Some 34 years ago Peter Tandy, a young curator at the Natural History Museum, happened upon a jewel while working among the great lines of mineral cabinets. From a scientific perspective, the stone was nothing special, though its setting was rather bizarre, bound by a silver ring decorated with astrological symbols and mystical words with two scarab-carved gems attached. It was a typewritten note that accompanied the jewel, an amethyst known as the Delhi Purple Sapphire, that caught Tandy’s eye.“This stone is trebly accursed and is stained with the blood, and the dishonour of everyone who has ever owned it,” said the note, which had beenwritten by Edward Heron-Allen, a scientist, friend of Oscar Wilde and the amethyst’s last owner.
It carried a curse and had left a trail of bad luck and tragedy.Heron-Allen claimed to have been so disturbed that he had surrounded the amethyst with supposedly protective charms and sealed it inside seven boxes before leaving it to the museum in his will. His letter concluded: “Whoever shall then open it, shall first read out this warning, and then do as he pleases with the jewel. My advice to him or her is to cast it into the sea.” While they were sceptical, Tandy and his colleagues agreed to keep quiet about the curse.
might have remained hidden if its remarkable story had not caught the
imagination of staff working to relaunch the museum’s public mineral
gallery, the Vault. On Wednesday, the Delhi PurpleSapphire will go on
permanent display at the museum, complete with a label declaring its
reputation as “trebly accursed”.
A supernatural tale might
seem to sit a little uneasily in one of the world’s great scientific
institutions. But according to Alan Hart, head of collections in the
mineralogy department, such narratives give the collection a cultural
dimension that appeals to visitors.
“People ascribe precious
stones with all sorts of legends. All it needs is for one owner to
declare it to be cursed or lucky and the story will remain with the
stone as it is passed from person to person through history,” he says.
But that the Delhi Purple
Sapphire was cursed was never doubted by Heron-Allen’s family. Ivor
Jones, his grandson, a 77-year-old former naval officer, refuses to
The startling sight the other day of a colossal gold statue of the Jackal-headed god Anubis sailing under Tower Bridge, heralding the return to London of Tut-Mania next month, sent shivers down my spine - but for all the wrong reasons. The boy king's glittering tomb treasures will soon arrive in London from America for a major exhibition.More than 300,000 tickets have already been sold - but I may have to excuse myself from coming face-to-face with him again, for reasons which I shall explain. The eight-metre high image of Anubis, the ancient Egyptian god ofthe dead, evoked extraordinary memories.
I was one of the 1.7 million who braved interminable queues at the British Museum to view Tutankhamun's 3,000-year-old tomb treasures back in 1972.But the statue also had my mind rolling back to another astonishing discovery made more recently, in 1999, which has had extraordinary ramifications in my own life.
I am a
rational person, but, believe me, it has led me to question my sanity
more than once, and to wonder in earnest whether I, in the 21st
century, have been the victim of the legendary "Pharaoh's Curse".
Of course, in the cold
light of day, it sounds somewhat fanciful. Yet the "Curse of Tut" is
said to have claimed the lives, fortunes and happiness of scores of
people who were involved in British archaeologist Howard Carter's
discovery ofTutankhamun's tomb in 1922.
But though I am no fan of
paranormal claptrap, I have nevertheless quaked at times when I think
back over the string of disasters which have befallen me since I first
handled a collection of obscure objects which had once lain buried with
After 40-odd years of
marriage, my then parents-in-law were separating. While they were
packing up the house, I happened upon two battered Cognac boxes in the
back of a wardrobe, crammed with the last things on earth you'd expect
"Just the family jewels,"
my former father-in-law, Michael, joked. "I'd actually forgotten they
were there." Inside the boxes was a collection of dusty glass petri
dishes containing textile fragments, seeds, palm nuts, food and
When I asked what oneart......
One of the most gripping tales to have captured public imagination is the legend of Tutankhamen's curse, the superstition that the mummy of Egypt's boy-king took its revenge on the violators of its tomb, causing the death of the British excavators who discovered the grave in 1923.Though the tales petered out in the 80s, after the woman who was the last link to the expedition died, a similar myth has now sprung up in Nepal, still regarded as a mysterious land that opened up to the outside world only in 1950.According to Nepal's tabloid press, a secret room in a temple in western Nepal wields similar power, and could be responsible forthe massacre of Nepal's royal family in 2001 as well as the sudden death of a parliamentarian recently.
two centuries ago, the forefather of the present King Gyanendra,
swooped down on Kathmandu valley from the tiny kingdom of Gorkha in
western Nepal and began annexing the neighbouring principalities.
The old palace still stands in Gorkha, protected by the temple of Gorkhakali, the goddess of war and power.
Like many old temples in
Nepal, the Gorkhakali shrine has a 'vayu kotha' - a secret room said to
contain dangerous powers and kept locked.
Though worshippers are
forbidden to enter the secret room, the late queen, Aishwarya, ordered
the lock to be forced open and entered it in May 2001, the Jana Aastha
A week later, thequeen,
while attending a dinner party with family members, was gunned down
along with king Birendra, three of their children, and other relatives,
reportedly by her eldest son crown prince Dipendra who also perished in
the infamous midnight massacre.
The scared temple
authorities boarded up the room once again only to be commanded to
re-open it last month, which was once again followed by death, the
Last month, a team of
parliamentarians went to Gorkha as part of its mandate to visit
Nepalese prisons and advise the government how to improve them.
The tabloid said that the
head of the team, Dilli Raj Sharma, went to the temple where the priest
told him about queen Aishwarya's visit.
An intrigued Sharma then
reportedly asked the priest to have the door of the secret room forced
Legend has it that the royal tombs of ancient Egypt were sealed with monstrous curses against all those who trespassed into the domain of the afterlife. In the tomb of the boy pharaoh, Tutankhamun, hieroglyphs were said to have spelled out a dreadful end for all those who entered.Howard Carter, the lead archaeologist who opened the tomb in 1923, wrote that "all sane people should dismiss such inventions with contempt".But a German man has decided the curse of the mummies is definitely not a myth - and has therefore returned a plundered ancient Egyptian carving which he says has fatally cursed hisfamily.
was stolen three years ago from the Valley of Kings, near Luxor, home
to the tombs of dozens of Pharaohs and Egyptian nobles who were buried
there some three millennia ago.
The unnamed man decided to take it home to Germany with him as a souvenir of his trip.
It was on his return to
Europe that the trouble began, according to an anonymous note that
accompanied the carving when it was recently returned to the Egyptian
embassy in Berlin.
Instead of enjoying his
stolen treasure, the thief was struck down with an inexplicable fatigue
and fever, progressing to paralysis, and ultimately death.
Following his demise, the
stolen piece was returned to the Egyptians by his stepson, who believed
that the thief's torment would not end merely withdeath.
By returning the carving to
its rightful home, Egypt's Supreme Council for Antiquities said this
week, he hoped his stepfather's soul could rest in peace.
The apparent curse is the
latest in a long series of bedevilments that have menaced the explorers
and plunderers of the Valley of the Kings over the years.
King Tut's "curse" is by far the most famous of those attached to the ancient pharaohs.
The team that excavated his
tomb is rumoured to have suffered a bizarre series of unexplained
deaths in the months and years after its treasures were uncovered.
Its primary victim was said
to be the expedition's main financial backer, George Herbert, Earl of
Carnarvon, who was found dead soon after revealing the tomb's still