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Scans resolve mystery over King Tut’s death

Zahi Hawass, the head of the Egyptian Supreme Council for Antiquities, center, checks the 3,300-year-old mummy of the ancient King Tutankhamun at his tomb in Luxor, Egypt.
Zahi Hawass, the head of the Egyptian Supreme Council for Antiquities, center, checks the 3,300-year-old mummy of the ancient King Tutankhamun at his tomb in Luxor, Egypt.Saedi Press / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

The results of a CT scan done on King Tut’s mummy indicate the boy king was not murdered, but may have suffered a badly broken leg shortly before his death at age 19 — a wound that could have become infected, Egypt’s top archaeologist said Tuesday.

Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, announced the results of the CT scan about two months after it was performed on Tut’s mummy.

Hawass said the remains of Tutankhamun, who ruled about 3,300 years ago, showed no signs that he had been murdered — dispelling a mystery that has long surrounded the pharaoh’s death.

“In answer to theories that Tutankhamun was murdered, the team found no evidence for a blow to the back of the head, and no other indication of foul play,” according to a statement released by Hawass’ office.

“They also found it extremely unlikely that he suffered an accident in which he crushed his chest.”

Some questions still remain
Hawass told The Associated Press that, despite ruling out the theory that Tut was killed violently, he had no idea how the king actually died.

“I have two theories — that he may have died from natural causes or that he was poisoned,” Hawass said. “We are going to look at his viscera to see if his organs show any signs, but it is virtually impossible to prove how he died.”

Hawass said some members of the Egyptian-led research team, which included two Italian experts and one from Switzerland, interpreted a fracture to Tut’s left thighbone as evidence that the king may have broken his leg badly just before he died.

“Although the break itself would not have been life-threatening, infection might have set in,” the statement said. “However, this part of the team believes it also possible, although less likely, that this fracture was caused by the embalmers.”

1,700 images taken
About 1,700 images were taken of Tut’s mummy during the 15-minute CT scan aimed at answering many of the mysteries that shrouded his life and death — including his royal lineage, his exact age at the time of his death and the reason he died.

A picture distributed by Egyptian antiquities authority showing CT scan done Wednesday, Jan.5, 2005 of the skull of King Tut's mummy, the 3,300-year-old mummy of the ancient King Tutankhamun in Luxor, southern Egypt. Zahi Hawass , Egypt's top archaeologist , said Tuesday, March 8, 2005 that the results of CT scan on King Tut's mummy indicate he was not murdered, but may have suffered a badly broken leg shortly before his death. (AP Photo/HO/ Supreme Council of Antiquities)SUPREME COUNCIL OF ANTIQUITIES

“I believe these results will close the case of Tutankhamun, and the king will not need to be examined again,” Hawass said. “We should now leave him at rest. I am proud that this work was done, and done well, by a completely Egyptian team.”

Hawass said only the research team’s members would be allowed to study the CT images.

Tutankhamun’s short life has fascinated people since his tomb was discovered in 1922 in the fabled Valley of the Kings in the southern Egyptian city of Luxor by a British archaeologist, Howard Carter. The find revealed a trove of fabulous treasures in gold and precious stones that showed the wealth and craftsmanship of the Pharaonic court

Hawass had long refused to allow DNA testing on Tut’s remains and only agreed to perform a noninvasive CT scan on the mummy, which has since been returned to its tomb. The CT machine was brought from Germany and donated by Siemens and National Geographic.

Insights into Tut's life
The study, which was the first CT scan on a member of Egypt’s ancient royalty, showed that Tut was of a slight build, well-fed and healthy and suffered no major childhood malnutrition or infectious diseases.

The boy king also had a slight cleft palate, which was not however associated with an external expression, like a hair-lip, or other facial deformities. He also had large incisor teeth and the typical overbite characteristic of other kings from his family. His lower teeth were also slightly misaligned.

Ruled out also were pathological causes for Tut’s bent spine and elongated skull, which had been noted in earlier examinations. His head shape appeared normal and spine was bent as a result of how royal embalmers had positioned his body.

Tut’s lineage also has long been in question. It’s unclear if he is the son or a half brother of Akhenaten, the “heretic” pharaoh who introduced a revolutionary form of monotheism to ancient Egypt and who was the son of Amenhotep III.

He is believed to have been the 12th ruler of ancient Egypt’s 18th dynasty and ascended to the throne at about the age of 8 and died around 1323 B.C.