Mushrooms Could Be Behind The Curse Of Tutankhamun

Shortly after the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922, a series of deaths sparked the idea of a hidden curse that would haunt those who had dared to desecrate the king’s tomb. However, microbiologist Raúl Rivas believes that certain fungi could have caused the death of some of those present at the opening of the tomb, such as Lord Carnarvon.

Undated photograph of English archaeologist and Egyptologist Howard Carter standing with his hands behind his left back, watching as the cover of the entrance to King Tutankhamun’s tomb in Luxor, Egypt, is lifted.

Death will spread its wings over all who dare to enter the sealed tomb of a pharaoh.” This ancient curse, which was supposedly written in an ancient Arabic text, was in the possession of the novelist Marie Corelli, who remembered it when she learned of the death of Lord Carnarvon in his hotel in Cairo in 1923. The writer, very popular in Great Britain for its Gothic works, had already warned that possibly the recently discovered tomb of the pharaoh child could be under some kind of magical protection, and when he learned of Lord Carnarvon’s illness he stated: “I can’t help thinking that there has been some risk by disturbing the final rest of a king of Egypt whose tomb was specially and solemnly guarded and stealing his possessions”. When the aristocrat died soon after, his words were considered prophetic.

Howard Carter examining Tutankhamun’s sarcophagus shortly after its discovery.

The writer Marie Corelli, author of gothic novels, was convinced that the tomb of Tutankhamun was under the influence of some kind of magical protection

But was there a curse on Tutankhamun’s tomb? Was she really protected by some kind of magical force that killed everyone who was involved in discovering him? It seems that science, as usual, has found the solution to the enigma.

Howard Carter examining the tomb of Tutankhamun. Photograph taken by Hahry Burton, 1924.


The tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun was discovered in the Valley of the Kings on November 4, 1922. Despite having been robbed in ancient times, the tomb was almost intact and preserved most of the monarch’s grave goods. When the excavation ended ten years later, no less than 5,397 objects were documented, including the famous funerary mask of the king. The history of the curse also contributed to the international fame that the discovery obtained, and the fact that some of its discoverers began to die in strange circumstances (even Arthur Conan Doyle, the father of the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes, helped spread the belief that a terrible curse would follow those who had dared to desecrate the pharaoh’s tomb).

Between 1922 and 1929, photographer Harry Burton meticulously documented the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb.

Some English newspapers even attributed the death of about thirty people to the curse, including that of Lord Carnarvon himself. That same year, 1923, the brother of Carnarvon and Archibald Douglas Reid, in charge of X-raying the mummy of Tutankhamun, died. Shortly thereafter, archaeologist Arthur Mace, who opened the burial chamber with Carter, died. Richard Bethell, Carter’s secretary, also died in 1929; the archaeologist Alby Lythgoe, from the Metropolitan Museum of New York, in 1934; the directors of the antiquities department of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo… Despite what it may seem, the truth is that subsequent studies revealed that of the 58 people present at the opening of the king’s tomb and sarcophagus, only eight in the following twelve years.

Tutankhamun’s sarcophagus photographed by Harry Burton in 1922

The tomb’s discoverer, archaeologist Howard Carter, fed up with speculation about the supposed curse, stated: “If it is not libel as such, it points in such a despicable sense, and every sensible person should dismiss such fabrications with disdain.” But he was wasting time. The speculations were increasing, and they even accused him of being in collusion with the authorities to “cover up” the evidence.

On the north wall of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber, 7 figures can be seen, in three separate scenes. From right to left: opening of the mouth ceremony performed on Tutankhamun’s mummy by Pharaoh Ay, his successor, who holds a special instrument (adze) and is dressed as a priest; Nut, the goddess of the sky, gives a peaceful welcome to Tutankhamun, and finally, Osiris, god of the Underworld, embraces Tutankhamun, who appears followed by his ka or life force.


In relation to these deaths and whether it is possible that they were related to the tomb, although of course not to a curse, microbiologist Raúl Rivas suggests that the explanation could be found in microorganisms dormant for millennia, such as some fungi of the Aspergillus species, whose Spores can remain viable for centuries or even millennia.

Tutankhamun’s mummy November 2007
The latest research on the mummy questions the image of Tutankhamun as a weak and sickly pharaoh.

This would explain, for example, the death of Lord Carnarvon. The aristocrat had been in very poor health since he was in a serious car accident in his youth. The traditional explanation is that he died of an infection when he mistakenly shaved off a mosquito bite that became infected and ultimately caused his death from septicemia. But Rivas abounds in the explanations established by other researchers who think that the cause of death could have been a fungal infection when the aristocrat inhaled Aspergillus spores in Tutankhamun’s tomb, which would have caused an invasive type of pulmonary aspergillosis, a very serious illness from which he could not recover due to his already precarious health.

Feet of the mummy of Tutankhamun, in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo

Some researchers believe that Lord Carnarvon inhaled spores of the fungus Aspergillus which caused a serious lung disease from which he did not recover.

Tutankhamun’s sarcophagus chamber
(Tomb KV62 is located in the Valley of the Kings and contains the mummy of Tutankhamun. It can be seen here in a photo taken on November 28, 2015.)

Recent studies have confirmed the presence of this type of fungus on various mummies around the world, which, according to Rivas, would make it feasible that some of the visitors to Tutankhamun’s tomb -possibly those who were in poorer health- could have contracted a infection, like Lord Carnarvon or George Jay Gould, the railroad magnate, who died of pneumonia in 1923 and had been present at the opening of the grave.

The funerary mask of Tutankhamun at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, in a photo taken on December 16, 2015.

Fortunately, today no one (or almost no one) believes in pharaonic curses or fears Tutankhamun’s mummy, which rests in his tomb in a sealed glass sarcophagus in a controlled environment, in view of the thousands of tourists who visit it every year. daily without any mishap happening to them. But despite this, there is no doubt that the story of the discovery of the tomb of the child pharaoh and the curse that accompanies it has acquired novelistic overtones and continues to arouse passions among lovers of Pharaonic Egypt.

Conservation work in the funerary chamber of the tomb of Tutankhamun, during the spring of 2016.

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