British Museum Tours: A Brief Look at the Unlucky Mummy

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The British Museum is known to have collected a lot of unusual and strange things of the past, and one such artifact in the museum is the “Unlucky Mummy”. The artifact is actually a mummy coffin board made of wood and has a picture painted on it, which is believed to be that of Egyptian priestess Amen-Ra. Below is a brief look at the folklores related to this British Museum artifact.

The Curse of the “Unlucky Mummy”

The job of the high priests of Amen-Ra was to please the gods of Egypt. The mummified Amen-Ra priestess lies in her coffin with wide threatening eyes, open palms, and extended fingers, as if she is about to cast a curse on someone.

In 1860, a group recently graduated students from the Oxford University traveled to Egypt. They sailed through the river Nile, enjoying their time in Egypt, and hunting in the Deir el-Bahri’s mummy pits. When they were to return home, they bought the coffin lid of Amen-Ra priestess from Arab traders as the token of remembrance of their journey.

Shockingly, two members of the group died while they were coming back from Egypt. The third man accidentally fired a bullet on his arm while he was hunting quail in Cairo and was forced to surgically cut off his arm. The fourth person, Arthur Wheeler, managed to return to England, but lost his entire wealth in gambling. Even though he moved to America later, he again suffered great losses in flood and fire.

In 1887, Wheeler’s sister tried to get the coffin board photographed. Nevertheless, both the photographer and the person who carried the coffin died. What’s more, the man who asked for the translation of the hieroglyphs written on the coffin lid committed suicide. This was only the beginning of the series of unfortunate events.

The Artifact 22542

You could see this 5-foot tall coffin board now in the British Museum, known as “artifact 22542” in the museum. It arrived at the museum in 1889, and from then on, the mummified priestess was blamed for all the misfortunes from the sinking of Titanic to the destruction caused by World War I. People began spreading an endless number of tales on how this piece of wood was connected with all the calamities.

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While the British Museum spread stories about the curse of the mummy, all others propagated stories of its powers. In 1904, a young and talented journalist Bertram Fletcher Robinson published the article “A Priestess of Death” in the front page of the Daily Express. Three years later, he suddenly died of fever and his friends thought it to be the curse of the mummy.

It was not only Robinson who was the supposed victim of the mummy. There many other stories about people dying of accidents after they sketched the mummy; a woman fell down from the stairs, a captain met financial loss, and the list goes on. There is also hearsay that the mummy was in Titanic during its collision. Another story claims that gifting the furious mummy to Kaiser led to the outset of World War I.

The Days of Hardships

The coffin board of the “Unlucky Mummy” arrived at England during the time when a lot of curse stories were widespread. At this time, when ghost stories were also at its peak, science was challenging the traditional beliefs and many experiments were conducted on occults. The Victorians in this period were scared of many things including justice, the rise of women in society, empires, and the role of expertise, knowledge, and truth.

Britain used all its power to occupy Egypt during this time. In 1882, they seized the Middle Eastern country by attacking Alexandria from the sea for more than 10 hours. The fire that raged from the attack destroyed most of the city, and they fought with the Egyptian forces in the next two days. The battle fought at Tel-el-Kebir was the most unforgettable among these battles. Eventually, they won and the British stayed in Egypt until 1922.

Conquering Egypt was a huge success for the military; however, this caused a lot of panic among the superstitious English people. The British told that they were offering help to end an un-democratic rule. Roger Luckhurst, a professor in literature at Birbeck College, said in his book, “The Mummy’s Curse”, that it is very “difficult to occupy another country because that’s unpatriotic”. Many people were anxious not about war but about the Egyptian mummy board seeking its revenge.

Interestingly, the actual “Unlucky Mummy” never became part of the British Museum’s collections, and it was left in Egypt. The coffin board, though, remains in the museum to this date, currently being displayed in Room 62.

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