EDITORIAL FEATURE

The Curse of Pharaoh Tutankhamun

A tale of ancient secrets and modern tragedy

It's 1923 in Thebes, Egypt, and the esteemed archaeologist, Howard Carter, alongside his financial backer, Lord Carnarvon, holds a flickering match up to the darkness. They're underneath the Egyptian sand, at the mouth of the tomb of the Boy Pharaoh Tutankhamen. Hot air, trapped for 1000s of years, escapes the ancient doorway.

Archaeologists Howard Carter and (5th Earl) Lord Carnarvon (George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert) standing in front of the tomb of Tutankhamen (lived around 1350 BC), pharoah of ancient Egypt, which they discovered, 1922 (From the LIFE Photo Collection)

“...As my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues, and gold - everywhere the glint of gold. For the moment - an eternity it must have seemed to the others standing by - I was struck dumb with amazement, and when Lord Carnarvon, unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, 'Can you see anything?' it was all I could do to get out the words, 'Yes, wonderful things.”
― Howard Carter

British archaeologist Howard Carter (C) flanked by assistants as they view the sarcophagus of Egyptian King Tutankhamen for the first time, 1924 (From the LIFE Photo Collection)

After years and years of searching, the pair had found the final resting place of the famous child king, uncovering the most well-preserved tomb in Egypt's Valley of the Kings.

Golden coffin of Egyptian King Tut made in his image (From the LIFE Photo Collection)

Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon became instant celebrities, but all was not well for long...

Archaeologist Howard Carter (L) examining coffin of Tutankhamen which he discovered inside intact tomb of 14th century Egyptian pharaoh (From the LIFE Photo Collection)

As legend has it, there is an ancient curse associated with the mummys and tombs of the Egyptian pharaohs. Disturbing these embalmed remains has been said to bring bad luck, illness and death.

Archaeologist Howard Carter opening the coffin of Tutankhamen (lived around 1350 BC), ancient Egyptian pharoah, which he discovered in 1922, 1922 (From the LIFE Photo Collection)

Shortly after unearthing King Tut's tomb, Carnarvon was found dead. A mosquito bite on his face had become infected, leading to deadly blood poisoning.

And he would not be the only death, illness or unlucky occurrence associated with this expedition. Carnarvon's half-brother also died from blood poisoning, Sir Archibald Douglas-Reid died from a mysterious illness, and George Jay Gould died from a fever following his visit to Egypt, among many others. Objects from the tomb were given as gifts to Carter's friend Sir Bruce Ingram, whose house burned down not long after. After being rebuilt, the house then flooded.

Archaeologist Howard Carter standing over the coffin of Tutankhamen (lived around 1350 BC),ancient Egyptian pharaoh, which he discovered in 1922 (From the LIFE Photo Collection) 

The result of a deadly ancient curse, or a circumstantial coincidence? That's for you to decide...

Granite statue of Tutankhamun as a priest of Hapy-1350/-1350 (From the collection of the British Museum)
Words by Léonie Shinn-Morris
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