Tutankhamun curse 'made up by disgruntled reporter'

Documentary names Arthur Weigall as the man who may have started the story of a curse

The mask of King Tutankhamun ... but the story of the curse merely a myth? Reuters
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A Daily Mail reporter, annoyed that The Times had been given exclusive access to the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, made up the story of the curse, a new documentary has claimed.

The Channel 4 documentary names Arthur Weigall, an Egyptologist-turned-reporter, as the man who may have created a myth.

Tutankhamun: Secrets of The Tomb airs on Sunday in the UK and talks to experts on the curse, the pharaoh and the Howard Carter-Lord Carnarvon expedition.

One of them, Bob Bianchi, said: “Arthur Weigall is a very interesting person. He has credentials as an Egyptologist. He switched gears, in a sense, and became a journalist.

“He was working for the Daily Mail, which was a rival of the London Times, and he was not able to get the scientific information from Carter on a daily basis because The Times had the exclusive, so he had to be able to tell his readers a parallel story.”

The idea of a mummy’s curse is something that has never gone away.

In the 1820s, the idea was popularised when Egyptian hieroglyphs were first properly decoded.

The dire warnings on the walls of Egyptian tombs were intended to deter robbers — but usually without success.

About a century later, the tomb of Tutankhamun was found in an expedition funded by the British aristocrat Lord Carnarvon. Four months later, Carnarvon was found dead in a Cairo hotel — and the idea of the curse snowballed.

The documentary describes the day the tomb was opened in February 16, 1923, with Carnarvon telling jokes to the assembled spectators and media.

“I think what Weigall was suggesting was that Carnarvon was too happy, [which was] maybe a bit of hubris on his part, and Weigall allegedly said: ‘If Lord Carnarvon goes into the tomb in that spirit, he’ll be dead within six weeks’,” Mr Bianchi said.

Within six weeks, Carnarvon and a number of people who had worked on the excavation, were dead.

“For the newspapers, these exotic deaths were a gold mine and they started to splash stories of a curse of Tutankhamun," said Ella Al Shamahi, an archaeologist and documentary presenter. "Hungry for stories, reporters added ever more names to the list.”

Updated: June 21, 2022, 10:42 AM