In recent years, a popular belief has sprung up that many ancient tombs contain intricate trap systems. However, experts in ancient history and archaeology have now largely debunked this myth. While some tombs were indeed equipped with elaborate mechanisms, it is unlikely that these were designed to ensnare or maim anyone who entered them.
Ancient civilizations were aware of architecture, engineering and construction; they were commercially and militarily successful, which means they wouldn’t have built simple traps into the tombs of their wealthiest citizens. Instead, they likely found other ways to discourage tomb robbers, such as intricate locks, walls made of reinforced granite and even security guards. Any elaborate mechanisms that were built into tombs are more likely to have been intended as decorative features.
The Egyptians were particularly famous for their intricate tombs. Although some tombs did contain features such as fake pits, hidden doors and false walls – designed to confuse those unfamiliar with the structure – the belief that these were designed to inflict harm on trespassers is largely unsubstantiated. These mechanisms were primarily intended to prevent grave robbers from accessing the valuables and memories placed in the tomb.
The myths of traps and booby-traps originated in films, books, and stories in the early 1900s and have since been perpetuated by popular culture. Authors such as H. Rider Haggard and Lucasfilm have hammed up these supposed traps, inspiring modern belief in the concept. In addition, there are several ancient texts that describe events occurring in certain tombs which could be misinterpreted as the presence of traps.
Recent archaeological evidence has largely debunked the myth of ancient tombs equipped with lethal traps. While some ancient tombs did indeed contain mechanisms, these were likely built for security or decoration rather than to alert the builders to the presence of grave robbers or others dead set on accessing the contents of the tomb.