Nonfiction is the New Black
On February 16 the following year, Carter entered the room containing the pharaoh’s coffin. The room was packed with gold and other precious minerals. The discovery created a worldwide sensation and exhibitions of the treasures today draw huge throngs of visitors.
Soon another sensation became connected with the tomb. Lord Carnarvon, the English nobleman who had financed the expedition and entered the tomb with Carter, died a few months later. Newspapers jumped on the story. Many reported that the phrase “Death Shall Come on Swift Wings to Him Who Disturbs the Peace of the King” had been inscribed next to the tomb. They began printing stories that Carnarvon was the first victim of King Tut’s Curse.
Other stories claimed that a cobra had eaten Carter’s pet canary on the day he discovered the burial chamber. The lights in nearby Cairo went out at the moment of Carnarvon’s death. His pet dog back in England had begun howling when his master died and quickly died himself.
During the next few years, there were numerous claims that other people connected with the discovery had died mysterious deaths. The frenzy peaked in 1930, when the English Lord Westbury, distraught over the recent death of his son—Carter’s personal secretary—hurled himself out of a seven-story building. “I really cannot stand any more horrors,” he wrote.
Was there really a curse? Some key elements either didn’t happen or could be explained by other factors. The canary was given to a friend, not eaten by a cobra. Cairo’s power grid was notorious for frequent outages. Lord Carnarvon was already in poor health and a mosquito bite that became infected probably caused his death. There’s even a suggestion that a type of bacteria may have lined the walls of the tomb. When fresh air was admitted, it could have become active and infected some of the discoverers.
And if anyone would succumb to the curse, it should have been Carter. Yet he lived for 17 more years and died of lymphoma.
In all likelihood, then, there probably wasn’t a curse. On the other hand, no one knows what happened to all those ancient tomb robbers. So…
Jim Whiting is also the author of Threat to Ancient Egyptian Treasures.
March has been designated National Women's History Month. Tomorrow Penny Colman is going to tell you about how it all got started, and for the rest of the week we are going to be doing posts about women who excelled in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) disciplines.