Last year I investigated the secret origins of the so-called “Curse of the Pharaohs.” It is always disheartening to see a mystery one has solved turned into a zany romp on Ancient Aliens, but because this particular mystery is so close to my heart, tying in with projects to which I have devoted countless hours, I can’t help but feel particularly upset by the stupid, stupid, stupid bastardization of a very complicated story into the ridiculous claim that aliens were responsible for the curse.
You can read all of the details yourself, but the short version is that the so-called “curse of the pharaohs” originated as a pulp fiction story trope until dragged into the realm of nonfiction by Marie Corelli, a popular novelist with some lunatic fringe ideas about history, including her belief that the ancient Egyptians had telephones. Corelli heard about the death of Lord Carnarvon following the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb, and she published in various newspapers the claim that “According to a rare book I possess, which is not in the British Museum, entitled ‘The Egyptian History of the Pyramids’ translated out of the original Arabic by Vattie, Arabic professor to Louis XVI of France, the most dire punishment follows any rash intruder into a sealed tomb.” She alleged, based on the book, that Carnarvon had died because he had touched poisoned garments or jewels meant to ward off tomb robbers.
Her claim caught to the attention of Arthur Conan Doyle, and with two famous authors spreading it, the so-called curse of the pharaohs became a media phenomenon. It did not exist prior to Corelli’s invention of it. However, the book she based the claim on certainly does exist. She was using the English edition of the French translation of the now-lost Egyptian History of Murtada ibn al-‘Afif, a medieval book of Arab legends about the pyramids. In turn, Murtada’s book is derived from (directly or from a common source) the Akhbar al-zaman, the oldest surviving account of these legends.
These books record fictitious medieval legends—unattested before c. 950 CE—about the origins of the pyramids and the measures the kings of ancient Egypt put on their tombs to ward off robbers. They stories are fantastical, involving robots, ghosts, poisons, death-traps, magic spells—all the things you associate with pyramids in pulp fiction, which borrowed them from these sources. They are the product of what used to be called the Oriental imagination, meaning that they are the stuff of legend, elaborate fairy tales used to explain the contents of tombs and the unreadable hieroglyphs engraved in them.
Now, that’s not to say that the curse of the pharaohs was unknown before King Tut, as odd as that seems. It’s just that it was considered pulp fiction before then, appearing in dozens of short stories about rampaging mummies, like Lucian Sorrel’s 1897 Argosy short story “Pharaoh’s Curse,” which told of exactly what Corelli fantasized: an explorer felled by poison cunningly impregnated into the pharaoh’s grave goods. It takes no master detective to conclude that she conflated something like this story with Murtada’s book, which she seems not to have actually read since 1892, 30 years earlier.
The first segment begins with cross-promotion for The Curse of Oak Island, a production from the same company as Ancient Aliens. The show presents the probably fake “curse” that claims that Oak Island must see seven deaths before giving up its secrets, and David Childress alleges that the secret is that the Ark of the Covenant is buried on the island. This mini-promotional message brings the show to Ramy Romany in Egypt, and the Egyptologist retells the story of Howard Carter’s discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922, followed by a description of the alleged “curse of the Pharaohs.” The show alleges that seven people died after entering Tut’s tomb and that this is the same number as the lives Oak Island must claim. The show neglects to note that the “curse” was remarkably inconsistent, failing to claim the life of Howard Carter, the actual person who disturbed the seals and opened Tut’s sarcophagus.
This leads the talking heads into a discussion of whether magic spells are real and utilize space alien superpowers. They claim, for example, that four bricks containing spells from chapter 151(a) of the Theban recension of the Book of the Dead were actually alien technology, presumably activated by voice. How these would work considering they contain no electronics of any kind is a mystery the show is not interested in solving.
