By Ilona Kauremszky

Q: My niece who is 10 years old is completely fascinated by ancient Egypt. What do I tell her about the Mummy’s curse?

A: Filmmakers and authors have used the mummy’s curse as great material for years. But is it real? The whole notion goes back as early as the pyramids themselves when these tombs were constructed for the pharaohs. Legends were popular around the inscriptions. The builders wrote about bad things happening in order to discourage tomb robbers but it only worked so much. The robbers still looted them.

In the mid 1800s an English novelist Jane Loudon Webb wrote a fantasy book called, "The Mummy" and shortly after the famous King Tut discovery was made in November 1922 another story of the mummy’s curse erupted from the pen of Mari Corelli (Mary Mackay) who published a warning about bad things happening to those who entered sealed tombs. Things really haven’t been the same since.

When Howard Carter discovered King Tut, talk of the mummy’s curse resurfaced and converted non-believers. That doesn’t help when his pet canary is reported to have been swallowed by a cobra the day he discovered the now famous tomb.

Shortly after Lord Carnavorn who financed the expedition died and of course on the day of Carnavorn’s death, the lights went out across Cairo, sending shockwaves around the globe that indeed this was the work of a mummy’s curse.

Some museums today have neat descriptions on the mummy’s curse. Over at The Cleveland Museum of Art, there’s a section online called Egyptomania for children. Their answer is simple. You can read the full details at The museum says the popular notion is all made up, “an invention of the media and entertainment industry.”

Recently scientists made an interesting discovery supporting the rumours of a mummy’s curse. In 1999, Gotthard Kramer, a German microbiologist, studied 40 different mummies and noticed several potentially dangerous mould spores. When the tombs were sealed fungi grew on the walls and when re-opened, the fungi made contact with oxygen and became poisonous, causing respiratory problems for visitors. Call it coincidence or a curse.


dispatches | q&a | photos | fork | newsletter | archives | links | search | store | submissions | about | contact | home

All text & photos © 2002-08.