It is 100 years since Swaffham boy Howard Carter made the most famous archaeological discovery of all time: the hidden treasures of Tutankhamun’s tomb.

The boy king had died in 1323BC at the age of around 18 and had been buried with untold riches in the Valley of the Kings, across the Nile from Luxor in Egypt.

While most tombs of Egyptian kings had been plundered over the centuries, Tutankhamun’s was the first to be found almost entirely undisturbed.

Surrounding the young pharaoh’s mummified body were the tools he would need in the afterlife and the inscriptions he would need to read to progress.

And as news spread across the world of the magical discovery, so did stories of a terrible curse that would fall on anyone who dared to break into an Egyptian tomb.

The Curse of the Pharaohs claims to cast a dark shadow over anyone who dares to disturb the embalmed remains of an ancient Egyptian, regardless of their motive.

Thief or archaeologist, villain or historian, there is no difference – it is said – all will pay the price for interrupting a mummy’s eternal sleep.

And the price is high, with claims that it causes bad luck, illness or even death.

So when Carter made his glittering discovery, the world was already familiar with the stories of curses.

After all, the tomb of Khentika Ikhekhi (6th dynasty) had warned: “as for all men who shall enter this, my tomb, impure, there will be judgement…an end shall be made for him. I shall seize his neck like a bird. I shall cast the fear of myself into him.”

When news broke of Carter’s find, The Times published the following from best-selling novelist Marie Corelli, who declared "..the most dire punishment follows any rash intruder into a sealed tomb…”

And then the deaths began…and with them, the rumours.

But before we reach the Valley of the Kings and the discovery of a set of steps which would lead to the uncovering of an incredible collection of several thousand objects and a solid gold coffin, all of which had been preserved for more than 3,000 years, there was Norfolk.

It was at a tiny village in Breckland where a young lad encountered the Egyptian treasures which would lead him to one of the most important archaeological discoveries of all time.

Didlington was once the home of one of the country’s most spectacular mansions, a literal treasure house filled with magical items brought back from the Valley of the Kings.

Many of them are now in the British Museum, but when a Swaffham portrait painter was employed by the family, the Egyptian artefacts had pride of place in the mansion.

Artist Samuel Carter, renowned for his animal portraits, took his 15-year-old son Howard along to help him – and the boy become entranced by the objects from ancient Egypt.

It was Norfolk which proved to be the beginning of Howard’s journey to the Valley of the Kings and Tutankhamun’s tomb.

Lady Amherst of Didlington Hall was so impressed by young Howard’s drawings of the family’s ancient Egyptian treasures that in 1891, when he was 17, she suggested he should go to Egypt to help record the tomb paintings being unearthed at a dig led by a friend.

Within a few years Howard’s knowledge of ancient Egypt, and skill at drawing and painting the discoveries, honed in a Norfolk stately home, saw him appointed inspector of monuments, based in Luxor.

He led scientific and systematic excavations, and was eventually hired by Lord Carnarvon to search for tombs missed by previous expeditions – including that of the young pharaoh Tutankhamun.

When Carter had first arrived in Egypt in 1891, most of the ancient Egyptian tombs had been discovered, with only King Tutankhamun’s tomb unaccounted for.

It was his last chance to strike gold. He had been told that no further funds would be released – and just three days after the last excavation began, the team found a set of stairs leading to what looked like a burial chamber.

At the bottom of the steps was a doorway sealed with limestone and plaster into which Carter cut a peephole to see what lay behind: he could spot rubble, but he sensed treasure.

On November 6, Carter sent a telegram to his wealthy patron Carnarvon: “At last have made wonderful discovery in valley, a magnificent tomb with seals intact; recovered same for your arrival; congratulations.”

Carnarvon arrived on the 25th, a day later the last scraps of rubbish had been cleared from the passage that lay behind the door.

As the team watched, Carter chipped away a small hole in the top corner of the doorway and stepped back as hot air, trapped for thousands of years, escaped.

He later wrote: “…as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues and gold – everywhere the glint of gold.

“For the moment – an eternity it must have seemed to the others standing by – I was struck dumb with amazement, and when Lord Carnarvon, unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, ‘can you see anything?’ It was all I could do to get out the words ‘yes…wonderful things. Wonderful things!’”

The next morning, as dawn broke, Carter and Carnarvon began work to unblock the door to the antechamber that contained a veritable treasure chest of gold – but there was more. Much, much more.

Blocked and guarded by two statues of Tutankhamun was a doorway to the main burial chamber and, despite evidence that it had been previously breached by a robber, there was great hope that more glory was to be discovered.

The two men leading the excavation realised that the job of carefully emptying and cataloguing the objects in the antechamber was arduous and it would take weeks or even months until the burial chamber could be reached.

