1. Automatic crossbows
The Chinese have still not fully explored Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s tomb, and a big part of that is they think the numerous pressure-plate crossbow traps — carefully coated with a preservative called chromate — probably still work, 2,000 years later.
With false rooms, secret doors and miles of mazes, a prospective tomb raider was likely to get lost… forever.
You would think that modern tomb raiders would have nothing to fear from the sacred cobras that used to guard Egyptian tombs. And granted, the original snakes would be very, very old by now.
But in 1923, after archaeologist Howard Carter opened King Tut’s tomb, a cobra appeared in his house and ate his pet canary. True story. Was it a curse? Probably not. Was it an ancient order of tomb-defenders out to exact revenge? Yeah, might totally have been.
Either way, don’t plunder a tomb if you’re not ready to go head-to-head with some deadly-ass snakes.
Concealed pits are one of the oldest (and most effective) tricks in the book.
5. Poisonous Alchemical Powders
Ancient Egyptian engineers would cover the tomb floors with hematite powder, a sharp metallic dust designed to cause a slow and painful death to those who inhaled enough of it.
And that stuff has quite the shelf life: When Dr. Zahi Hawass, the Egyptian real-life Indiana Jones, entered the Bahariya Oasis tomb in 2001, his team found the sarcophagus booby trapped with 8 inches of the stuff, forcing them to abandon their expedition until they could come back with hazmat suits and respirators.
6. Head wires
One particularly nasty trap, common to some pyramids, were razor-sharp invisible wires, hung exaaaaaactly at neck-level.
7. Vast Underground Lakes of Mercury
Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang, famous above all else for the Terra cotta army he was buried with, also commissioned a series of massive rivers and lakes from mercury. These were not only accurate recreations of the Yangtze and Yellow rivers, they were also… totebags poison.
8. The Mummy’s Curse
While it’s fair to say there was probably no REAL mummy’s curse (although what do we know?), its legend has been one of the most effective anti-tomb-raider devices ever designed. And that legend got a huge boost when many members of Howard Carter’s 1923 King Tut expedition subsequently died from unusual causes.