Was The Tomb of King Tut Really Hexed?
The Discovery of the Century
A ripple of excitement coursed through the English archaeologist Howard Carter as he watched the stepped opening coming into view as his workers cleared a spot in the Valley of Kings at Thebes in Egypt.
His quest spanning 5 years in the hot sun had ended. At last he had found what he had been looking for : the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun.
Pharaoh Tutankhamun, also called King Tutankhamun or just King Tut, was the youngest king of Ancient Egypt. He died in 1323 BC just at 18 after reigning for 9 years. While most of other Pharaohs' tombs had already been found and looted by grave robbers, King Tut's tomb was not discovered until then..
This find was remarkable enough to carve a permanent niche in the hall of fame for Howard Carter.
But little could Carter imagine the stupendous effect that this discovery would have in the whole world or the treasures that lay just a few feet from where he stood on that Sunday of November 4, 1922.
Though Carter wanted to start excavating right away, he didn't think it right to do so in the absence of Lord Carnarvon who had been financing the search of the tomb. At the same time Carter was afraid that while he waited for Lord Carnarvon to arrive, somebody else may lay a claim to the discovery if the tomb entrance was left open. So he got it covered again before sending a telegram to London.
A wealthy aristrocat interested in Egypt, George Edward Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, had hired archeaologist Howard Carter to search for the tomb of King Tut. But after spending nearly a million pounds over the past five years without success, Lord Carnarvon had lost of hope of ever finding the tomb. It was when he was ready to give up that Carter persuaded him to go for still one more dig in a last ditch effort to find what they were seeking. It was a gamble. And now that gamble had paid off
Lord Carnarvon accompanied by his daughter, Lady Evelyn Herbert, reached Luxor on November 23rd and the dig started the next day.
Riches Beyond Imagination
As Carter continued the dig, the antechamber and the annexe revealed a treasure rivalling the Ali Baba's cave. Here lay in dazzling splendor countless luxurious ornaments, thrones, statues and other things buried with the king for his use in the afterlife - all untouched by any human hand for more than 3000 years.
While this treasure trove was splendid beyond imagination it was not complete. The dead king's mummy was still to be found. However on the right end of the antechamber two life-sized statues stood as if guarding the King Tut. From this Carter surmised that the burial chamber should lie to the right of the room.
The Ultimate Prize
Feb. 17, 1923. It was the day when Carter would try to secure the utlimate prize: the mummy of the King Tutankhamun.
A party comprising of 20 people including invited dignataries stood before the right wall of the antechamber beyond which could be the burial chamber of the dead king.
The assembled onlookers waited with a bated breath as Carter started carefully removing the stones separating the two rooms. Minutes passed in expectant silence and gave way to a collective sigh of exultant relief when Carter had made a hole big enough to peer into the room and see the light reflected from solid gold shrine that housed the mummy of Pharaoh Tutankhamun.
The mummy of the dead king lay in a solid gold coffin with the now famous placid faced funeral mask within three coffins. These in turn were protected by three golden shrines. This find paled into insignificance the fabulous treasure that had been found in the outer rooms.
A wave of excitement washed over Europe and America as the newspapers carried the accounts of this sensational find in Egypt. It sparked off interest in Egyptian art and history that continues till today.
But another sensation was still to come.
Lord Carnarvon was dead just two months after opening of the burial chamber. His death is attributed to complications resulting from a mosquito bite he got while returning to Cairo from the Valley of Kings.
His pet dog died just at the moment when Lord Carnarvon died.
Then other people connected with the dig started dying in mysterious circumstances. They included Howard Carter's assistant Richard Bethell. His father Lord Westbury. Carter’s partner A.C. Mace. And Lady Elizabeth Carnarvon.
Was the Pharaoh Taking Revenge?
These weird happening made people to wonder:
How could a mosquito bite – a common occurrence in hot countries – kill someone?
Why many others present at the un-sealing of the burial chamber also died?
Did it mean that the mummy was taking its revenge because they had ignored its ominous warnings ?
Words supposedly carved on Tutankhamun’s tomb read:
“Death will come on swift pinions to those who disturb the rest of the Pharaoh”.
Then people remembered that ...
- A cobra had entered into Carter's house and eaten his pet canary. Now wasn't the the cobra a sign of upper Egypt?
- Then hadn't vultures - said to be connected with lower Egypt - circled the archaeologists as they went about their work?
