Saturday, February 16, 2013

What Killed #King Tut?

February 16

King Tut's Mummy Revealed

The world has been fascinated by King Tutankhamun, a pharaoh who ruled in the 18th dynasty from 1332 BC – 1323 BC, since Howard Carter discovered the nineteen year old's tomb on February 16, 1923. Who can forget Steve Martin's King Tut Song from 1979? The song was one of my favorites when I was growing up. 

The discovery of the boy king's tomb was amazing because although it had laid for over 3,000 years it was the most preserved tomb ever found in the Valley of the Kings. You can read more about it at and

King Tut's sarcophagus had three layers to it with the king's body hidden in the third layer. Howard Carter had hoped that King Tut's mummy would have been as preserved as his tomb. Yet, when King Tut's mummy was finally revealed the mummy showed signs of damage. The boy king's wrapping had been damaged by the liquid his embalmers had poured on top of his body to preserve it. The linen wrappings could not be carefully unwrapped but had to be taken off in chunks. His fingers and toes had been individually wrapped. Howard Carter and his team further damaged the mummy when they decided to remove the king's body from his sarcophagus. In an archaeological horror, Carter broke the king's body in 18 pieces in order to transport him. Carter had separated the king's pelvis from his trunk, removed the arms and legs, removed the king's penis, decapitated him, and slit the king's torso in half. The body was reassembled in 1926 and placed back in the sarcophagus. Legend says that Carter and his team paid the ultimate price for their disrespect. Ever heard of the King's Curse?


Speculations that the young king may have been murdered had arisen from the time of Howard Carter. His team had found a small hole in the king's head and speculated that the king might have died when someone hit him over the head.

In 2005, researchers with National Geographic, re examined the king's body and sarcophagus with a fifteen minute CT scan gathering 1,700 images. The only part of the body note examined was King Tut's penis which had been lost after Howard Carter removed the king's body. The scan revealed the king had a healthy childhood. His head was naturally elongated skull, a cleft palate and impacted wisdom teeth. He stood five feet nine six inches in height, which made him taller than most men of his time. The scan also revealed the king had a club foot and suffered from Bone Necrosis. Bone Necrosis occurs when biological tissue dies in the body. Having one foot flat and the other with this condition was very painful for King Tut and he would have to walk with a cane. That explains why there were over 130 canes found within his tomb. 

Closer look at the King Tut mask.
Photo licensed under GFDL.
The CT scan revealed the king had a fractured left leg which had not been caused by Carter and his team. After examining the body, the team concluded that the king had fallen and broken his left thigh, the bone of which punctured his skin. His cause of death was believed to be from an infection he received in that wound. What about that hole in his head that Carter and his team had believed was caused by a violent blow to his head? Researchers concluded the hole in King Tut's head and the curvature of his spine had been caused by his embalmors. It seems he did not die of a violent death after all. You can learn more here: 

Five years later, Egyptologist Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities lead a DNA investigation into the life and death of King Tut. The DNA results proved that King Tut was the son of the Akhenaten, the pharaoh best known as a "heretic" who brought monotheism to Ancient Egypt. Yet his wife, Nefertiti, was not Tut's mother. His wife unable to bear him any sons, Akhenaten had slept with his sister. The relationship produced King Tut. The DNA also established Ankhsenamun as his wife and the two fetuses inside King Tut's tomb as his stillborn offspring. The DNA allowed for other preciously unidentified mummies located in proximity to King Tut's grave to be identified. Two of those mummies was of his parents. The name of his mother has yet been determined. 

The DNA study also brought more insight into the cause of King Tut's death. His DNA showed that the king was suffering from a terrible case of malaria when he fell. Researchers now believe his death was caused by a combination of malaria and the infection in his leg. 

On September 14, 2012,  Dr. Hutan Ashrafian, a lecturer and surgeon at the Imperial College London,  told ABC news he believed the young king suffered from frontal lobe epilepsy which caused his fatal fall. Evidence for Dr. Ashrafian diagnosis comes from historical and family traits. All the rulers who were related to King Tut had died at an early age. Ashrafian told ABC "For all of them to die sequentially at younger ages is a sign of a genetic inheritance of some sort. You could argue one of them died in battle, one of them was poisoned but none of them did die in battle. They could have been poisoned, of course, but it’s very odd for sequential pharaohs who were aware that they could have been killed to be killed at such a young age.” Dr. Ashrafian pointed to Tut's father for further proof. Akhenaten had tried to convert his people to monotheism after receiving visions. Visions are often associated with people who suffer from frontal lobe epilepsy. Ashrafian claims the renditions of Tut's image in ancient Egytpain scultures depicting the king with highly feminine features, including enlarged breasts shows the king had gynecomastia. Dr. Ashrafian believes the early deaths, gynecomastia, visions and Tut's broken bones all point to a genetic disposition for frontal lobe epilepsy. He further wen on to tell ABC, “People who have epilepsy have a much higher incidence of dying from accidents and falls at a young age. They can also suffer from something called SUDE, Sudden Unexplained Death of Epilepsy. In general, they have a much higher incidents of dying young.”

Mystery solved! 

King Tut fell because of his frontal lobe epilepsy. The fall caused him to seriously break his left thigh bone.  He died from a combination of malaria and the infection in his open wound. 

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