The Curse of Tutankhamen’s Tomb: A Scientific Explanation? - Part 2
In 1923, Egyptologists Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon opened the tomb of King Tutankhamen for the first time. It was guarded by a stone inscribed with the ominous threat: “Death Shall Come on Swift Wings to Him Who Disturbs the Peace of the King." Inside they discovered the famous pharaoh along with a wealth of treasures, launching the world into the modern era of Egyptology. But what followed was a string of deaths, injuries, illnesses and misfortune for a number of people who either entered the tomb or had some kind of involvement with its disruption.
While many are adamant that the string of deaths and misfortunes that befell those who entered Tutankhamen’s tomb were attributed to a curse, scientists and researchers have searched for a more rational explanation. For example, some have speculated that those who died of a mysterious illness, such as Lord Carnarvon who died 6 weeks after visiting the tomb, may have been exposed to a deadly fungus or toxic bacteria inside the burial chamber.
Scientific studies of newly opened ancient Egyptian tombs have indeed found pathogenic bacteria (Staphylococcus and Pseudomonas) and moulds (Aspergillus niger and Aspergillus flavus), which can cause allergic reactions ranging from congestion to bleeding in the lungs. Bats also inhabit many excavated tombs and their droppings carry a fungus that can cause the influenza-like respiratory disease histoplasmosis.
"When you think of Egyptian tombs, you have not only dead bodies but foodstuffs—meats, vegetables, and fruits" interred for the trip to the hereafter, said Jennifer Wegner, an Egyptologist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia. "It certainly may have attracted insects, moulds, [bacteria], and those kinds of things. The raw material would have been there thousands of years ago."
Air samples taken from inside an unopened sarcophagus through a drilled hold has shown high levels of ammonia gas, formaldehyde, and hydrogen sulphide. In strong concentrations they could cause burning in the eyes and nose, pneumonia-like symptoms, and in very extreme cases, death.
However, while these findings are all scientifically verified, experts who have examined the case of Lord Carnarvon do not believe that tomb toxins played a role in his death as his symptoms would have manifested themselves much sooner than six weeks. Furthermore, according to DeWolfe Miller, professor of epidemiology at the University of Hawaii there is not yet a single case of an archaeologist or tourist becoming ill as a result of tomb mould or bacteria.
Furthermore, the toxic tomb theory does not explain the wide variety of ways in which the individuals concerned met their deaths, including car crashes, murders, suicides and heart attacks, nor does it explain the string of misfortunes that fell upon those who never visited the tomb but who, decades later, were involved in transporting Tutankhamen’s treasures to an exhibition in London.
So, is there a rational explanation to the deaths and misfortunes of many? Is it mere coincidence? Was a curse really placed upon the tomb? Or did the spirit of Tutankhamen live on to protect his place of burial? For now the answers to these questions remain a mystery.