KEEPING THE CURSE ALIVE?

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Is King Tut’s tomb cursed?

11 deaths in the first 10 years of Tut’s tomb opening, excluding the cobra incident that claimed the life of an innocent canary at Howard Carter’s home.

Howard Carter (9 May 1874–2 March 1939) was a British archaeologist and Egyptologist who became world-famous after discovering the intact tomb (designated KV62) of the 18th Dynasty Pharaoh, Tutankhamun(colloquially known as “King Tut” and “the boy king”), in November 1922.

George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, DL (26 June 1866–5 April 1923), styled Lord Porchester until 1890, was an English peer and aristocrat best known as the financial backer of the search for and the excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

Howard Carter’s team and other prominent visitors to the tomb died shortly thereafter. The famous Egyptologist James Henry Breasted worked with Carter soon after the first opening of the tomb. He reported how Carter sent a messenger on an errand to his house. On approaching his home the messenger thought he heard a “faint, almost human cry”. Upon reaching the entrance he saw the bird cage occupied by a cobra, the symbol of Egyptian monarchy. Carter’s canary had died in its mouth and this fueled local rumors of a curse. Arthur Weigall, a previous Inspector-General of Antiquities to the Egyptian Government, reported that this was interpreted as Carter’s house being broken into by the Royal Cobra, the same as that worn on the King’s head to strike enemies (see Uraeus), on the very day the King’s tomb was being broken http://into.

An account of the incident was reported by The New York Times on 22 December 1922.

The Royal Cobra (Uraeus), representing the protector goddess Wadjet, atop the mask of Tutankhamun.

But was it really a curse who killed these people and the poor bird?

The curse of the pharaohs refers to an alleged curse believed by some to be cast upon any person who disturbs the mummy of an Ancient Egyptian person, especially a pharaoh. This curse, which does not differentiate between thieves and archaeologists, allegedly can cause bad luck, illness or death. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, suggested that Lord Carnarvon’s death had been caused by “elementals” created by Tutankhamun’s priests to guard the royal tomb, and this further fueled the media interest.


In scripted curses

Execration texts, also referred to as Proscription Lists, are ancient Egyptian hieratic texts, listing enemies of the Pharaoh, most often enemies of the Egyptian state or troublesome foreign neighbors. The texts were most often written upon statuettes of bound foreigners, bowls, or blocks of clay or stone, which were subsequently destroyed. The ceremonial process of breaking the names and burying them was intended to be a sort of sympathetic magic that would affect the persons or entities named in the texts. The fragments were usually placed near tombs or ritual sites.

This practice was most common during times of conflict with the Asiatic neighbours of Egypt.The execration ritual was the process by which one could thwart or eradicate one’s enemies. Usually the ritual object(s) would be bound (usually a small figurine, but sometimes human sacrifice was practiced), then the object was smashed, stomped on, stabbed, cut, speared, spat on, locked in a box, burned, saturated in urine, and finally buried.

The interpretation of historians as to the meaning of execration texts has been well established thanks to documents that detail the ritual creation of the texts and the manner in which they were to be destroyed in order to invoke a form of magic to protect Egypt and the Pharaoh, in earlier cases, but especially in the Ptolemaic period they began to be utilized by more and more Egyptians for their own personal use.Here is a sample:

“They who enter this sacred tomb shall swift be visited by wings of death.

However, there is no record of this phrase anywhere in the report on the tomb of Tutankhamun (and no obvious reason for the Egyptologists to want to cover it up) and the inscription itself has since mysteriously “vanished”.


Four Magic Bricks — Contents of the Tomb & the Curse of King Tut

A gold and black Anubis shrine, depicting a jackal on a pedestal, was found in the Tomb of Tutankhamun. Anubis was the Ancient Egyptian god of the Dead. There was an inscription on the Anubis shrine that stated:

“It is I who hinder the sand from choking the secret chamber. I am for the protection of the deceased”.

Problems with the press had occurred when Lord Carnarvon signed an exclusive contract with The Times in London. This effectively forced journalists to find different ways to cover the story of King Tut, to satisfy the interests of their readers. Reporters therefore embellished the story Anubis Curse, and the additional words were added to the ‘curse’:

“…and I will kill all those who cross this threshold into the sacred precincts of the
Royal King who lives forever.”

Again, there is no evidence in support of this text has ever been produced and the text does not appear on any of the statues of Anubis.


