Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs


In modern times, popular myths about pharaonic Egypt often focus on the use of curses, and the Curse of King Tut is among the most famous. This popular legend was born when Lord Carnarvon, the English Earl who funded the Tutankhamun expedition, died less than six months after the opening of the tomb.

As news of Lord Carnarvon's death was reported around the world, stories of the curse began to surface almost immediately. It was reported that the tomb had contained an ancient Egyptian curse: "They who enter this sacred tomb shall swift be visited by the wings of death." Despite the fact that no such hieroglyphic text existed, the public seemed fascinated by such misinformation - they preferred the dramatic story of the curse reported in the newspapers, rather than listening to experts and scholars.

At this point in time it was not easy for the media to receive direct information regarding what the excavators were doing in the tomb, as access was restricted to only a select few. Journalists therefore had limited resources for information and perhaps for this reason several stories were invented.

In the beginning only the one death was attributed to the curse, but soon the fatality of anyone even remotely connected with the tomb was ascribed to the same cause. In fact, only six individuals directly associated with opening of the tomb had died after 10 years. Perhaps most important is that the discoverer of the tomb, Howard Carter lived more than 17 years after discovering the tomb and then died at the age of 64.

It is true, however, that the ancient Egyptians did in fact engage in the use of various types of curses and threats. Some even were directed specifically against trespassers who attempted to violate the tomb - but the tomb of Tutankhamun did not possess such protection. Despite all this, the legend of the Curse of King Tut lives on...

This material is adapted from text written by Dr. Zahi Hawass in his book Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs (National Geographic Books 2005).

Click on images for larger version

Howard Carter with Tut's mummy

The removal of King Tut from his stone sarcophagus in his underground tomb

Falcon-headed Ra, God of the Sun

Valley of the Kings
The Entrance to King Tut's tomb



The exhibition is organised by the National Geographic Society, Arts and Exhibitions International and IMG, with cooperation from the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities.