TRUE CURSE OF THE MUMMY - Bram Stoker, Whitby and the Death of Lord
A Commentary on the Recent TV Documentary by Andrew Collins
Friday, 3 January
2003 saw the first broadcast on British terrestrial television of a
documentary entitled ‘The True Curse of the Mummy’. Screened
on the UK’s Channel Five, it was made originally for The Leaning
Channel (TLC), and focused on a sarcophagus and mummy, imported into
the seaside port of Whitby in North Yorkshire during the late nineteenth
century, which eventually came into the possession of horror writer
Bram Stoker. Indeed, the programme claimed that it had been present
at his home there during the writing of his epic tale DRACULA, published
in 1897, and was also the inspiration behind the writing of his classic
THE JEWEL OF SEVEN STARS, released amid a blaze of controversy in 1902.
Seemingly, Stoker made the purchase on the understanding that it contained
the remains of a long dead Egyptian queen. This last story featured
the transference of a stone sarcophagus and its contents from Egypt
to Cornwall in England, and the eventual resurrection of its owner -
a queen named ‘Tara’, who seems based on a female ruler
of Egypt who reigned in the Eleventh Dynasty of the Middle Kingdom period.
In the second volume of [Howard Carter’s] The Tomb of Tut.ankh.Amen he dismissed ‘the ridiculous stories which have been invented about the dangers lurking in ambush’ in the tomb [of Tutankhamun]. Carter went on to rubbish the whole matter with the following words:
It has been stated in various quarters that there are actual physical dangers hidden in Tut.ankh.Amen’s tomb - mysterious forces, called into being by some malefic power, to take vengeance on whomsoever should dare to pass its portals. There was perhaps no place in the world freer from risks than the tomb. When it was opened, scientific research proved it to be sterile. Whatever foreign germs there may be within it to-day have been introduced from without, yet mischievous people have attributed many deaths, illnesses, and disasters to alleged mysterious and noxious influences.
Whether this did
the trick as he continued to work towards clearing the tomb of its treasures
is unclear, although it is worth lingering for a while on his assertion
that when it was first opened ‘scientific research proved it to
be sterile’. He was responding here to rumours suggesting that
the untimely death of Lord Carnarvon could have been the result, not
of a strange curse, but of an infection brought about by bacteria or
viral agents introduced to the tomb, either by accident or design, before
its final closure.
…out of five swabs from which cultures were taken, four were sterile and the fifth contained a few organisms that were undoubtedly air-infections unavoidably introduced during the opening of the doorway and the subsequent inspection of the chamber, and not belonging to the tomb, and it may be accepted that no bacterial life whatsoever was present. The danger, therefore, to those working in the tomb from disease germs, against which they have been so frequently warned, is non-existent.
However, what he did find present in the tomb were fungus growths, for as Lucas records:
Fungus growths occur on the walls of the Burial Chamber, where they are so plentiful as to cause great disfigurement, and they occur also, though only to a slight extent, on the walls of the Antechamber and on the outside of the sarcophagus, but in every instance the fungus is dry and apparently dead.
Could fungal growth have been in any way responsible for the creation of the curse which, aside from Lord Carnarvon, was linked with a whole number of strange deaths during this period, many of them individuals who had never even visited the tomb?
Victims of Morbific
This discovery has once and for all destroyed the superstition that explorers who worked in ancient tombs died as a result of some kind of curse. They were victims of morbific agents encountered at work. Some people may still believe that the curse of the pharaohs can be attributed to some supernatural powers, but that belongs to the realm of fairy tales.’
The idea was taken
up again during the 1990s by German biochemist Christian Hradecky. Using
magnified computer imagery he noted the presence of high concentrations
of the fungus Aspergillus flavas on the surface of various mummies examined.
In addition to this, he identified deposits of the fungal agent in rotted
food from earthen pots found at various Egyptian grave sites. Professor
Kent Weeks of the American University in Cairo added support to this
theory by pointing out that the rotted food in the containers caused
the fungus to grow and accepted that there is every reason to believe
that these agents can remain dormant for thousands of years before reactivating
The documentary suggested that Lord Carnarvon had indeed been struck down by Aspergillus spores inhaled inside the tomb, which led to a deterioration of his health and, eventually, pneumonia, which it claimed without any convincing evidence, can result from such fungal infections. Even if we ignore Alfred Lucas’s scientific findings regarding the sterility of the tomb, and the apparent dryness of the fungus on its walls, then we must ask ourselves why the fungal spores did not affect any of the other members of the excavation team, especially in the following knowledge, once more extracted from TUTANKHAMUN: THE EXODUS CONSPIRACY:
Between the date
of the discovery of the tomb in late November 1922 and the onset of
Carnarvon’s illness some 15 weeks later, there were approximately
50 days when his lordship could have entered the tomb. On the other
hand, Carter’s team, who continued working to clear the tomb when
Carnarvon journeyed back to England for the Christmas and New Year period,
could have spent up to 80 days inside the cramped sepulchre during the
same period. Thus those who worked on the clearance of the Antechamber,
when Lord Carnarvon contracted his illness, would have had a 24 percent
more chance of coming into contact with the same toxic [or indeed fungal]
substance, and yet none of them, with one possible exception, experienced
similar symptoms of illness.
The case of Arthur Mace is a unique one which we go into in some detail within the book. Suffice to say that he suffered chronic symptoms of ‘arsenic poisoning’ when working on the tomb, leading to him giving up any further Egyptological work in 1924. He retired to England, where he died five years almost to the day after Lord Carnarvon.
That Aspergillus might have been involved in the deterioration of Carnarvon’s health can never be disproved as fungus of an unspecified variety was indeed present in the tomb when it was opened. However, there is no evidence that it was a form of Aspergillus, while Alfred Lucas, an accomplished chemist, deemed it dry, i.e. dead. Furthermore, he detected no evidence of fungal spores from the cultures made from the swab samples taken from the tomb. Surely this, and the fact that no other member of the team suffered similar health problems (Arthur Mace excepted), weighs against the possibility that the British aristocrat suffered from a fungal infection that exacerbated his death. Moreover, it can be shown that even before the official opening of the tomb in February 1923, His Lordship appeared to have been suffering from an unknown malady which included his teeth either chipping or falling out on a regular basis. As we sum up at the end of Chapter Ten in the book:
Was it quite simply the result of brittle teeth, caused through poor dental care, or was it a symptom of something else altogether? Teeth crumbling and falling out is most commonly associated with the introduction into the body of harmful toxins over a prolonged period of time. Is it remotely possible that Lord Carnarvon’s death might have been exacerbated still further by the introduction into his body of poison?
It is, of course, this line of study that Chris and I have pursued further in the book. Yet only by exhuming Lord Carnarvon’s remains and searching for any remaining hair samples for toxicological analysis can the mystery be cleared up once and for all.
Andrew Collins, 5 January 2003.