Cautionary Tales – The Mummy’s Curse (Classic)

10th February, 2023

One hundred years ago, on 16th February 1923, the Tomb of the Pharaoh Tutenkhamun was officially opened. Disturbing the remains of the Egyptian pharaohs is known to incur a deadly curse, so why did a team of archeologists still risk inciting the wrath of King Tutankhamun by entering his burial chamber? And how many of them met a premature end for their impudence?

Cautionary Tales is written by me, Tim Harford, with Andrew Wright. This classic episode was produced by Ryan Dilley and Marilyn Rust and was first released in November 2021.

The sound design and original music is the work of Pascal Wyse. Julia Barton edited the scripts.

Thanks to the team at Pushkin Industries, including Mia Lobel, Jacob Weisberg, Heather Fain, Alice Fiennes, Jon Schnaars, Carly Migliori, Eric Sandler, Emily Rostek, Daniella Lakhan and Maya Koenig.

If you have questions for our Listener Q&A episodes please send them to Or, you can leave a voice note at 914- 984 – 7650 (US number, so international rates may apply). Please be aware that we may use your question on the show.

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Further reading and listening

Roger Luckhurst’s book, The Mummy’s Curse , is the perfect guide to every angle of the tale. Nigel Blundell’s The World’s Greatest Mistakes gives a vivid tabloid-style version, and Snopes described and then fact-checked the tale of the Unlucky Mummy. Skeptoid covers and debunks various explanations for the curse.

The Mesmeromania incident is covered in detail by Christopher Turner for Cabinet Magazine. Shankar Vedantam and Bill Mesler set it in wider context in their fascinating book Useful Delusions.

Charle’s Duhigg’s story about Target and the pregnant teenager is in the New York Times Magazine.

Academic studies on placebos, nocebos, and the BMJ article about the mummy’s curse:

Howick, J. Unethical informed consent caused by overlooking poorly measured nocebo effects. Journal of Medical Ethics.

Colloca L, Miller FG. The nocebo effect and its relevance for clinical practice. Psychosom Med. 2011;73(7):598-603. doi:10.1097/PSY.0b013e3182294a50

Nelson MR. The mummy’s curse: historical cohort study. BMJ. 2002 Dec 21;325(7378):1482-4. doi: 10.1136/bmj.325.7378.1482. PMID: 12493675; PMCID: PMC139048.

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