Personalities associated with the excavation

The first of the mysterious deaths was that of Lord Carnarvon. He had been bitten by a mosquito, and later slashed the bite accidentally while shaving. It became infected and blood poisoning resulted.


Lord Carnarvon’s half-brother, Col. The Hon. Aubrey Nigel Henry Herbert DL (3 April 1880–26 September 1923) was a British diplomat, traveller, and intelligence officer associated with Albanian independence.

Toward the end of Herbert’s life, he became totally blind. He was given very bad advice to the effect that having all his teeth extracted would restore his sight. The dental operation resulted in blood poisoning from which he died in London on 26 September 1923.


Sir Alan Henderson Gardiner (29 March 1879, in Eltham — 19 December 1963, in Oxford) was an English Egyptologist, linguist, philologist, and independent scholar. He is regarded as one of the premier Egyptologists of the early and mid-20th century. Specialized in hieratic texts on papyri and ostraca. Published the 1st edition of Egyptian Grammar in 1927, which is still one of the essential learning aids for Middle Egyptian. Member of the Tutankhamun excavation team, for which he recorded all the inscriptions from the tomb. Gardiner studied the tomb’s inscriptions and was still very active working on Egyptian grammar for many decades until his death in 1963.

The rest were the following:

  • Georges BenediteArchaeologist Hugh Evelyn-White, who hung himself. He wrote in a letter: “I have succumbed to a curse which forces me to disappear”.
  • Carter’s personal secretary, Richard BethellLord Westbury, the father of Richard Bethell
  • Radiologist Archibald Douglas Reed
  • American archaeologist Arthur Mace
  • Millionaire George Gould, a close friend of Lord Carnarvon
  • Englishman Joel Woolf, a British industrialist
  • Mohammed Ibrahim, Egypt’s director of antiquities who died in 1966
  • Gamal Mehrez, another of Egypt’s director of antiquities who died in 1972

The Meaning of the Four Magic Bricks in the Tomb of King Tut

Four magic bricks were found in the tomb of King Tut. Each of the four “magic bricks” would have been ascribed by the Ancient Egyptians with the protective spells contained in Chapter 151 from the Book of the Dead. There are also actual excerpts from spells taken from Chapter 151 of the Book of the Dead found inside the mask of Tutankhamun. The four sons of Horus offered protection to the pharaoh according to the ascribed spells, symbolised by each of the four magic bricks:

  • Spell 151 from the Book of the Dead for the North god Hapi was:”I have come to be your protection. I have bound your head and your limbs for you
    I have smitten you enemies beneath you for you, and given you your head, eternally”
  • Spell 151 from the Book of the Dead for the South god Imsety was:”I am your son, Osiris, I have come to be your protection. I have strengthened your house enduringly as Ptah decreed in accordance with what Ra himself decrees”
  • Spell 151 from the Book of the Dead for the East god Duamutef was:”I am your son, Osiris, I am your son Horus, your beloved. I have come to rescue my father Osiris from his assailant. I place him under your legs, eternally”
  • Spell 151 from the Book of the Dead for the West god Qebehsenuef was:”I am your son, Osiris, I have come to be your protection. I have united your bones for you, I have assembled your limbs for you. I have brought you your heart, and placed it for you at its place in your body. I have strengthened your house after you, as you live, eternally”

The Protective Objects associated with the Four Magic Bricks in the Tomb of King Tut

The above protective spells make perfect sense when they are combined with the embalming and mummification process — but they do not seem to have any connection with the origins of the curse of King Tut. The beliefs of the Ancient Egyptians then begin to unravel. The four “magic bricks” in the tomb of King Tut contained, or supported, the following:

The North brick supported a shabti figure

funerary figurine used in Ancient Egypt.

Ushabtis were placed in tombs among the grave goods and were intended to act as servants or minions for the deceased, should they be called upon to do manual labor in the afterlife.

The South brick contained a reed to hold a torch

The East brick was surmounted by a figure of the jackal-headed god Anubis

The god Anubis was usually depicted as a jackal and sometimes as a man, but he was always in black, which was a color connected with desolation and rebirth. Anubis had a female counterpart named Anput, and a daughter, who was the serpent goddess Kebechet. He was also associated with the god Upuaut (Wepwawet), another deity with canine features.


