“Death shall come on swift wings to him who disturbs the peace of the king.”
(The curse engraved on the exterior of King Tutankhamen’s tomb)
We have all heard about this curse. Mummification was a means of preserving the bodies of wealthy and prominent Egyptians in order to fulfill their quest to eternity. In 1922, a team of British archeologists in Egypt found the boy-king Tutankhamen’s tomb. By 1929, the eleven people associated with the tomb died of early and “unnatural” causes and this is how the myth of the “Mummy’s Curse” evolved.
However, it appears that the team that discovered the tomb all died from ancient mold spores.
In 1999, a German microbiologist, Gotthard Kramer identified several species of mold spores in tombs. Spores have a hardened outside shell which allows them to survive for a long period of time, even under harsh conditions (high or low temperature and without water). Mold spores can survive in almost any climate, even a dark dry tomb. He hypothesized “that when the tomb was first opened, the fresh air could have caused the spores to be blown into the air and infect the archaeologists through their nose, mouth, or eyes.”
Interestingly, in 1973, the tomb of King Casimir IV of Poland was discovered by archaeologists. Of the twelve scientists that entered the tomb, four died within a few days and six more died within six months. It is speculated that the deaths were caused by exposure to toxins from Aspergillus.
Today, and based on the lessons from history, archaeologists wear masks, gloves, and respirators to protect themselves from similar “curses” when handling ancient burial ruins.