PUBLISHED: 13:06 EST, 18 May 2012 | UPDATED: 13:29 EST, 18 May 2012
The man who discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun, Howard Carter, was inundated with sinister letters warning him of ‘the curse of the pharaohs’, his newly released archives have revealed.
The legend was fuelled at the the time by newspaper reports and famous contemporaries like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Holmes, who believed the ‘curse’ was to blame for a number of mysterious deaths of those on Howard’s team.
Howard’s descendents are now selling all his papers, photos, effects and other ‘wonderful things’ that have remained with the family.
Room with a view: Carter in the back of a car with the Great Pyramids in the background
Real-life Indiana Jones: Howard Carter is arguably the most famous archeologist of all time
Warning: Letter received by Carter from someone claiming to be only one to know ‘secret’ of the ‘vengeance’
Sinister: A letter from M. Labouchere says ‘nobody is allowed to open the coffin. Listen to your inward voice’
CURSE OF THE PHARAOHS
Carter’s pet canary was reportedly eaten by a cobra, symbol of Egyptian royalty.
The death of Lord Carnarvon, a member of Carter’s team, six weeks after the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb resulted in many curse stories.
He had been bitten by a mosquito, and later slashed the bite accidentally while shaving. It became infected and blood poisoning resulted. There was also a slash found on the face of Tutankhamun.
A paperweight given to Carter’s friend Sir Bruce Ingham was composed of a mummified hand with its wrist adorned with a scarab bracelet marked with, ‘Cursed be he who moves my body. To him shall come fire, water and pestilence.’
Carter was skeptical of such curses butreported in his diary a ‘strange’ account that in May 1926 he saw jackals of the same type as the Anubis, the guardian of the tomb, for the first time in over thirty-five years of working in the desert. Some have speculated that deadly fungus could have grown in the enclosed tombs and been released when they were open to the air to scare off grave robbers.
The collection, which is valued at £150,000, also includes correspondence from believer’s in the Pharaoh’s infamous ‘curse’.
There are several letters from a Margit Labouchere, who stated in one: ‘Tot ench Amon is not in his tomb… Nobody is allowed to open the coffin. Listen to your inward voice.’
The archive has been kept by the family since Carter died in 1939 and now is going under the hammer at Bonhams auction house.
It includes the draft of Volume III of ‘The Tomb of Tut.ank.Amen’, Carter’s book detailing the amazing discovery of the boy king in 1922.
There are also many unseen photographs, his lecture notes, letters to his family and other archaeologists, and financial and legal papers.
The autobiographical notes include his description of discovering Tutankhamun’s tomb.
He wrote: ‘At the depth of more than 100 feet, the workmen reached the bottom, and revealed a doorway carefully sealed up with slabs of limestone… My desire to remove a stone and peep through was almost irresistible.’
When he finally looked into the tomb he uttered the immortal words when asked if he could see anything: ‘Yes, wonderful things.’
But the discovery – one of the most important in archaeological history – was linked with a supposed curse.
It was partly fuelled by newspapers who linked the deaths of those involved with the digging of the grave.
It began after Lord Carnarvon, who sponsored the excavation, died in 1923, seven weeks after the official opening of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber.
Expedition: Howard and team head towards the temple
Tools of the trade: Some of Howard’s equipment set for auction
Rumours began about a curse and other ‘suspicious’ things began to emerge, such as Cairo’s lights having supposedly gone off at the time on Carnarvon’s death.
Novelist Mari Corelli had warned publicly about opening the tomb and renowned supernatural believer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, lent his weight to a the Pharaoh’s curse.
It is clear now Carter himself was targeted by believers in a supernatural curse.
One Martha R. I. wrote to him in October 1934 and addressed the envelope simply “Dr Carter, Egyptologist, London”.
She wrote: ‘I am Martha R. I. The Rightful Sovereign Empress Royal Queen of England, Great Britain, the British Empire and our Dominions, Queen of the earth, world Dominion and Power.”
In her letter she said she is writing it ‘to inform you that I conscientiously object to your project of seeking the tombs of Egyptian kings and Queens who have passed of this life into their spiritual life.’
Marie Coleman wrote to him: ‘If I had been able to get a message to your Mate I could have saved his life.
‘I am a Divine Prophetess and Messenger of God… King Tut told me he was going to control this insect and make it sting the Earl, and why…’
Objection: Unhinged letter predicting dire consequences of opening the tomb
Treasure: one of the world’s most famous historical artifacts, discovered by Howard Carter
Margit Labouchere wrote in another letter: ‘It is not the vengeance of Tot.ench.amon. I, only I, know the secret.’
Simon Roberts of Bonhams said: ‘Many of Carter’s papers and belongings are at an Oxford college and these are what was left.
‘It has been kept by the family ever since he died and is very important because it completes the picture.
‘Probably the most valuable thing in itself is the draft of Volume III of The Tomb of Tut.ank.Amen.
‘There are many papers and photos that have never been seen before. There are also letters from eccentrics and the deranged who are angry at what he is doing.
‘Today the would probably contact him through Twitter. Letters from Carter are very rare and just a few years ago we sold one that didn’t mention Tutankhamun and it went for several thousand pounds.
‘I think you certainly have to say that Carter is the most well-known archaeologist of all time and of all nations.
‘We also have his tape measure which is quite evocative and you can imagine him measuring coffins.
‘And we also has his thermos flask which he used to keep his drinks cool in the desert. Museums and institutions would be interested in the archive and it would be a good opportunity for an individual who is interested in the subject.
‘There is a lot of responsibility in looking after these things because they have to be kept at the right temperature and humidity.’
The sale is on June 12 in London.