The story of the origins of King Tut’s curse resonates in the age of fake news

It turns out that one of the world’s most infamous curses grew from a case of professional rivalry. Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s curse, which was believed to have killed some of those involved in the archaeological dig that unearthed his tomb in 1922, emerged from the petulance of Egyptologist-turned-reporter at the Daily Mail, Arthur Weigall who, a recent documentary reveals, was upset about the scoop on the expedition going to The Times and so created the myth that launched an entire genre of pulp fiction.

This development is a fitting twist to a tale that has engaged the attention of cranks for a century, showing, once again, the human propensity for seeing a pattern in random events. Having been denied access to direct information, Weigall is believed to have made up his own story, inspired by the writings that were usually found on the walls of Egyptian tombs and were meant to warn grave robbers of fatal consequences should they trespass. This was just the fuel that the engine of public imagination needed for the construction of a fearsome legend that linked together a handful of deaths, including that of the canary belonging to lead archaeologist Howard Carter.

Fake news, of course, existed long before it became weaponised politically in modern democracies, to be lobbed across the vast space of the world wide web at one’s ideological opponent, from 1835 news reports about the discovery of life on the moon to the “greatly exaggerated” report about Mark Twain dying of poverty in London. The story of Weigall and The Curse That Never Was is simply the latest revelation about one of the oldest, and least edifying, tricks of the trade: Do a journalist out of a story, and they might just make up a spicier version.

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