They couldn’t wait: that night, when the team had packed up and gone home, the two men returned, made their way into the tomb and crawled through the hole made by the robber.

There, in front of their eyes were untold riches – a jewellery box of glittering splendour, a golden shrine, its seals still intact, its King still inside, sleeping.

The pair swore each other to secrecy: it would be three months before this chamber was officially opened and the world first learned of King Tutankhamun’s golden funerary mask and the room next to him, which contained his most precious possessions.

Everyone was fascinated and entranced, carried away in the mystical magic of the discovery and the secrets being revealed: Carter and Carnarvon were ecstatic: but what they didn’t realise, was that within two months, one of them would be dead.

Could it be that the Curse of the Mummy was about to wreak revenge on Carter’s team?

Other so-called ‘mummy curses’ had captured the attention of the public and caused them to fear – and indeed expect - retribution from the grave.

In 1699 Louis Penicher wrote an account in which he recorded how a Polish traveller bought two mummies in Alexandria before beginning a sea journey with the artefacts in the hold. He was plagued by recurring visions of two ghosts and the ship was caught in storms, both of which ended when the mummies were thrown overboard the ship.

At the tomb of Ankhtifi, from the 9th to 10th Dynasty, a warning was found on the walls: “…any ruler who… shall do evil or wickedness to this coffin may Hemen, a Falcon God, not accept any goods he offers, and may his heir not inherit.”

Archaeologist Zahi Hawass excavated at Kom Abu Billo and had to take several artefacts from the site: on the same day his cousin died, his uncle died on its first anniversary and his aunt on the third.

When he excavated the tombs of the builders of the pyramids at Gaza, he found a curse on the walls: “All people who enter this tomb who will make evil against this tomb and destroy it may the crocodile be against them in water and snakes against them on land. May the hippopotamus be against them in water, the scorpion on land.”

There was the ‘haunted’ Mummy of Amen-Ra bought by archaeologist Thomas Murray in around 1899, which was said to be responsible for a host of misfortune including illness, amputation, death, relationship break-ups, mad dogs, shattering glass, sleeplessness, unexplained noises, ghostly apparitions, loss of fortune and even death on the Titanic. The British Museum, which houses the mummy, refutes any of the aforementioned claims.

Even Great Yarmouth had a cursed mummy claim to fame: a school next door to St Nicholas’ Church was given an Egyptian mummy in a casket, so the story goes, but shortly after it was delivered, strange things began to happen.

It took just days before a terrible smell from the casket forced a swift burial in the nearby graveyard, and just a few days more before mysterious knocks and taps were heard in the vicarage and church.

Within three years of the opening of the tomb of Tutankhamun, the urban legend of the Mummy’s Curse was spreading like wild-fire.

Carnarvon was the first to succumb to the supposed curse: he accidentally nicked a mosquito bite while shaving and died of blood poisoning shortly afterwards.

Apparently, when Lord Carnarvon died, all the lights in his house dimmed (other accounts suggest that it was ALL the lights in Cairo).

Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle told the American press that “an evil elemental spirit” created by priests to protect Tutankhamun could have caused Carnarvon’s death: the plot thickened, the rumours quickened.

Carter gave a friend, Sir Bruce Ingham, a paperweight which contained a mummified hand wearing a bracelet which was supposedly inscribed with the phrase “cursed be he who moves my body”: Ingham’s house burned to the ground and when he rebuilt it, it was hit with a flood.

And there were more: financier George Jay Gould who visited the tomb in 1923 fell sick immediately afterwards and died just months later, Lord Carnarvon’s brother Aubrey died from sepsis just five months after his sibling.

Archaeologist Hugh Evelyn-White, who visited and possibly helped to excavate the tomb, died by his own hand after allegedly writing a note in his own blood: “I have succumbed to a curse which forces me to disappear”.

Richard Bethell, Lord Carnarvon’s secretary died in 1929 under suspicious circumstances, and Sir Archibald Douglas Reid x-rayed Tutankhamun before the mummy was given to museum experts and died three days later.

Egyptologist Sir Ernest Wallis Budge of the British Museum was found dead in his Bloomsbury home, Prince Ali Kamel Fahmy Bey, who had visited the tomb, was shot and killed by his wife and another visitor, Georges Benedite of the Louvre died in 1926.

Other members of the excavation team who died unexpectedly included Sir Lee Stack, who was murdered in 1924 and Arthur Mace, who was allegedly murdered using arsenic poisoning in 1928.

Scientists began to look at theories that people were falling ill due to the mycotoxins inside Tutankhamun’s tomb which could lead to pneumonia to those who are susceptible: could pathogens have survived through the centuries? The jury is still out.

More compelling is the analysis of 25 people who worked or went into the tomb shortly after it was discovered: on average, these people lived to be at least 70. Carter himself, although diagnosed with lymphoma, lived until he was 64.

