Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Egyptian Curses

Pretty much ever since movies began, Hollywood has been telling us that Egyptian tombs are cursed, and if you disturb them, an angry mummy will rise and have his revenge. Way back in 1932, Boris Karloff frightened audiences when his sarcophagus was opened and he rose to find his lost love. Since then, Hollywood has given us such gems as I Want My Mummy, Mummy Maniac, and The Mummy series with the very handsome Brendan Frasier.


But the idea of a mummy curse actually starts before Hollywood even existed. Novelist Jane Louden Webb wrote "The Mummy" in the early 1800's, which told the tale of a mummy coming back to life to seek revenge. Even Louisa May Alcott, author of "Little Women", wrote a mummy story in 1869 titled "Lost in a Pyramid: The Mummy's Curse", the story of a woman who falls into a coma and becomes a mummy due to plant seeds found in a tomb. But even with all of this publicity, curses in Egyptian tombs were not as prevalent as you would think.

Curses, if they showed up at all, appeared in private tombs during the Old Kingdom (2625-2130 B.C.). They were inscribed on walls, doors, and even on the coffin. The purpose of the curse wasn't only for robbers, but also for the ka-priests, protectors of the tomb, to make sure they perform the rites correctly. As punishment, the curses caused violation from a donkey or possible destruction of you and your heirs. They also invoked the wrath of Thoth and Sekhmet, two important gods of the time. Along with curses, the tombs had booby traps - trap doors, secret chambers, fake tunnels, and even wires for decapitation and poison mixed in with the stone dust, so when the stones were disturbed, the poison would be inhaled.

The infamous King Tut is well known for his curse; he was interred during the New Kingdom (1550-1069 B.C.). He never actually had a curse inscribed in his tomb. Royal tombs never had curses. What happened back in 1922, when his tomb was opened, was a lot of media frenzy. The Earl of Carnarvon, the sponsor of the dig, was bitten by a mosquito, which became infected and he died of pneumonia a few weeks after the opening. Newspaper reporters took this information and ran with it, reporting that a curse was what brought down the Earl and 26 other workers as well! Not true. Only 6 other workers died in the 10 years following the opening. Howard Carter, the man with the shovel, the actual archaeologist, was not affected at all and lived another 17 years after discovering King Tut.