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How Did Tutankhamun Die?



How Did Tutankhamun Die?

That Tutankhamun met his end at such a young age has long puzzled Egyptologists and the public alike. Egypt’s ancient texts seldom record clues about the death of any pharaoh, which leaves much room for speculation of all kinds.

Although priests took care to preserve the king’s body during mummification, the linen shroud draped over the outer three coffins, was damaged by humidity. This moisture also impacted the preservation of the body within. Additionally, various examinations of the mummy, carried out by experts over the years, make it difficult to officially establish the cause of death. Since the discovery of the king’s tomb, several theories have formed around the circumstances of his untimely demise.

Attempts have been made to prove that Tutankhamun was murdered. In 1968, professor R. G. Harrison discovered a loose piece of bone within the skull which was thought to have resulted from a hard blow to the head. A subsequent brain haemorrhage then causing the fatality. The murder theory was long-believed, however according to Zahi Hawass, Professor Harrison had overlooked the fact that if the bone had been loose when the king was embalmed, it would be sealed by the resins poured into the skull during as part of this process. The fragment must have fallen from the skull after death and after mummification. Recent scans of the king’s mummy have revealed no trace of a fatal blow.

It is currently speculated that it was not one single, dramatic event that killed the king, but that his end was instead a culmination of relatively minor factors:

  1. It is believed the young king was in good health, however, it is thought that he suffered from scoliosis and club feet. He also had a slightly cleft palette and his skull is noticeably elongated (doliocephalic) but this elongation is not so great that it could be considered a deformity.

  2. His death may have resulted from an accident, a fracture in his left thigh bone has the ragged edges typical of a kind of break that an active young man might suffer. There is no sign that it had begun to heal, and there is also evidence of an open wound in the flesh behind his knee. Perhaps the fracture occurred during the embalming, however, an accident during the king’s lifetime in his last days or even hours is also possible. Had he fallen from his chariot while enjoying sport in the desert, or while preparing for a military campaign?

  3. Tests carried out by Dr. Zahi Hawass on Tutankhamun’s mummy revealed a species of a single-cell parasite (Plasmodium falciparum) that causes malaria. The mummies of the king’s great grandparent’s, Yuya and Tjuya, were also found to have the malaria parasite within them but we do not know if it killed them. Both Yuya and Tjuya died in old age, so perhaps they had developed immunity. This is why we cannot be sure that malaria was the cause of Tutankhamun’s death.

Because it is difficult to establish the exact causes of Tutankhamun’s death, it can be assumed that there was a combination of factors, a fragile constitution, a serious fracture, and malaria. Research continues to try to answer one of Egypt’s greatest mysteries.

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