The Pharaoh’s Curse The curse of the pharaohs or the mummy’s curse is a curse alleged to be cast upon anyone who disturbs the mummy of an ancient Egyptian, especially a pharaoh. This curse, which does not differentiate between thieves and archaeologists, is claimed to cause bad luck, illness, or death. Since the mid-20th century, many authors and documentaries have argued that the curse is ‘real’ in the sense of having scientifically explicable causes such as bacteria or radiation. However, the modern origins of Egyptian mummy curse tales, their development primarily in European cultures, the shift from magic to science to explain curses, and their changing uses—from condemning disturbance of the dead to entertaining horror film audiences—suggest that Egyptian curses are primarily a cultural, not scientific, phenomenon. There are occasional instances of genuine ancient curses appearing inside or on the façade of a tomb, as in the case of the mastaba of Khentika Ikhekhi of the 6th Dynasty at Saqqara. These appear to be directed towards the ka priests to protect the tomb carefully and preserve its ritual purity rather than as a warning for potential robbers. There had been stories of curses going back to the 19th century, but they multiplied after Howard Carter’s discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun. Despite popular misconceptions, no curse was found inscribed in the Pharaoh’s tomb. The evidence for curses relating to Tutankhamun is considered to be so meager that Donald B. Redford called it “unadulterated claptrap”.
Tomb curses Curses relating to tombs are extremely rare, possibly because the idea of such desecration was unthinkable and even dangerous to record. They most frequently occur in private tombs of the Old Kingdom era.The tomb of Ankhtifi (9–10th dynasty) contains the warning: “any ruler who… shall do evil or wickedness to this coffin… may Hemen ([a local deity]) not accept any goods he offers, and may his heir not inherit”. The tomb of Khentika Ikhekhi (6th dynasty) contains an inscription: “As for all men who shall enter this my tomb… impure… there will be judgment… an end shall be made for him… I shall seize his neck like a bird… I shall cast the fear of myself into him”. Curses after the Old Kingdom era is less common though more severe, sometimes invoking the ire of Thoth or the destruction of Sekhemet. Zahi Hawass quotes an example of a curse: “Cursed be those who disturb the rest of a Pharaoh. They that shall break the seal of this tomb shall meet death by a disease that no doctor can diagnose.”