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Ancient Tombs… Were They Really Booby Trapped?

Tomb Booby Traps were made famous by the Indiana Jones movies with rolling boulders, poisoned spears and rooms that fell apart if you didn’t step on the correct paving stone. Did Hollywood use lots of artistic license in this instance or were ancient tombs really mass murder pits for the unwary robber?

Tomb traps weren’t there to alert anyone to their presence, which makes sense as the inhabitants were generally dead. They had the sole purpose of killing the intruder and thus preventing the desecration of the deceased’s resting place. Robbing a tomb in ancient Egypt was big business with jewels, money and statues made of pure gold among many other things on offer.

Many Tombs had a curse either intoned by a priest or carved into their structures. These were mostly implying that the immortal God Thoth would kill you if you entered the Tomb proper. As far as deterrents go it was a pretty good one, although there were several back up plans if this failed. A heavy door made out of stone was used to seal the Tomb and this would require several men to chip away at it for days as there was no dynamite around in those times. Once past that, you just had to tangle with the traps.

The first and most obvious trap was of course the heavy rock placed above a doorway. This was usually connected by wire to make sure it fell in the right place. Then they dotted a few hidden holes around the tomb, which once stepped on, crumbled beneath your feet and gave you a trip to end a lifetime. There were also poisonous alchemical powders which were released into the atmosphere as soon as an invader entered.

Some of the most ingenious Tomb traps were head wires. These were simply thin, razor sharp wire placed at the approximate head level of an intruder. If you walked into it without having seen it first, you wouldn’t be leaving with your head. Then there were mazes to navigate or lose yourself for all eternity; mostly due to the dead ends, pits filled with sharp spikes, stairways leading nowhere and the odd deadly animal to fend off. If all of this wasn’t enough and you managed to get through to the actual Tomb they were often cleverly disguised with sand or rubble.

Some deadly deterrents won’t work after a certain period of time. Poison arrows for example require a mechanism to fire them and after thousands of years it would have crumbled away. It is interesting to note however, the Emperor Qin’s tomb had a sizeable amount of mercury leaching into its soil. There aren’t many of us who would enjoy breathing that in. It wasn’t necessarily a tomb booby trap though, as quicksilver was widely believed to have life preserving powers at that time.

So there you have it. The moral of this story? Leave the dead well alone. 

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  1. leo604

    On January 21, 2011 at 2:54 pm


    nice post thanks

  2. lonelyplanet

    On January 22, 2011 at 5:56 am


    A good post.

  3. alvinwriter

    On January 22, 2011 at 6:30 am


    It makes me wonder about the kind of traps are in Emperor Qin’s tomb.

  4. UncleSammy

    On January 22, 2011 at 9:24 am


    Good one

  5. Freethinking

    On January 23, 2011 at 2:10 pm


    They were fairly ingenious for their time. This was an excellent article and I personally enjoyed it immensely.

  6. Geny

    On January 23, 2011 at 2:32 pm


    Thanks for sharing

  7. Heloni Lynn

    On January 24, 2011 at 12:26 pm


    Nicely written and super informative. Ancient Egyptians weren’t kidding around about the whole grave robbing thing.

  8. Gail Cavanaugh

    On January 24, 2011 at 1:27 pm


    This was a very interesting article. It’s amazing the Egyptians went through such great lengths. I loved the Indiana Jones movie and I find it intersting that there was some truth to it. Thanks for sharing.

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