Inv. SDD/ce-35170
Box of 'cursed' Egyptian amulets

Item acquired for the Surnateum in 1939
Origin: Ancient Egypt and circa 1923


Small collection gathered together by an archaeologist, brought back from digs in Egypt ca 1923-1924. Property of the last victim of 'Tutankhamen's curse'; said to be cursed. The Collector studied the way in which the curse was transmitted from one tomb violator to another. Includes ten Egyptian amulets, a curse tablet from the fifth dynasty and various personnel effects belonging to the Egyptologist.

Lecture by Professor Jacques Harmakhis on 28 July 1975; minutes taken by the Secretary of the Museum.

"Death will come on swift wings to those who disturb the sleep of the Pharaoh."

These were the words inscribed on a slate curse tablet designed to protect the tomb of Tutankhamen from violations. Until that fateful day in February 1923 when Lord Carnavon and Howard Carter, followed by 20 other individuals, became the first to enter the tomb of the boy king in thousands of years. Before then, the tomb had remain sealed until its discovery a few months earlier.
One month later, during the night of 4 April, George Herbert, the fifth Lord Carnavon, was suddenly overcome with a violent fever and died. His last words were: "Pharaoh, I am returning to you."
At the very moment of his death every light went out in Cairo for three minutes, and at the same time in England his faithful fox terrier suddenly yelped and died.
Officially, it was an infected mosquito bite on the cheek, combined with pneumonia, that brought on the archaeologist's fever and ultimate death.
Even more astonishing is the fact that the young pharaoh's mummy had the same scare on his cheek.
But the real problem was not finding out whether a virus, a poison, a poisonous worm or a fungus caused Carnavon's death, but rather how the curse was transmitted to the 22 individuals who approached the tomb or the treasure and who died within the next six years.
By coincidence, the July 1975 edition of Paris Match magazine discusses this matter. Some of the victims are mentioned: American archaeologist Arthur C. Mace, millionaire Georges Jay Gould, Englishman Joel Woolf, radiologist Archibald Douglas Reed, who was the first to X-ray the mummy, and Lady Almina, the wife of Lord Carnavon. More recently, Gamal Mehrez, the director of Egyptian museums, suffered a massive heart attack on the very day that he was preparing to send part of the contents of the tomb to the UK.
Other cases of curses were just as troubling: archaeologist Richard Lepsius, Georg Möller, James Henry Breasted and Professor Taha all died untimely deaths.
Professor Harmakhis, who explained all of this to us during a hot summer's night on the Collector's estate, set an old metal Egyptian cigarette box on the table.
The box contained various personal effects as well as a number of small antique amulets and a terracotta curse tablet dating from the fifth dynasty of ancient Egypt. The tablet was still fully 'charged' and had literally infected the contents of the box.
"This is the box that was found near the body of the curse's final victim, as well as some objects that belonged to him. The death of the final victim 1929 came at exactly the same moment as Lord Carnavon's death six years earlier, thus ending the cycle of curses. At least that's what they thought!
In falling, he broke his pocket watch, which stopped at the time of his death. But please allow me not to show you what time it is showing, because I would like you to take this second watch and change the time with the watch closed so that not even you know what time it is set for. These two watches are infected by the evil aura of the curse tablet and, as you will see, react quite oddly.
I would now like you to copy the actions of the Egyptologist working on the items he discovered. It is quite true that an Egyptologist may sometimes be tempted to steal an insignificant little amulet from a tomb, but sometimes the thing they decide to take can have disastrous consequences."

Harmakhis removed a number of small Egyptian amulets from the box and, handing me a pencil and some sticky-backed labels, asked me to number one of the labels and to put it under the amulet of my choice. I did so. Then, removing a copper tube used by Egyptologists to protect their fragile finds, he asked me to put the amulet in the tube, which was then closed and left in my care.
Professor Harmakhis removed the Egyptian curse tablet from the box. On it was inscribed a curse about tribes located beyond the third cataract of the Nile. As it was still intact, it still had a very strong corruptive force about it. After reading and translating the text, he had me compare the times showing on the two watches; amazingly they were the same.
But stranger still was what happened when I opened the box. Inside was another sealed archaeologist's tube. Opening it very cautiously, a shiver ran up my spine. For inside the tube, I found the cursed amulet.