Bringing Centuries of Bad Luck: 10 Unlucky Artifacts and Cursed Archaeological Sites
When an artifact or location is called ‘cursed’ it often refers to bad luck befalling whoever possesses the object or disrespects, or sometimes just visits, the site. Curses, jinxes, hexes, and black magic were a common element in the ancient world to punish or spread misfortune and many people believe that certain places and artifacts have been cursed by angered individuals looking to create havoc for mistreatment suffered in their lives.
Ring of Silvianus. (CC BY 2.0)
Sometime during the 4th century AD, Silvianus, a Roman stationed in Gloucestershire, England, visited the elaborate baths of the Celtic God Nodens. Located on a hill above the River Severn at Lydney, the temple of Nodens celebrated the Roman-British deity that is associated with healing, hunting, dogs, and the sea.
When Silvianus was at the temple, his gold ring was stolen from him. Silvianus believed that it was Senicianus who stole it, thus he went to the temple and prepared a lead plate known as a defixio or ‘curse tablet’. He inscribed the tablet in Latin and the text is translated: ‘For the god Nodens. Silvianus has lost a ring and has donated one half [its worth] to Nodens. Among those named Senicianus permit no good health until it is returned to the temple of Nodens.’
- Ancient Curses: Five Ways to Create Calamity in the Ancient World
- Ancient Sex Curse Revealed: May Your Penis Hurt When You Make Love!
In 1929, archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler saw a connection between the ring and the curse tablet. The connection cannot be entirely confirmed, however, Senicianus is an unusual name and the close dates of the artifacts seem to support Wheeler’s theory.
J.R.R. Tolkien was asked by his friend Wheeler to help clarify who the obscure god Nodens was and what role he might play in the history of the Ring. Many now believe that the Ring of Senicianus was the inspiration for the ring in The Hobbit.
Some of the beautiful artifacts included in the Lydian/Karun treasure. (T.C UŞAK İLİ RESMİ TANITIM SİTESİ)
When a collection of stunning Lydian artifacts were discovered in the Uşak Province in Turkey in 1966, archaeologists were amazed with the 363 ancient artifacts dating back to the 7th century BC. But the impressive Karun treasure, as it’s now known, caused many troubles and locals say the treasure is cursed and brings nothing but problems and death.
As time passed, people started to see more and more issues with the treasure and even when they were celebrating the discovery, people of the Uşak Province feared that the hoard was not necessarily a good thing. What is the curse supposedly connected to the famous treasure about? It's all related to a “gold fever”. Legends say that people get sick from the treasure and apparently cannot stop themselves from trying to get a piece of it for themselves.
Currently, the mysterious artifacts are exhibited in the Uşak Museum of Archaeology. During the years of the battle between the Turkish government and the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art (1987-1993), the Americans had to send back all the previously purchased artifacts. However, in May 2006 one of the artifacts was identified as a fake. A larger problem is that currently no one knows how many of the artifacts from the original collection were replaced with forgeries. Could the fake relics be explained by the Karun treasure curse?
Tutankhamun’s silver trumpet with wooden insert. (Meridianos)
In 1922, the tomb of Tutankhamun was discovered in Egypt by an expedition led by the archaeologist Howard Carter. The discoveries made in uncovering the largely untouched tomb provided a wealth of knowledge about ancient Egypt, its burial practices, and its customs. Among the amazing items recovered was a set of wooden, silver, and bronze trumpets – a fascinating find, but possibly a cursed one too.
The sound of one of the trumpets was recorded in 1939 by BBC Radio so that people from all over the world heard the sound of this extraordinary and ancient instrument. A few months after the trumpet was played, World War II broke out, eventually leading to a legend that the trumpets had the magical power to summon war.
In fact, the earliest trumpets in Egypt appear to have been used for military purposes, to alert and possibly direct soldiers on the battlefield. Egyptian archaeologists, such as Zahi Hawass, do believe the trumpets have magical powers related to war. Egyptologist Hala Hassan, a supporter of the idea that the trumpets are cursed, also claims that one of the trumpets was played in 1967 and again in 1990 by anonymous students who were conducting a study on the Tutankhamun artifacts.
Furthermore, Hassan said that in 2011, a week before the revolution broke out, a staff member, again anonymous, at the museum had been photographing and documenting the artifact and he apparently played it. So far, these stories are anecdotal and do not provide conclusive evidence for the reality of the curse. But that hasn’t stopped the legend of King Tut’s cursed trumpets.
The Tereshchenko and Hope Diamonds, two rare, blue, and world famous diamonds. (CC BY-SA 4.0)
It is widely believed that the Hope Diamond is cursed, as bad luck has (supposedly) befallen a number of people who were connected to the diamond. A counter-claim also exists, which states that there is no evidence to support this popular belief, and that the curse was fabricated solely to arouse interest in the artifact.
