It is the stuff of Hollywood movies and Gary Larson cartoons. Legend has it that when British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the tomb of the boy pharaoh Tutankhamen in Egypt in 1922, he unleashed an evil curse that led to the mysterious deaths of many of those associated with the find. Now an Australian researcher says he has proved that the 'mummy's curse' is a myth. Epidemiologist Mark Nelson, from Monash University in Melbourne, has found that contrary to popular belief, most of those present at the opening of the tomb lived to a ripe old age. Dr Nelson, whose findings are documented in the current edition of the British Medical Journal, traced the fate of 44 British, French, Belgian and American archaeologists, officials and journalists present in Luxor during Carter's subsequent 1923-26 excavation of Tutankhamen's tomb. Of the group, 25 were present at times when they could have been exposed to the 'mummy's curse': when the tomb's inner sanctum was opened; when Tutankhamen's sarcophagus was opened; when the sarcophagus' three gold coffins were opened; and when Tutankhamen's mummy was examined. He found there was little difference between the average age of death of the 'cursed' group (70), and those who were not exposed (75). 'It makes me a bit of a spoil sport, I'm afraid,' Dr Nelson said. 'There is no evidence for the mummy's curse.' Carter's discovery of the tomb, complete with a splendid gold burial mask and a treasure trove of golden artefacts, made headlines around the world and sparked a craze for Egyptology. But when Lord Carnarvon, the expedition's sponsor, died of septicaemia and pneumonia after being bitten by a mosquito a few weeks after the opening of the chamber, the legend of the curse was born. Even animals were not immune: Lord Carnarvon's dog reportedly let out a ghastly howl when his master died, before itself keeling over and dying. Newspapers reported that inside the tomb was an engraved curse promising that 'death shall come on swift wings to him who disturbs the peace of the king', although there is no record of such an inscription being found. Within a decade, more than 30 deaths had been attributed to the curse, although many had only tenuous links to the discovery. Dr Nelson believes the myth of the curse was manufactured by journalists. 'Carter gave exclusive access to the dig to the Times, which meant all the other journalists were scrabbling for a story. They had nothing concrete to write about so the myth probably started with them,' he said. He concludes in his paper: '[The dig] was inhabited by interesting characters and it was this, and the circumstances of the archaeological find of the modern age, that has kept the myth of the mummy's curse in the public eye. I found no evidence for its existence. Perhaps finally, it - like the tragic boy king Tutankhamen - may be put to rest.'