The Death of Lord Carnarvon (1866-1923)

Just five months after Egyptologist Howard Carter discovered the tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamen, his benefactor, George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert, fifth Earl of Carnarvon, died. He was just 57. His rather unexpected death within weeks of the tomb's official opening, coupled with the fertile imagination of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, lead to speculations of a curse.
At the time, the cause of the Earl's death was reported as 'pneumonia supervening on [facial] erysipelas'. In normal modern medical terminology, this means 'a streptococcal infection of the skin and underlying soft tissue'.

Pneumonia was thought to be only one of various complications, arising from the progressively invasive infection, that eventually resulted in multiorgan failure.

But Lord Carnarvon wasn't a particularly healthy man. Left a semi-invalid by a near fatal car accident in 1903, he was prone to frequent and severe lung infections. The general belief at the time was that one acute attack of bronchitis could have been the end of him.

In such a debilitated state, Lord Carnarvon's immune system was easily overwhelmed by erysipelas. On March 19, 1923, he suffered a mosquito bite on his cheek which became infected by a razor cut. He was diagnosed with 'erysipelas and streptococcic blood poisoning'.

After much suffering, Lord Carnarvon died in the early morning of April 5. He suffered from a high fever, severe pain, pneumonia in both lungs, and eventually heart and respiratory failure.

Recently, however, feeble-minded documentary makers have tried to link Lord Carnarvon's death to exposure to Aspergillus, which is a group of fungi that produce a mycotoxin when allowed to germinate on certain food products.
[Aspergillus under a microscope]


For Carnarvon to have been exposed to the mycotoxin, he would have had to have entered the tomb. The Times of London reported that he did so on the day of its official opening on February 17, 1923 - a few weeks before he became sick.

However, Howard Carter noted in his diary that Carnarvon first entered the tomb already on November 26, 1922.

During his first ingress into the tomb, Carter described an escape of hot air after he broke through the second sealed door and, in one instance, Carnarvon is described as having crawled along the tomb's floor.

Exposure to mycotoxins can cause a form of pneumonia to which immunocompromised individuals are particularly susceptible, and the contact Lord Carnarvon would have had with the toxic mold, by crawling along the floor and inhaling the hot air, certainly would have proved fatal for a semi-invalid extremely vulnerable to lung infections. But there is no mention in Carter's diary of Lord Carnarvon being ill until March of 1923, four whole months after his initial entry (as well as successive entries) into the tomb.

Furthermore, of the 44 Westerners present at the time, just 25 actually entered the tomb. Lord Carnarvon was the only one to become ill or died soon after its opening.

That Carnarvon's death had anything to do with Tutankhamen's tomb (or curse) is, therefore, highly unlikely.

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