Syndicate content

Mystery of King Tut’s Death Possibly Solved

A combination of bone disease and malaria infection likely contributed to the early death of Egypt’s King Tutankhamun, according to researchers who used a combination of anthropological, radiological, and DNA-based genetic studies to analyze the king’s mummy. The scientists also putatively identified other members of Tutankhamun’s immediate lineage, including his father, mother, and a grandmother. The 18th dynasty (circa 1550-1295 B.C.) of the New Kingdom (mid-16th to early 11th century B.C.) was one of the most powerful royal houses of ancient Egypt, and included the reign of Tutankhamun, probably the most famous of all pharaohs, although his tenure was brief. He died in the ninth year of his reign, circa 1324 B.C., at age 19 years. "Little was known of Tutankhamun and his ancestry prior to Howard Carter's discovery of his intact tomb (KV62) in the Valley of the Kings in 1922, but his mummy and the priceless treasures buried with him, along with other important archeological discoveries of the 20th century, have provided significant information about the boy pharaoh's life and family," the researchers wrote. With regard to their current research, the scientists noted that "several pathologies, including Kohler disease II (bone disorder), were diagnosed in Tutankhamun; none alone would have caused death. Genetic testing for STEVOR, AMA1, or MSP1 genes specific for Plasmodium falciparum (the malaria parasite) revealed indications of malaria tropica in four mummies, including Tutankhamun's. These results suggest avascular bone necrosis (condition in which the poor blood supply to the bone leads to weakening or destruction of an area of bone), in conjunction with the malarial infection as the most likely cause of death in Tutankhamun. Walking impairment and malarial disease sustained by Tutankhamun is supported by the discovery of canes and an after-life pharmacy in his tomb." The researchers added that a sudden leg fracture, possibly from a fall, might have resulted in a life-threatening condition when a malaria infection occurred. The lead author of this report was Dr. Zahi Hawass of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Cairo, Egypt. The senior author was Dr. Carsten Pusch of the University of Tubingen in Germany. The article was published in the February 17, 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). [Press release] [JAMA abstract]