When Tutankhamun, King of Egypt from 1332 to 1323 BC, was mummified and entombed in the Valley of the Kings a number of his possessions were sealed up with him in order to accompany him to the afterlife. They included a throne, a bed, a number of boards to play the game of Senet, statues, chests, vases, and two trumpets. No such trumpets had ever been found in an Egyptian tomb before, or would be again.
One trumpet was made of silver, and the other of copper. Both bore intricate designs, and were eighteen inches in length. After their discovery in 1922 they were taken to Cairo Museum. They were played for the first time in over 3,000 years on April 16th 1939, six weeks after the death of Howard Carter, the archaeologist who had discovered Tutankhamun's tomb.
One of the last surviving members of the party who opened the tomb was present at the sounding of the trumpets, which took place at the museum and was broadcast via the BBC worldwide to an estimated 150 million listeners. His name was Alfred Lucas, and he listened with what was later described as "agitation" as first the silver trumpet, and then the copper trumpet, was played by a Bandsman James Tappern of the 11th Hussars Regiment.
His agitation might well have sprung from the fact that, while a different Bandsman had been rehearsing (the trumpets were very difficult to play) weeks earlier, King Farouk I of Egypt had walked in and listened to the rehearsal. In his presence the silver trumpet had shattered, and had to be painstakingly reconstructed. The silver had crystallized over the centuries, leaving the trumpet as delicate as glass.
So it was a nervous group who assembled for the difficult task of sounding the trumpets on live radio across the world. The event nearly didn't take place at all; the electrical power failed, and the entire event was lit by two lanterns. Then, inexplicably, five minutes before airtime, both lanterns failed. Candles were hastily lit and the broadcast went ahead, with the trumpets producing a strident sound that must have been eerie within that dark space, surrounded by exhibits taken from Tutankhamun's tomb.
The curse of Tutankhamun was a well-known legend, and the trumpets, too, have their own mystique. The myth that they could summon war has followed them; that first broadcast in 1939 was shortly before the outbreak of World War II. Further playings apparently took place before the first Gulf War and also before the Egyptian Uprising of 2011.
Regardless of what you think of either of the curses of Tutankhamun, there's no denying what an incredible and chilling experience it must have been to hear those trumpets played, in virtual darkness, within the walls of the Cairo Museum...