Curses! Curses, I Say! Or, Maybe Not


If you’ve ever indulged in the fantasy of an Indiana Jones-style adventure, the gringa knows EXACTLY how you feel! Epic excitement and mystery! But what the heck is up with all of those curses? Are they real? Have people died mysteriously because they explored ancient Egyptian tombs? Is there any science to explain how it happened? Were ancient Egyptians magical booby-trap designers?

Let’s look at the curse of all curses, the Curse of the Pharaohs.  It claims that if you disturb the resting place of any ancient Egyptian (not just a pharaoh), you are in for big trouble. So, that would stand to reason, in the gringa’s mind, that if you messed about with a pharaoh’s tomb, you should get trouble on an exponential level.

The most famous ancient Egyptian pharaoh tomb in modern history to be explored is that of Tutankhamun, discovered by Howard Carter November 4, 1922. Was a curse released when the tomb’s seal was broken 3 months later on February 16, 1923? Well, apparently there were quite a few deaths that occurred:

George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert,  Earl of Carnarvon (we’ll just call him George-and, Downtown Abbey fans, yes, THAT Carnarvon!), was the fella who paid for the adventure.  About 5 weeks after the seal was broken, March 25, 1923, rich, ol’ George dropped dead from a mosquito bite that became infected when he cut himself shaving shortly after he arrived in Cairo.

Was such a death a rare occurrence, thus indicative of supernatural causes? Nope.  According to industrial records from 1923, contained within “The Industrial Bulletin, Volumes 1-5”, 16 deaths were filed with the US Workmen’s Compensation Bureas in a single MONTH, deaths caused by infection of cuts received on the job. As recent as 2010 more than 27,000 people died from sepsis specifically related to bedsores. In other words, they died when their wounds and sores became infected.

The gringa’s inclined to think that ol’ George’s death was not because of a pharaoh’s curse but just bad hygiene and bad luck. He also had a reputation for being a rather sickly fellow in the first place. No wonder, then, that a tiny mosquito back and contaminated razor cut did him in. But what of the other folks said to have died from Tut’s curse?

George had a half-brother, Colonel Aubrey Herbert, MP. He was a radiologist and X-rayed King Tut. He died six months after his brother, September 26, 1923, from arsenic poisoning.  Now, brother Aubrey had bad eyesight all of his life. He was practically blind and a dentist thought he could solve the problem.  Instead, he got poisoned. Crazy as it sounds, arsenic has a long and illustrious history of use in dentistry, often used as a pain reliever and root canal treatment. Was brother Aubrey a victim of supernatural vengeance? Probably not.  Just another victim in a long line of dental victims. Even today you get your teeth capped or drilled at your own risk. A dentist patient dies, on average in America, every other day.

So what about the American railway mogul, George Jay Gould? He died from a fever after he visited the tomb. Also quite common.

Then there’s Egyptian prince, Ali Kamel Fah. His wife shot him dead not long after he enjoyed a photo safari of the tomb. The gringa thinks the wrath of a wife probably has nothing at all to do with anyone that’s been dead for millennia.

Another guy who X-rayed the mummy, Sir Archibald Douglas Reid, also died. Supposedly from a mystery illness but the gringa’s pretty sure that travel to exotic places often resulted in all kinds of mystery illnesses in 1924 that are, today, considered quite common.

Another victim of gun violence who visited the tomb was the governor of Sudan, Sir Lee Stack. He was shot while driving through the streets of Cairo. Methinks the possibility of an assassin’s bullet, inspired by nationalist fervor, angry at all of these foreigners desecrating the revered resting places of their ancestors is more likely than a curse. Maybe it was a politically motivated assassination by factions unhappy with foreign powers involved in the Sudan. Or, it could have been the work of a greedy tomb raider who wants all these folks gone so they can stage a raid and enjoy some profit.

And then tragedy strikes George’s family, yet again, when his other brother, Mervyn Herbert, dies of malaria related pneumonia. But, there again, dying from malaria, even today, when visiting an exotic locale, is nothing mysterious.

Another guy on George’s team, A. C. Mace, also died of arsenic poisoning in 1928.  Rather than think sinister spirits were flitting about for five years wreaking havoc on unsuspecting curiosity seekers, the gringa thinks it’s more likely that Mace made an unfortunate visit to the dentist.

And what of Captain Richard Bethell? Dead from self-inflicted poisoning, munching on toxic tidbits in bed, much like how the gringa snacks on bon-bons while enjoying a good book. Stupidity or suicide, I say, not a curse. Most likely suicide because, a year later, his father committed suicide by jumping from the seventh floor of an apartment building.

Although it is disturbing to see the number of deaths that occurred within just a few years of opening King Tut’s tomb, the details reveal credible reasons, some with scientific evidence, to explain them as quite normal and of this world. So, if you plan to visit Egypt, don’t be afraid of any, ol’ curse. Visit the tombs. Explore the pyramids. Ride some camels. But get inoculated for malaria before you go, sleep under mosquito netting, use insect repellant, and wear long sleeves!

Sources:

World Travel Guide

South Coast Herald

Dallas News

National Institutes of Health

Mirror UK

Live Science

The Daily Beast

Google Books

Image Credit:  Unrated Film

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gringaofthebarrio

A barrio gringa with a dream of cosmic proportions: writing to satiate my insatiable curiosity, worldwide literacy beginning with our youth, and to be the first barrio gringa to explore outer space!

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