Nautilus

The Curse of the Unlucky Mummy

Sometime in the 1860s, five recent Oxford graduates took a trip to Egypt. Together they sailed down the Nile, a tourist attraction even then. To remember their trip, they bought a souvenir in the mummy pits of Deir el-Bahri—the coffin lid of a priestess of Amen-Ra. The high priests of Amen-Ra, named after an Egyptian deity, were military rulers who commanded southern Egypt in the 21st Dynasty (1085 to 945 B.C.), a time of turmoil and strife. Powerful and prone to keep secrets, the priesthood worked to appease the gods that Egypt had clearly angered. With her wide, baleful eyes, open palms, and outstretched fingers, the priestess on the coffin lid seemed to cast a malevolent allure.

On their way back from Egypt, two of the men died. A third went to Cairo and accidentally shot himself in the arm while quail hunting and had to have it amputated. Another member of the group, Arthur Wheeler, managed to make it back to England, only to lose his entire fortune gambling. He moved to America and lost his new fortune to both a flood and a fire. The coffin lid was then placed under the care of Wheeler’s sister, who attempted to have it photographed in 1887. The photographer died, as did the porter. The man asked to translate the hieroglyphs on the lid committed suicide. The coffin lid seemed almost certainly cursed. But this was only the beginning.

Today, the 5-foot-tall “mummy board” lives in the British Museum, where it’s officially known as “artifact 22542.” The mummified priestess that may have lain beneath it has been lost to eternity. But it has another, more commonly used name: “Unlucky Mummy.” Since its arrival at the museum in 1889, the Unlucky Mummy has been blamed for everything

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Nautilus

Nautilus10 min read
Only Street Dogs Are Real Dogs: Purebreds don’t satisfy the biological definition of a species.
What is a dog? Many people often think of dogs as kennel club creations. The purebred dog is man’s best friend, not the street dog. Man’s best friends live ubiquitously in the United States, Europe, and other developed countries and, in these countri
Nautilus11 min read
The Philosopher Who Says We Should Play God: Why ethical objections to interfering with nature are too late.
Australian bioethicist Julian Savulescu has a knack for provocation. Take human cloning. He says most of us would readily accept it if it benefited us. As for eugenics—creating smarter, stronger, more beautiful babies—he believes we have an ethical o
Nautilus5 min read
The Problem with Using the Term “Fake News” in Medicine
Here’s one way to rid society of “fake news”—abandon the term altogether. That’s what a U.K. committee recommended that Parliament do last fall. It argued that the concept has lost any clear meaning, since it has been used to describe everything from