Was It a Mummy's Curse


Just over a century ago, when King Tut's tomb was discovered and opened, the world became enthralled not only with the treasures but stories of a curse.

A few early entrants to the tomb died soon after, including an earl, and the media played up the deaths. The likely cause was a fungus. Not as fun as a curse but certainly more scientific.

That a fungus may be the likely culprit is nothing new. In May of nineteen-seventy-three, ten of twelve people who opened the tomb of Casimir IV Jagiellon, a famous 15th century Polish King, died within weeks.

Scientists found a fungus called Aspergillis flavus in the tomb. Just several years later, the mummy of Ramses II was also found to harbor the same fungus.

To be fair, it's a common fungus, but it can pose a threat to weakened lungs and immune systems. Since fungal spores can persist for centuries, they may have grown on the mummies and items in the tomb. So, opening a long-sealed tomb would disturb the spores.

Lord Carnarvon died five months after opening King Tut's tomb. But he had gone to Egypt to recover from a bad car accident and suffered many lung infections.

The media reported after his death that he had pain of the nasal passages and eyes which are symptoms of aspergillus caused sinus infection. And it may have progressed to the pneumonia that killed him.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes suggested that priests planted the fungal spores to punish grave robbers. Alas, even he couldn't resist a twist on the story.

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More Information

The mummy's curse might be real - but it's caused by a fungus
After the opening of King Tut's tomb a century ago, the public became enthralled with the idea that many of those who entered were stricken with a a "mummy's curse" and died. There might be a scientific explanation. Shuttered, isolated tombs could grow dangerous fungal molds, particularly Aspergillus flavus, that could harm people with weakened immune systems. Aspergillus also might have contributed to the deaths of ten conservationists who opened the tomb of Polish King Casimir IV Jagiellon in 1973...

Lord Carnarvon's death: the curse of aspergillosis?
In her Correspondence letter, Ann Cox argues against the theory that Lord Carnarvon, the patron of Howard Carter, died of aspergillosis. That he became infected with the disease after inhaling spores of the fungus aspergillus in the tomb of Tutankhamen is a hypothesis put forward to challenge the previously held belief that pneumonia was the cause of his demise. Cox dismisses any link between Carnarvon's ingress into the tomb and his untimely death, based on the long period of time between the two events...

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