It is thought that the idea of Egyptian mummies being associated with curses has grown over time, fuelled by literature, horror films and news reporters keen to link coincidence with something supernatural (guilty as charged).

There was a widespread belief that Egypt was a land of mystery, superstition and magic and as Westerners discovered more about the county and its history, fascination grew.

For centuries, apothecaries had been selling Mummia – ground up ‘mummy dust’ - as medicine – but by Victorian times, the rich held ‘unwrapping parties’ where mummies would be unveiled at private parties.

A mummy held by Norwich Castle contains modern pins and clips discovered during an x-ray: these are thought to date from the Victorian period following an ‘unrolling party’.

It took until the dawn of the 20th century for such parties to be seen as macabre and in bad taste – people also worried that meddling with the dead would lead to bad luck.

By the time the public heard about Tutankhamun’s tomb, they were ready – if not eager – to believe that a curse would follow those who had glimpsed the treasures within it.

A documentary aired in June claimed the curse was invented by Arthur Weigall, an Egyptologist-turned-reporter who was angry that Howard Carter spoke exclusively to The Times and not his paper, The Daily Mail.

A letter from Carter himself, written in 1934 and sold at an American auction for $10,000 in July, seemed to confirm this theory, debunking the curse as “tommy rot”.

Written to Helen Ionides, a nurse who went on to earn an MBE for her services in World War Two, it followed Weigall’s death: “The death of the Duchess of Alba was very sad…I fear I must admit that I have not the same sentiments with regard to Weigall,” he wrote.

“In fact, his death is a real blessing. For although he was a clever writer, he was cunning. His inventions had no basis and thus a menace to archaeology.

“The ‘Tutankhamun Curse’ was his invention. Believed out of pique – a sort of vengeance towards his loyal friend Lord Carnarvon who, because Weigall came out solely as correspondent of the Daily Mail, was obliged to treat him like the other newspaper correspondents.

“He was never at the opening of the discovery. He was the last of the correspondents to arrive, several minutes afterwards. But enough of this venom. I must direct to a more pleasant subject.”

When Carter died in March 1939, 16 years after he made his incredible discovery, the Mummy’s Curse sprang back to life, this time in his obituary, its shadow falling once again over an achievement still celebrated 100 years later.

See some of Norfolk’s links to Howard Carter for yourself

In Swaffham Museum a gallery dedicated to Howard Carter includes a reconstruction of part of the burial chamber and the chance to hear Howard himself reading his diary entries about the discovery of the tomb.

Treasures loaned from the British Museum include ancient Egyptian sculptures of gods, jewellery and a tube of eye make-up with Tutankhamun’s name on it.

The exhibition in the Carter Centenery Gallery also includes pictures painted by some of Howard’s artistic siblings and drawings by his father.

Models and reconstructions of some of the discoveries have been made by members of Swaffham Men’s Shed and museum manager Sue Gattuso said she particularly loves the “glimpse wall” with its view of the tomb as Howard first saw it.

On November 26, exactly 100 years on from the day Howard Carter first glimpsed the treasures, Sue will tell the story of the Swaffham man who unearthed Tutankhamun’s tomb.

In Norwich, treasures spanning 2,000 years are part of an exhibition inspired by Howard Carter’s discovery.

The Egyptian Gallery at Norwich Castle contains a small but significant collection of artefacts that date from around 4,500 to 2,500 years old, many of which were donated by wealthy travellers such as Jeremiah Colman, who visited Egypt in the 19th century.

Meet the mummy of Ankh Hor, an important priest who worked in the temple of Amun in Karnak around 3,000 years ago.

An X-ray of Ankh Hor’s mummy shows the presence of lots of modern pins and clips. These probably date from the Victorian period when mummy ‘unrolling’ parties were popular.

Visions of Ancient Egypt at the Sainsbury Centre focuses on the fascination with ancient Egyptian art and design through the ages and explores how the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb unleashed ‘Tutmania’ across the world and helped inspire the Art Deco movement.

The exhibition includes almost 200 treasures from around the world and looks at how 19th and 20th century excavations inspired a fashion for all things Egyptian. There are works of art by Joshua Reynolds, Alberto Giacometti, Francis Bacon, David Hockney and contemporary Egyptian artists, plus photography, film, fashion and jewellery.

As well as celebrating the centenary of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, it also marks the 200th anniversary of Jean-François Champollion deciphering the Rosetta Stone and finding the key to reading Egyptian hieroglyphs.

· Visions of Ancient Egypt runs at the Sainsbury Centre, University of East Anglia until January 1, 2023.

· Find out more about Swaffham Museum at or call 01760 721230.

· Find out more about Norwich Castle at or call 01603 493625