The West brick contained a faience djed pillar

The djed symbol is one of the more ancient and commonly found symbols in Egyptian mythology. It is a pillar-like symbol in hieroglyphics representing stability. It is associated with the Creator god Ptah and Osiris, the Egyptian god of the afterlife, the underworld, and the dead. It is commonly understood to represent his spine.

It was the spells associated with these objects that would have added credence to the stories about the Curse of

King Tut…


King Tut’s death mask has an inscription on its back and sides. The inscription engraved on the shoulders and on the back of the mask is a spell that first appears on masks of the Middle Kingdom, some five hundred years before the time of Tutankhamun.

Intended for the protection of the mask, it identifies its various parts with the corresponding physical members of different gods, addressing them individually:

“ … Your right eye is the night bark [of the sun god], your left eye is the day bark, your eyebrows are [those of] the Ennead of the Gods, your forehead is [that of] Anubis, the nape of your neck is [that of] Horus, your locks of hair are [those of] Ptah-Soker. [You are] in front of the Osiris [Tutankhamun], he sees thanks to you, you guide him to the goodly ways, you smite for him the confederates of Seth so that he may overthrow your enemies before the Ennead of the Gods in the great Castle of the Prince, which is in Heliopolis…the Osiris, the king of Upper Egypt Nebkheperura, deceased, given life like Ra.”

Lovely wishing cup replica exhibited at the Museum of the Rockies [May 2007]

Howard Carter found the two handled alabaster chalice 1 now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo just inside Tutankhamun’s tomb, probably dislodged there by tomb robbers. He copied the hieroglyphs of the inscription around the rim and sent them to Sir Alan Gardiner, requesting a translation.

Around the rim the inscription runs in two directions flanking the unidirectional ankh in the center front. With elegant symmetry, the inscription situates an ankh in the center on the back of the rim as well.

Beginning at the center with the ankh and reading from left to right, Carter provides this translation:

“May he live, Horus ‘Strong Bull fair of births,’ the Two Goddesses ‘Beautiful of ordinances, quelling the Two Lands,’ Horus of Gold ‘Wearing the diadems and propitiating the Gods,’ the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Lord of the Two Lands, Neb Kheperu Re, granted life.”

Back of Tutankhamun’s alabaster chalice

Reading from right to left beginning again with the ankh, Carter translates:

“Live, thy Ka, and mayst thou spend millions of years, thou lover of Thebes, sitting with thy face to the north wind, and thy eyes beholding felicity.”

Adapting to more contemporary English than Gardiner’s, I think the wish might read:

“May your ka live, and may you achieve millions of years, you who love Thebes, sitting with your face to the north wind, and your eyes seeing happiness.”

Tutankhamun’s Wishing Cup [old postcard]

Because of this wish for Tutankhamun’s eternal life, Carter dubbed this chalice the king’s wishing-cup. In 1995 part of the cup’s inscription was placed on a new headstone for Carter in London.

The transluscent white drinking cup takes the form of a white lotus. Lotus buds with stems form a handle on two sides. On top of the buds the god Heh sits holding the hieroglyphs for years and life in each hand, above the signs for 100,000 and eternity, all together symbolizing eternal life. The hieroglyph for Heh stands for millions, seen above in the wish inscription.

The hieroglyph for the heavens surmounts a square on the front of the chalice’s bowl. Three columns give the king’s names and titles. Beginning with the middle column containing a cartouche, the hieroglyphs read from top to bottom:

“King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Neb Kheperu Re, given life.”The left column and cartouche read:”Son of Re, living image of Amun, ruler of Thebes forever and ever.”

The right column says:”Beloved of Amun-Re lord of thrones, and of the two lands, lord of heaven.”

More misunderstandings and misinterpretations were made. Different curses were added. There was never just one specific Curse of King Tut. But the myths and legends, like so many, are indeed based on some truth, facts and the beliefs of the Ancient Egyptians.

(http://www3.hants.gov.uk/tutankh…; Curse of the pharaohs — Wikipedia; Sir A. H. Gardiner MSS.; King Tut’s Death Mask — Back View with Inscription; The Hieroglyphs on Tutankhamun’s Alabaster Chalice “Wishing Cup”; Four Magic Bricks; https://www.google.com/search?cl…:; Anubis — The Jackal God and Guide into the Ancient Egyptian Afterlife; George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon — Wikipedia; Aubrey Herbert — Wikipedia)

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Originally published at www.quora.com.

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