OK, so in the second segment, the show asks why King Tut had a fifth curse brick instead of the standard four in his tomb. This brick contains the same magic spell against encroaching desert sands that I quoted in my article on the curse of the pharaohs, a text that is not unique but had been found in tombs for decades before the one in Tut’s tomb had been found. The show suggests that the fifth brick indicates that there is a hidden chamber in Tut’s tomb, and they wonder if the hidden chamber contains the burial chamber of Akhenaten (even though most Egyptologists believe his mummy was found in 1907), the heretic king the show has long alleged to be a space alien because his artisans depicted him as a curvy, spindly man. Here the show rehearses its claims about Akhenaten as an alien that we have heard dozens of times before. The show has on Ahmed Osman, a looney tune who proposes a Bible-based revisionist history of Egypt in which (seriously) Jesus was really King Tut, as an “Egyptologist” (he has a Master’s in the subject) to discount the idea that any known mummy belongs to Akhenaten, all the better to keep looking for space alien corpses.
The third segment begins with a description of a 1909 play that alleged that priests put a curse on Akhenaten, keeping him from the afterlife. Because the play coincided with a dangerous sandstorm that left an actress suffering from trachoma and another dead from complications from stomach surgery following exposure, the show alleges that the curse is real and that (as Childress says) “you have to wonder if there is some sort of extraterrestrial” technology that is “activated by sound.” Childress suggests that curses are activated by words the same way Siri is activated by voice commands. Unless the air is lousy with nanobots or aliens mastered quantum manipulation of reality, either of which should leave testable evidence, one wonders what technology he imagines animates these curses.
The show then reviews Sigmund Freud’s fanciful allegation, made without sufficient supporting evidence, that King Tut’s brother Thutmose was the real Moses. Graham Phillips lies and claims that Moses lived at exactly the time when Thutmose vanished from history, a claim that cannot be true because the Exodus cannot be dated with any certainty. Nevertheless, Freud’s link between Akhenaten (Tut’s presumed father) and Moses allows the show to detour in claims about Moses and UFOs that were old when Erich von Däniken borrowed them from the UFO preachers of the 1950s and 1960s.
The fourth segment examines a portable shrine from King Tut’s tomb and its similarity to the Biblical Ark of the Covenant. The Ark’s similarity to Egyptian religious paraphernalia has long been known, and influence from Egypt has long been suspected. However, the show refuses to consider cultural diffusion, so William Henry tells us that the Ark of the Covenant was actually the so-called “Osiris device,” stolen from Egypt by Moses. If the name “Osiris device” doesn’t mean much to you, it’s because ancient astronaut theorists have imposed the reading on a temple portrait of a Djed pillar standing atop a box.
The show repeats claims from Chariots of the Gods (and UFO writers antedating it) that the dangerous powers of the Ark were really alien technology.
The narrator alleges that aliens cursed King Tut’s tomb to hide the truth about the technology behind the Ark until humanity was ready to receive it, even though none of that is in the tomb, and the Ark continued on its merry way for a millennium after King Tut died.
The fifth segment intends to trace the history of the Ark of the Covenant. Even though this show has been remarkably focused on a single thesis, at least for Ancient Aliens, the show couldn’t quite get through a whole hour on a single subject. So, gone are the curses and instead we get conspiracy theories about whether the Ethiopians really own the Ark, or whether the Knights Templar found the Ark on the Temple Mount and secreted it to Oak Island. This story is a modern one, invented only in the twentieth century and derived, ultimately, from (fictitious) Masonic legends of Enochian treasure buried beneath Solomon’s Temple and unearthed in the “secret vault” ritual. The show then alleges that when the Templar Grand Master Jacques de Molay cursed everyone who executed him, this caused the Capetian dynasty to end and the pope to die. “You have to wonder if this curse on King Philip and the pope came through the Ark of the Covenant,” Childress says. No, you really don’t.
The show delivers a rapid-fire series of false claims from this. First, they claim that Henry Sinclair was a Templar (he was a century late), that the Templars traveled to America (they did not), and that the Mi’kmaq have a flag modeled on the Templar battle flag (they do not; there is no such flag). All of these are claims that appeared on Curse of Oak Island and which were debunked.
