarvon caught malaria which in turn led to pneumonia – from which he died on the 26th of May 1929….

On the 15th of January 1924 Sir Archibald Douglas Reid, a radiologist who x-rayed Tutankhamun’s mummy, died from a mysterious illness three days after doing so….

Governor-General of Anglo Egyptian Sudan, Sir Lee Stack, was being driven from the Egyptian War Office in Cairo to his residence, when his car had to halt in traffic…. A group of students fired a volley of shots into the car….Stack was hit three times and died the following day….on the 19th of November 1924…. Seven men were convicted of the assassination and were hanged….

Sir Lee Stack – Fair use

American Egyptologist, Aaron Ember, was associated with many of those present when the tomb was opened…. In 1926 his house in Baltimore burned down…. He rushed to save a manuscript he had been working on…. He, his wife, son and maid all perished in the fire…. The title of his manuscript – “The Egyptian Book of the Dead’….

Captain The Right Hon. Richard Bethell was personal secretary to Howard Carter and was the first person behind him as he entered the tomb…. Bethell was found dead in his bed at his distinguished May Fair gentlemen’s club on the 15th of November 1929…. Cause of death – suspected smothering…. Three months later, on the 20th of February 1930, his father, Richard Luttrell Pilkington Bethell, 3rd Baron of Westbury, allegedly committed suicide by throwing himself from his 7th floor apartment….

Howard Carter claimed the rumours of the curse to be a load of ‘tommy rot’…. He himself died on the 2nd of March 1939 from Hodgkin’s disease…. He was 64-years-old, desperately unhappy and had suffered a long and lingering illness…. He died alone in his London flat….

So, do you believe in the curse of Tutankhamun….?

Carter’s grave at Putney Vale Cemetery, London – Image : Deeday-uk CC BY-SA 4.0

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