11 May 2005

The curse of the dumb mummy

Through Zinken, I was directed to a piece on an upcoming National Geographic movie about the alleged curse associated with the opening of the tomb of Tutankhamen in Egypt in 1922. The legend of “the curse” started with the death of Lord Carnarvon shortly after attending the tomb's opening. National Geographic states that a recent theory attributes Carnarvon's death to exposure to ancient, toxic pathogens from the sealed tomb.

This reminded me of a study in the December 2002 issue of the British Journal of Medicine1 that compared the fates of 25 Westerners who were present during the opening of the tomb of Tutankhamen with those of a control group of 11 Westerners who were in Egypt at that time, but did not visit the tomb. Although the group of 25, who would have been exposed to “the curse”, did live shorter lives (mean age at death: 70 years) than the controls (mean age at death: 75 years) and did have shorter survival after the date of exposure (20.8 versus 28.9 years), the differences were not statistically significant. The conclusion of the study was that there was no evidence to support the existence of a mummy's curse.

During the preparation of a body for mummification, the ancient Egyptians removed the person’s brain—amazingly—through the nose, piece by piece. So, fear no mummy who returns to life; not only will he or she be almost as dumb as some of our elected public officials, but you won’t be exposed to a curse either.

1. Mark R Nelson, M.R. 2002. The mummy's curse: historical cohort study. British Journal of Medicine, 325:1482-1484. pdf

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