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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Boy King's Cause of Death


New findings were just released about the cause of death for King Tut. I used to play with mummies in grad school so I found this totally fascinating and wanted to share. I’ve paraphrased CNN’s article, but you can check out the full text here. I thought the walking stick part was super cool!

The legendary Egyptian King Tut died of conditions including malaria and complications from a leg fracture.

Tutankhamun's tomb was discovered in 1922, but his life remains shrouded in mystery, and not much is known about him. He ruled during the 18th Dynasty (same as Hatshepsut!) and is believed to have died young. Forensic analysis of his mummy has put his age of death at about 17 to 19 years.

Previously, based on historical records and earlier digs, Zahi Hawass, the lead investigator of the study, had said Tut could have been the son of Amenhotep IV, a king of the 18th Dynasty, who was later known as Akhenaten.

Through DNA, Hawass' researchers determined that was indeed the case, and that Tut was married to his sister. Scientists believe that genetics and inherited diseases played a role in Tut's health because of inbreeding within the family. "We know there were weaknesses in these mummies, perhaps even cardiovascular problems," Hawass said.

When researchers scanned Tut's mummy, they found he not only had severe kyphoscoliosis, or curvature of the spine, but also suffered from a toe malformation known as oligodactyly. The condition made his left foot swell, and it would have caused excruciating pain when he walked.

"In ancient drawings we see Tut shooting arrows, not standing, but sitting in a chariot. This was unusual," Hawass said. "In his tomb, we also found 100 walking sticks. Originally we thought they represented power. But they were ancient crutches that he obviously used. He could barely stand."

Hawass said by taking his prior research and combining it with his most recent findings, the cause of Tut's death became pretty clear to him.

"The purpose of the CT scan (in 2005) was to see if he was murdered, because earlier X-rays had found there was a hole in his skull," Hawass said. "But we found the hole was made during mummification. However, we did find a large fracture in his left femur that probably contributed to his death."

Hawass theorized a fall could have hastened Tut's death. But DNA testing also showed evidence of plasmodium falciparum, a protozoan parasite that causes malaria in humans. The parasite has been found in many other mummies, as well. Hawass said he believes the combination of the serious fracture and the deadly parasite killed the young king.


Pretty crazy, eh? I'm thinking of doing some more posts on random Egyptian mummies. Let me know in the comments if that's something that interests you- dead people can be pretty cool!

19 comments:

Guinevere said...

Neat post! It's interesting to finally know what killed King Tut (and amazing that we can figure it out, so many years later).

I'd be interested in more random mummy posts, for sure. :)

Amalia T. said...

Sounds like Tut had a bad time of it--that's what happens when you just keep marrying brothers to sisters, I guess. :) Now-- if the Egyptians had known about genetics and the problems that come with inbreeding, do you think things would have been different for Egypt?

Just Another Sarah said...

That is pretty interesting, all right. And so is the fact that you played with mummies! Sounds like you had a good time in grad school! :)

Steph Damore said...

Hey, I saw this same article yesterday and immediately thought of you! I'd love to hear more about the Egyptian mummies. Learning is definitely cool.

Falen said...

when i read this yesterday, i immediately thought about you and almost sent you an email - especially once the article i was reading referenced Hatshepsut.

Tamika: said...

Super interesting! I would love to learn more.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

This is fascinating stuff, Stephanie! I actually forgot i was reading a blog post for a minute. :-)

Tere Kirkland said...

I love the way science is constantly redefining the parameters of archaeology. DNA testing is invaluable, solving the mysteries of the ancient world with just a few viable cells to work from. It's amazing.

So, yes, I'm a history dork and would love to hear more about mummies and Egyptology in general.

Susan R. Mills said...

I found this extremely interesting. It's amazing what can be discovered through modern technology. Please post more about this stuff. I like it.

L. T. Host said...

More! More! More!

I remember watching a documentary on Discovery or something after they postulated about the murder thing a few years back, speculating who killed him and everything. It was interesting.

I think the sitting down in chariots thing is pretty neat too!

Bethany Mattingly said...

I love hearing about this stuff. I think it's fascinating!

Matthew Delman said...

Yes, more Ancient Egypt is never a bad thing.

Muse in the Fog said...

All this is so interesting and so exciting! I was able to see the King Tut exhibit in San Fransisco over the weekend...I feel like the exhibit is still going through this week :)

Bethany Wiggins said...

So cool! I feel the beginnings of a story...

Natalie said...

So interesting! I heard a little thing on the radio the other day about scientists figuring out the cause of death, but it was fun to get the whole story. This is one of the things I love about your blog. You love Egyptian history and you are so excited about it, it makes me excited about it too.

Deb@RGRamblings said...

Love this stuff! I picked up a couple back issues of National Geographic last week, one features Egypt's Animal Mummies and the other Hatshepsut.

(Stephanie, if you don't have these, let me know and I'll stick them in the mail for you - lsdeb at hotmail dot com)

Dawn Simon said...

Yeah, I totally dig mummies. Ba-ha! Get it? Dig mummies? Okay, I guess it wasn't all that funny. Seriously, that'd be cool. I liked this post on King Tut. I shared your info with my kids. :)

Lisa and Laura said...

Oh, helloooo? I should have read this first! Ha.

Wendy Sparrow said...

I totally meant to come running here yesterday to get your feelings on this, but I got distracted. It's fascinating. Awesome. Awesome. Mummies are awesome.