The final segment describes the alleged curse of Oak Island again. David Wilcock tells us that the so-called ninety-foot stone from the island is identical to an Egyptian curse stone. Tsoukalos says that the Templars buried the Ark on the island, and Wilcock adds that there is a deep, evil force preventing us from accessing these important secrets.
5/26/2017 10:31:54 pm
So,,, nothing about unicorns ?
5/26/2017 11:10:57 pm
Dammit! I've been watching this show for 12 seasons waiting for them to explain why the aliens gave the world the majestic unicorn and then saw fit to wipe them out!
5/27/2017 06:30:42 am
Maybe Tutankhamun had a pet unicorn, and was riding it one day along the Nile, but it took fright when it saw a crocodile and threw its rider over his head and onto the ground, injuring the king's left leg with its horn in the process ...
5/27/2017 09:04:03 am
Everyone knows unicorns are to frail to ride on. You're being ridiculous.
5/27/2017 03:07:57 am
And you have to wonder how many idiots will believe this nonsense.
6/17/2017 02:41:14 am
5/27/2017 07:38:17 am
I the first place I encountered the 'Akhenaten was an alien' notion was in a novel called Eye of Ra by Michael Asher, and that is really where the notion belongs, in fiction.
5/27/2017 09:06:42 am
Did any of the "experts" explain why the aliens taught the ancient egyptians how to make giant tombs, but they didnt teach them how to build a power plant or water treatment plant?
5/27/2017 09:35:07 am
The aliens didn't need water. They were, as you well know huge, or "giant". they thrived on eating sand and pooping out huge square rocks, which is what the pyramids were built out of. there was no shaping or hauling of rocks many miles. The sphinx and other such shaped objects were made when the poop was fresh and malleable.
5/27/2017 09:30:12 am
How do we know that Templars did not travel to America?
5/27/2017 09:45:13 am
We dont know whether they did or didnt for a fact. Nobody is going on History saying for sure that they didnt, but Wolter has gone on TV and claimed they did. The author of this site (who can speak for himself and will correct me for speaking out of turn if i am wrong) judges the "evidence" that Wolter and others present.
5/27/2017 09:57:32 am
In 1307 many Templars were murdered by the King of France with the blessing of the Pope.The Pope also disbanded the order in 1312. There is zero evidence of the order surviving these events except in the evidence free ramblings of lunatics and/or con artists.
5/27/2017 10:12:01 am
Well, Simon Templar did go to New York...
5/27/2017 10:19:21 am
As a technical matter, we cannot prove a negative, so the more correct formulation would be that there is no evidence of any kind that would conclusively link the Templars to America, and what evidence has been proposed for the claim is better explained in other ways.
5/27/2017 09:38:21 am
This episode was the biggest piece of trash, since Ancient Aliens spent an entire episode suggesting aliens invented the number three and that number had some kind of mystical power.
5/27/2017 09:56:43 am
If there's one thing we know for sure, it's that Three Is a Magic Number.
5/27/2017 09:47:52 am
Jason, can I offer an edit? Of course I can. Using or not is up to you.
5/29/2017 08:27:54 am
Is there any contemporary evidence at all outside of the bible for the Exodus? I know the Egyptians themselves never mentioned it.
5/30/2017 08:15:52 am
It has long been my suspicion, just a suspicion mind you, that some of the stuff in the Bible is flat out made up. You have landed on one of the big ones.
7/4/2017 04:05:27 pm
Oh I have no doubt that the bible is bullshit. I'm just annoyed that as a child so much of my time was wasted being forced to go to church and Sunday school on a regular basis.
5/30/2017 10:56:32 am
For once, we are in agreement--it COULD be true, we just have no evidence for it.
6/3/2017 09:50:23 pm
Colavito is starting to slip a little with his writng. Ive noticed several technical faux pas in his articles as of late. This is a glaring blunder not fit for a skeptical journalist who claims to be an arbitrer of objectivity.
