While King Tut has been dead for over 3,300 years, it only took two years for scientists to unlock the mystery of his death. In 1922, Howard Carter struck archeological gold when he discovered the tomb of the renowned King. Now, nearly 90 years later, the body of Pharaoh Tutankhamen is making headline news again.
Who exactly was this ruler of ancient Egypt? Ironically, the discovery of the King’s body is what ignited the public’s interest in him. Experts believe that Tutankhamen was the leader of the 18th Dynasty in Egypt. Since he likely died in his late teens and only ruled for nine years, Tut has earned the moniker of the “Boy King”. Some 1968 X-rays caused scientists to conclude that perhaps King Tut had died after someone had struck him in the head. However, a CT scan in 2005 determined that the hole in the skull likely resulted from the process of mummification.
For the past two years, scientists have been conducting CT scans and DNA test on 16 ancient Egyptian mummies. The mummies include both the Boy King and his immediate family. In recent years, they had already determined the age of King at his death (approximately 19 years old), and that his overall health was good. While earlier CT scans indicated that the Pharaoh had suffered a broken leg, experts were uncertain if that had indeed been the cause of his death.
Now they know. The young Tutankhamen had a cleft palate. He also had a club foot, which probably required him to walk by using a cane. King Tut also had Kohler’s disease. The resulting lack of blood flow to his left foot would have caused an excruciatingly painful state. In fact, archeologists found 130 canes and walking sticks in King Tut’s tomb!
But how did King Tut die? While complications from a broken leg were the main cause, the onset of malaria made the situation even more complex. Experts have suggested that the malaria infection could have appeared following the formation of a leg fracture. In fact, the malaria parasite has been located in several of the mummies belonging to King Tut’s relatives. The CT scans and DNA testing indicate that King Tut was likely quite a feeble young man. This is in sharp contrast to the image of a robust Egyptian leader, which many of us are familiar with.
Besides learning about King Tut’s death, the scientists also gained some insight into the pharaoh’s family tree. One of the most striking discoveries was that his parents were also siblings! Most likely, King Tut’s father was Akhenaten, who attempted to transform ancient Egypt’s religion, and enforce monotheism. Akhenaten enforced the worship of Aten, the sun god. While DNA studies have revealed that King Tut’s mother was a sister of Akhenaten, they’re uncertainly about her exact identity.
While we still lack a comprehensive understanding the King, we now have a better glimpse of how he lived and died. It’s highly likely that future research will indicate new and exciting revelations about the Boy King.