Curse of the Pharaohs

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Pharaoh's Curse is a computer game for the Commodore 64, published in 1983.
Death shall come on swift wings... If you say so, King Tut
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Death shall come on swift wings... If you say so, King Tut

The Curse of the Pharaohs refers to the belief that any person who disturbs the mummy of an Ancient Egyptian pharaoh is placed under a curse whereby they will shortly die. Many tombs of pharaohs have curses written on or around them, warning against entering.

The belief was brought to many people's attention due to the deaths of some members of the team of Howard Carter, who opened the tomb of King Tutankhamun (KV62) in 1922, launching the modern era of Egyptology. Most notable was the mysterious death of Lord Carnarvon. However, subsequent historical study has shown that only one or two of the dozens of people present at the opening died within a few years. Carter himself lived for decades.

Some have speculated that deadly fungus could have grown in the enclosed tombs and been released when they were open to the air. Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, favoured this idea, and speculated that the mould had been placed deliberately to punish grave-robbers. Conan Doyle, at the time a cub reporter, is also believed to have been responsible for the wording of the curse most frequently associated with Tutankhamun – "Death shall come on swift wings to him who disturbs the peace of the King" – a phrase which does not actually appear among the hieroglyphs in KV62.

While there is no evidence that such pathogens killed Lord Carnarvon, there is no doubt that dangerous materials can accumulate in old tombs. Recent studies of newly opened ancient Egyptian tombs that had not been exposed to modern contaminants found pathogenic bacteria of the Staphylococcus and Pseudomonas genera, and the moulds Aspergillus niger and Aspergillus flavus. Additionally, newly opened tombs often become roosts for bats, and bat guano may harbour histoplasmosis. However, at the concentrations typically found, these pathogens are generally only dangerous to persons with weakened immune systems. Air samples taken from inside an unopened sarcophagus through a drilled hole showed high levels of ammonia, formaldehyde and hydrogen sulfide; these gases are all toxic, but at dangerous concentrations are easily detected by by their strong odours. [1] (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/05/0510_050506_tvcurse.html)

Partly as a result, many modern archaeologists wear protective clothing when opening long-closed burial chambers.

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