According to one version of the origin story of the Hope Diamond, this diamond once adorned an idol in a Hindu temple in India. One day, the diamond was stolen by a Hindu priest, who was punished with a slow and agonizing death for his crime. Somehow, the diamond is said to have ended up in a mine by the Krishna River in southwest India.
Another version of the story has its first European owner, a French merchant by the name of Jean Baptiste Tavernier, as the sacrilegious thief. Additionally, it is claimed that Tavernier was struck by the ‘curse’, coming down with a raging fever shortly after stealing the diamond, dying, and his corpse being ravaged by wolves. However, this appears to be a legend - Tavernier is recorded to have lived until a ripe old age of 84, returned to France, sold the diamond to the French king, retired to Russia, and died peacefully many years later.
- The Ancient Art of Magic, Curses and Supernatural Spells
- Tomb Curses of Ancient Egypt: Magical Incantations of the Dead
The ‘Unlucky Mummy’. (Trustees of the British Museum/CC BY NC SA 4.0)
Strange occurrences have been said to eddy around an ancient Egyptian artifact known as the “Unlucky Mummy” since it was taken from Egypt to Europe in the 19th century. Some of these stories are certainly myth, but some were allegedly verified by a journalist named Bertram Fletcher Robinson in the early 20th century.
The history of this artifact (which is not actually the entire mummy, but rather the mummy’s case lid) was recounted in the August 1909 edition of Pearson’s Magazine. Robinson found it was discovered in Egypt by an Arab who sold it to a Mr. W at a party organized by a “well-known English lady of title.”
It is recorded that “On the return journey of the party, one of the members was shot accidentally in the arm by his servant, through a gun exploding without visible cause. The arm had to be amputated. Another died in poverty within a year. A third was shot. The owner of the mummy case found, on reaching Cairo, that he had lost a large part of his fortune, and died soon afterwards. When the case arrived in England, it was given by its owner, Mr. W., to a married sister living near London [BRFonline speculates that this may have been a woman by the name of Ms. Warwick Hunt]. At once, misfortune fell upon her household; large financial losses were suffered, bringing other troubles with them.”
But the story of the Unlucky Mummy doesn’t stop there. The artifact allegedly made its way aboard the Titanic and it has even been blamed in some legends for the tragedy. The story of the cursed mummy is interesting, but the Titanic part has been proven false. Apparently the Unlucky Mummy got connected to the ship because a journalist told a friend about another malignant mummy spirit and when he died on the ship, the friend got the story all tangled up. The mummy case never left the British Museum and certainly wasn’t on the Titanic.
Before the tomb King Kazimierz Jagiellończyk, known also as Casimir IV Jagiellon, was opened it was major news and all of the researchers in Krakow, Poland began to joke about a curse, which could take many of their lives. Unfortunately for them, the funny anecdotes became a prophecy.
During the examination of the rotten wood coffin and king’s remains a few researchers died, some due to infections and others because of strokes. After a few days, four of the group had passed away, but during the next few years, many others died of cancer or other diseases. In total, it is believed that no less than 15 people who worked at the tomb or in the laboratories died because of contact with the remains of King Casimir IV Jagiellon.
After years of speculations, researchers finally discovered the real reason for the death of more than 15 people connected with the research. There was no curse - the killer was the same as in the Egyptian tomb of King Tut – Aspergillus flavus, a saprophytic and a pathogenic fungus.
Nowadays, researchers are aware that people with lower resistance shouldn't visit tombs that may have this fungus within. Scholars who join the campaigns which explore ancient tombs must be healthy enough to not become victims of another ''curse''.
St. Anne's Well, between Rainhill and Sutton St Helens, near Liverpool, UK. (Jamie Quartermaine)
Legends speak of pilgrims bathing in St. Anne’s Well near Liverpool in England to cure their eye and skin diseases. The well was built to honor Saint Anne, the Virgin Mary’s mother, “who had a cult following in Britain during the late Medieval Period (1066-1485 AD).” Legends say that St. Anne had bathed in the well, providing the waters with healing powers.
Local folklore also states that the steward of a landowner neighboring the well named Hugh Darcy argued with the prior, Father Delwaney, about access to the well and land boundaries. Darcy apparently told Delwaney that the prior would likely not hold his important position much longer, before stomping back toward his master’s estate.
Soon thereafter the monks were apparently removed from the priory by the king’s men. On their way out they passed by the holy well where Father Delwaney saw Hugh Darcy (who seemed to be awaiting them and to have had an “understanding” with the commissioners taking the monks away). The prior was angered by Darcy’s appearance and possible role in the loss of the monastery and he said: “The curse of the serpent be on thee, thou spoiler of the Lord’s inheritance, thy ill-gotten gains shall not profit thee, and a year and a day shall not pass ere St. Anne thy head shall bruise.” Not long after placing this curse on Darcy, the prior fainted and died.
Darcy wasted no time in gaining access to the farmlands around the holy well and tearing down the building made for the pilgrims who visited it. Although things seemed to be going smoothly at first, Darcy “could not get rid of the strange foreboding of coming evil.” Three months later his son died of a mysterious illness and soon after he suffered heavy financial loss. The legend ends with Darcy disappearing after a night of drinking. His body was allegedly found beside the well where his head was crushed in – the prior’s curse had come true.
