Originally created 01/05/03

Don't fear the mummy's curse, scientists say

LONDON -- Don't sweat the curse of the mummy.

Those who disturbed Tutankhamun's tomb died all right, but no sooner than those who kept their distance, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal.

"It doesn't need to be scientifically debunked because it's rubbish really, but it's the first time I've seen it treated in this medical or scientific way," Neal Spencer, an Egyptologist at the British Museum said of the study.

When people associated with British archaeologist Howard Carter's 1922 expedition that unearthed the tomb began to die prematurely, their demise was widely attributed to the mummy's curse.

The death the following year of Lord Carnarvon, who financed the expedition, unleashed a sensation in newspapers worldwide. Carnarvon, 57, died of pneumonia and blood poisoning after a mosquito bite became infected, but the speculation was that he died because of a curse on Tutankhamun's tomb.

"The press reports at the time had the death of every man and his dog being associated with the curse, no matter how obscure the connection," said the study's author, Mark Nelson, an epidemiology and preventive medicine scholar at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.

The Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal traditionally takes a break from life-and-death issues to take a lighthearted look at the trivial.

Nelson's study used Carter's diaries to select a group for analysis. Carter recorded the presence of 44 Westerners in Egypt at the relevant time, of whom 25 were potentially exposed to the curse.

The people included members of the excavation team, journalists, Belgian royalty, British officials and dignitaries, and experts employed by the Egyptian government.

Nelson defined exposure to the curse as those Westerners recorded in Carter's diaries as being present on any of four key occasions- at the breaking of the sacred seals in the tomb on Feb. 17, 1923, the opening of the sarcophagus on Feb. 3, 1926, the opening of the coffins on Oct. 10, 1926 and the examination of the mummy on Nov. 11, 1926.

"There was no effect on survival time for any exposure" to the curse, the study found.

On the Net:

The British Medical Journal, http://www.bmj.com


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