Without knowing details about the causes of histoplasmosis, South Africa’s Doctor Geoffroy Dean starts comparing its symptoms to diverse cases of similar illnesses throughout the world. He arrives at the conclusion that the sickness from which numerous egyptologists suffered, particularly those who participated in Howard Carter’s work, is probably histoplasmosis.
Dean immediately writes a five point memo which he sends to London. Firstly he affirms:
” – It is not surprising that no-one in 1923 thought about bats. For histoplasmosis is a rare disease, and was more or less unknown at this time.
” – Second point: it is a disease of which the symptoms are not very clear even today, and it is difficult to diagnose.
” – I am convinced that the conditions in which the egyptologists could have contracted it existed in Tutankhamun’s tomb or in the other mortuary chambers that they explored.
” – It is a disease which kills slowly and rather insidiously those who are not immunised. This would explain why certain scholars died several months, even several years after having worked inside the tombs.”
– Lastly, Dean considers that a person having contracted histoplasmosis, even in a benign form, and recovers, is immunised, vaccinated naturally. This is why certain egyptologists, starting with Carter, were not victims of it.
This theory comports serious flaws. For example, the symptoms described by Dean are far removed from those manifested by Lord Carnavon when he arrives in Cairo complaining of an infected mosquito sting. This does not stop Geoffroy Dean’s memo from being received in Europe with great interest. A London daily announces:
“An obscure doctor from South Africa elucidates the Tutankhamun mystery.”
Eminent British doctors declare that they admit the histoplasmosis and bat theory. In the concert of praise addressed to Dean, there is one false note. It comes from Egypt where a renowned egyptologist, Dr Selim Hassan, of Cairo University, refuses to take Dean’s theory seriously. He declares:
“The idea that histoplasmosis and bats united to kill [Carter’s] friends is just as fantastic as affirming that they were victims of Tutankhamun’s curse or vengeance. I, myself, penetrated the tomb, and am alive. I affirm as well that I saw no bats there.”
It is true that nowhere, in the writings of Carter or any other egyptologist, are bats mentioned. In the case of Tutankhamun, the necropolis was hermetically sealed for several millenia; bats are extremely robust creatures but there are limits to their capacities for survival…
For Dean, the bats arrived upon discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb. During the dig, the subterranean corridor, which led to the sarcophage, remained open and allowed the bats to find shelter there. They were abundant in the Valley of the Kings in 1923.
Dr Hassan does not convince everybody. The British Medical Journal is not afraid to risk its prestige by upholding Dean’s point of view:
“If, as Dr Hassan affirms, there were no bats in the tomb nor any trace of bats, it does not prove the absence of histoplasmosis germs. This disease can be transmitted by different types of subterranean mushrooms, and not necessarily by bat droppings. Lord Carnavon’s death was attributed to pneumonia which could have been caused by different types of infection, including histoplasmosis. It is possible that no bat had ever penetrated Tutankhamun’s tomb. But it is important to underline one thing and it is the growth of mushrooms in such subterranean chambers, and histoplasmosis is an infection which comes from mushrooms.”
The debate continues over several months, until around the end of 1956, then it dies out on its own. No-one talks about it today, and many egyptologists have never even heard of Dean’s theory.
The attempts to scientifically explain the death – supposedly abnormal – of the archaeologists whose names are connected with the study of Tutankhamun’s tomb, end there. Once again, let us repeat that a lot of scholars have never accorded the slightest credit to all that has been said about the death of their colleagues. The German egyptologist, G. Steindorf, tried, in 1933, to destroy the curse myth. His enquiry proves that several victims attributed to Tutankhamun had never even approached the tomb, let alone been scholars who discovered or studied it. For the others, for Carnavon and Mace, Steindorf attributes their deaths to coincidence or natural causes, rejecting any idea of fate, curse, or illness contracted inside the necropolis.
Other egyptologists have tried to demonstrate the absurdity of the legend. Relying on their knowledge of Ancient Egyptian religion, its rites and its incantations, they consider that the fact of exhuming Tutankhamun’s mummy could not, in any way, constitute sacrilege. On the contrary, it would be a pious act against which the strictest Egyptian priests would have found nothing to say, the true accomplishment of the pharaoh’s destiny.
To understand this theory, we must try to pierce the mystery of the birth, life and death of Tutankhamun. Know in what conditions he was inhumed. This is not an easy task.
One thing is immediately obvious to all egyptologists: unlike what happened for most pharaohs, Tutankhamun’s contemporaries were not overly interested in leaving traces of his reign. Everything leads us to believe that, after his death, his successors tried to efface the memory of his name. They buried him with all of the usual ceremony, doubtless to conform to their religion, but they also did what they could for posterity to know nothing about Tutankhamun.
For a long time, it was thought that pharaohs were buried in the greatest secrecy, in hidden places. The chroniclers of Ancient Rome even affirm that the workmen who worked on the necropolises, underground or carved into rock, were put to death once the work was finished. Modern archaeologists have a completely different opinion. They say that it is absurd to speak of secret funerals. All of the documents which have been translated since Champollion pierced the mysteries of hieroglyphs, in 1822 – exactly one century before the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb – prove that, in reality, the Valley of the Kings was a place of pilgrimage.
To be continued.