Stone ringfort, “Ring of Kerry” in Ireland. (Francis Bijl/ CC BY 2.0 )
Irish ringforts were ancient circular settlements which were surrounded and enclosed by one or more earthen or stone banks and ditches. As ringforts from the Iron Age fell out of use, their purpose was eventually forgotten and locals explained the strange, circular, built-up sites as the homes of fairies. It is believed that to disturb these sites is to provoke fairies. It is often said that leprechauns, notorious trickster fairies, keep their gold in the forts, which were mainly agricultural settlements or farmsteads, and not actually designed for warfare.
Such is the case for other such ‘fairy dwellings’ traditionally across Europe. Fairy rings are a naturally occurring circle of mushrooms. These rings were traditionally believed to be a portal to the fairy realm , and were often seen as a dark omen and dangerous place.
Tradition dictates that if you have a ringfort on your land, it is to be treated with respect, and not to be damaged, or you might suffer legendary fates, such as livestock dying, family members sickening, and relationships failing.
In recent history, the bankruptcy of a billionaire has been blamed upon the disturbance of ancient dwellings, when in 2011 Ireland’s richest man, developer Sean Quinn, suffered a catastrophic financial downfall after moving a megalithic burial tomb to make way for a quarry. These kinds of events keep the legendary curses of fairy forts and fairy rings alive.
Ruins of an ancient synagogue at Chorazin. (Lev.Tsimbler/CC BY SA 4.0)
Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum are the three and only cities mentioned in the Bible that Jesus allegedly cursed, according to the gospel of Matthew as well as the Gospel of Luke. Chorazin was a city in Galilee where Jesus lived after he left Nazareth.
According to the Bible, Chorazin would see Jesus’ miracles multiple times over at least three years. However, it seems that none of the miracles had any result in changing the lives of the inhabitants of Chorazin and this is the point where Jesus woes Chorazin for not repenting to his powers and changing their ‘ways’. He is said to have used his powers to condemn a whole city in the same way as the God of the Old Testament did numerous times.
Chorazin was actually a prominent ancient city, although during the third century AD the city became uninhabited and today its archaeological remains are identified with the place called Khirbet Kerazeh. However, no archaeological evidence has been found showing that the city existed in the first century AD, the time Jesus was alive.
Eusebius writes that around 330 AD the city was in ruins as a result of a devastating earthquake which was attributed to the punishment of God and the fulfilment of Jesus’ curse. But the dates just don’t coincide.
The sprawling grounds of Bhangarh Fort. Source: BigStockPhoto
The abandoned fort of Bhangarh is thought to be the most haunted place in India, so much so that the Archaeological Survey of India has forbidden access to the site between sunset and sunrise, and locals have moved their town outside the limits of the fort. The reputation of Bhangarh stems from two old legends, both related to curses.
The town of Bhangarh, which is located in the Rajgarh municipality in the state of Rajasthan, was first established in 1573 during the rule of Bhagwant Das as the residence of his second son. The fort, which is actually a small city composed of temples, palaces, and multiple gates, covers a large area of land at the foot of a mountain. But despite its beauty and the picturesque scenery, the fort was completely abandoned by 1783, with locals moving their village elsewhere.
- Ancient Roman Curse Tablets Invoke Goddess Sulis Minerva to Kill and Maim
- Curse of the Buried Pearl: Tomb Curses, Spirits and the Hunt for Ancient Treasures – Part I
According to legend, the city of Bhangarh was cursed by a holy man named Baba Balnath, who had given permission for the construction of the town so long as the height of the buildings did not cast shadow over his retreat. Balnath warned that if this were to occur, he would destroy the entire city. When a descendant prince raised the palace to a height that cast a shadow over Bhangarh’s abode, it is said that he cursed the whole town. Many believe that Balanath is buried there to this day.
A second legend is related to a wizard named Singhiya, who was in love with Ratnavati, the Princess of Bhangarh. According to this tale, Singhiya placed a spell upon a fragrance being purchased by the princess’ maid, so that upon touching it, the princess would fall in love with him. But Ratnavati saw what the wizard was doing and foiled his plan. Feeling bitter, the wizard was said to have placed a curse upon the city, and many believe his ghost haunts the ill-fated city. Some locals believe that princess Ratnavati reincarnated in a new body and that Bhangarh Fort is waiting for her return to put an end to the curse.
Top Image: Some unlucky artifacts and cursed sites: The Ring of Silvianus (CC BY 2.0), Tutankhamun’s silver trumpet with wooden insert (Meridianos), the Hope Diamond (CC BY-SA 4.0), Stone ringfort, “Ring of Kerry” in Ireland (Francis Bijl/ CC BY 2.0 ), and ruins of an ancient synagogue at Chorazin. (Lev.Tsimbler/CC BY SA 4.0)