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A Moment of Science

Mummies’ Curse

Some say that the curse of the mummies is just another bad-luck story, like breaking a mirror, but A Moment of Science finds that there may be a basis for the early deaths of tomb raiders and explorers.

While the tombs of ancient Egyptian royalty do indeed bear curses calling down death and destruction on all who enter, tombs all over the world hold hidden perils for explorers, like Lord Carnarvon, who discovered King Tut’s tomb only to die suddenly shortly afterward.

This “curse” is microscopic in nature. Tombs may hold spores of deadly mold such as aspergillus. Dormant mold spores are protected by tough outer casings and last for hundreds and even thousands of years, until an unsuspecting explorer opens the tomb and is exposed. When these spores enter the body through the nose or mouth, they trigger severe and sometimes fatal illnesses of the lungs, organs and intestines.

Mold spores are not limited to Egyptian tombs either. When scientists opened a Polish royal tomb in 1973, ten of the twelve present died from toxic mold. Even caves can harbor these spores. Today, scientists wear protective gear when opening tombs and handling mummies, but the “curse” of the mold spores is still a threat to those who explore the dark corners of history.

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