6/3/2017 10:10:46 pm
Pray tell enlighten us. Give specifics Osiris.
5/27/2017 10:08:58 am
What, the seven must die is "probably" a fake curse? That curse was likely invented for the current television production, as the old curse (the treasure would be found when the last oak tree would fall) wasn't sexy enough for television.
5/27/2017 10:25:21 am
I'm sure it's fake in that it is untrue since curses don't have any real magic power beyond the power of suggestion. Unfortunately, I am not expert enough on Oak Island to know when it was invented to know whether to call it genuine lore. Google Books says it was mentioned in Business Week in 1977, quoting a still earlier book, so it isn't a current invention.
5/27/2017 11:03:35 pm
Glad you dug that up Jason. Still, I prefer the older legend in regard to the last oak tree being the final condition for the discovery of treasure. I mean... the last tree falls over and there's the treasure right underneath, entangled in the roots. Kinda like another legend of sorts...
5/27/2017 12:44:28 pm
You have to wonder if there is some sort of extraterrestrial technology that can make human animatronics, which are activated by the promise of fame and money.
5/27/2017 12:55:47 pm
This is as close as I could find:
5/28/2017 03:20:40 am
How is Tut's 5th brick a mystery? There was a huge documentary 20+ years ago showing exactly what Tut's 5 bricks were for...their part of a biological weapons system that we're going to need to stop the encroaching evil that will consume the universe in the far future.
5/31/2017 05:19:49 pm
Been watching "5th Element" a lot lately. You know there intervention groups for that. Also applies to "Avatar" and other such titles.
5/29/2017 08:36:15 am
Another show on Egypt. It's nice that they still revisit their roots.
5/29/2017 11:26:39 am
So...nothing about the billy goat curse placed on the Chicago Cubs in 1945? How would Childress explain that??
5/29/2017 03:50:37 pm
GOAT isn't a goat anymore in sports. Hence the end of that curse.
5/29/2017 06:27:48 pm
I guess we have our alien ancestors to thank for this?
5/29/2017 09:58:33 pm
Nope, not aliens. You can thank two whole generations of texters too lazy to type "greatest of all time".
5/30/2017 08:08:20 am
As they [used to?] say at the Naval Academy, "Get 'em goat!"
5/30/2017 01:34:01 pm
These days it's "fear the goat".
5/29/2017 11:29:39 pm
The most interesting part of the show was the connection of Thutmose to Moses. Everything they say I'm skeptical, but could this be true?
5/30/2017 11:01:35 am
It COULD be true. But that's like saying "could it be true that my ancestor knocked flies out of the air with a towel." Sure. It absolutely COULD. But we don't have any EVIDENCE for it, so we can't say it IS true.
5/30/2017 01:08:47 pm
But what an interesting concept.
6/1/2017 12:53:24 am
Thutmose supposes, he really is Moses, but Thutmose supposes Hieronymus-ly.
5/30/2017 09:36:19 am
Sounds like they've all ripped off the movie Time Walker. Turns out the curse is alien bacteria and the mummy just needs its energy device (amulet with strange symbols on it) to return home. 1982 movie that I watched as a 12yr old.
6/1/2017 12:51:08 am
The only memorable factino for me about the "Mummy's Curse" is that Lord Carnarvon's country home is now better known as the "Downton Abbey" house.
6/7/2017 03:48:04 pm
How many of the AA talking heads do you reckon actually believe the garbage they say?
7/22/2017 09:50:28 pm
I regard Ancient Assholes the same way I regard WWE. The main difference is that WWE admits it's all an act.
7/22/2017 09:54:19 pm
It's still real to me, Dammit!
7/22/2017 09:32:03 pm
For the millionth time, STARGATE WAS NOT A FUCKING DOCUMENTARY!
7/13/2018 08:25:03 am
yu are all such a stupid they warnig to keep the evil there way you all want make all different????
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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