- People connected with Lord Carnarvon remembered that lights had gone out at the exact moment Lord Carnarvon had died in Cairo.
Wasn’t all this a proof enough of a curse of the King Tut?
Rumours of the Pharaoh’s revenge spread like wildfire across Europe and America as newspapers carried reports of deaths of a number of people that had witnessed the opening of the burial chambers.
Was the Pharaoh’s Tomb Really Hexed?
No, said Howard Carter. It was all rumours and superstition. Other knowledgeable people have also refuted the existence of a curse.
Noted Indian archeaologist, scholar and writer Y M Chitalwala also agrees. There was no such thing as a curse involved in these deaths, he says.
Psychology Behind The Belief
Chitalwala goes on to give an interesting psychological reason why the rumours of King Tut's curse gained such a wide acceptance in Europe of those days. The World War One had just ended and Europe was going through a recession. The spirits of the people were low which made them view the world around them with gloom. This was probably why so many people were ready to believe without question that it was indeed true that the dead king was punishing people with death for violating his resting place.
Those who debunk the stories of the curse ask that if the curse was supposed to work on all people connected with the dig, why wasn't any Egyptian affected by it. Carter had employed scores of Egyptian workers for the excavation and there was no report of any worker having died after the dig. Moreover a number of Egyptian dignataries had witnessed the opening of the King Tut's tomb without suffering any harm.
More importantly the opponents of the curse theory point to Carter himself. It was because of him that the tomb was found and opened. So he should have been the prime target of the curse. But Carter lived long, spending nearly ten years cataloging the things that were found in King Tutankhanum's tomb.
This meant that there was no curse after all. And if indeed there was a curse, why had Carter escaped it?
Did Carter Really Escape The Curse?
These were good arguments against the reality of a curse. But something was to happen that was to raise doubts whether Howard Carter had really escaped the wrath of the Pharoah.
There was a trumpet among the thousands of items recovered from Tutankhamun's tomb. Nobody had bothered to find out if it really worked. But when somebody tried, it had a fatal result. Carter died the exact moment the trumpet was blown for the first time.
Was that the curse of the Pharaoh or a coincidence?
The Magic of King Tut
His curse may have been a myth but the spell that King Tut has cast is very much real.
An unknown entity before his tomb was discovered, the way King Tut has caught the popular imagination is nothing short of magical.
He is the subject of countless books, articles, cds, dvds, as well as movies and songs. His funeral mask and treasures are reflected in art prints, deco pieces, wall hangings and rugs while ornaments replicating the design of his treasure continue to be hot favorites.
Even senet, a board game played by King Tut, is popular with kids today. A modern version of this game earned the 2008 Parents’ Choice Foundation Recommended Award which reviews the children's media for the best games and toys for children.
King Tut Funeral Mask, Cairo Museum
Where Is King Tut Now?
King Tut's treasures are housed in the Cairo Museum, but King Tut himself rests in his original tomb in the Valley of Kings in a temperature-controlled glass case to preserve his mummy from the humidity and warmth from the visitors to the tomb.
On November 4, 2007, exactly 85 years after his tomb was discovered, people got a rare chance to see the actual face of King Tut when the linen-wrapped mummy was removed from the underground tomb and put on view in a climate-controlled glass box.
A Big Draw
If King Tut continues to draw a steady stream of visitors to Cairo's Egyptian Museum, he pulls in crowds when he goes visiting.
A record number of 1.6 million thronged the Treasures of Tutankhamun exhibition at the British Museum in 1972. Held to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the discovery of King Tut's tomb, it was the most successful exhibition by the British Museum where people waited in line for up to 8 hours to gain entrance.
When King Tut toured America during 1976 -79, as many as 8 million came to have a glimpse at his treasures.
King Tut again took America and Britain by storm with the Golden Age of the Pharaohs exhibition. Starting with Los Angeles in 2005, the exhibition went through Florida, Chicago and Philadelphia and then to London in November 2005.
The KIng was to come home to Cairo in October 2008 but the tour was so successful that he is back again in USA for a three city tour starting from the Dallas Museum of Art in October 2008.
With so much fascination with King Tut and all things about him, it doesn't seem that his magic is to lose its charm any time soon. And as long as King Tut is remembered so will be his curse.
And anyway curses don't die soon. Do they?
Cast your spell
Was there really a curse of King Tut?See results without voting
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