Ancient Egypt
King Tutankhamun

How did King Tutankhamun die?


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November 17, 2015 5:12AM

It all stacked up. It was all circumstantial evidence as such, but frequently that is all that investigators of ancient mysteries have to go on. And yet, the most recent findings on the death of King Tut (Tutankhamun) seem to conclusively indicate that he died of natural causes, rather than being murdered. Specifically, the latest report is that he died of gangrene caused by a broken leg. There was more than a little reason to believe that King Tut may have been murdered. The two principal suspects, Aye who succeeded him as king, and General Horemhab who in turn succeeded Aye to the throne, both appear to have been powerful men who, in effect, ruled Egypt while King Tut was a child. It would not be unreasonable at all to believe that, as King Tut grew into a young man, the two elder men would have resented losing much of their power. Furthermore, at the time of his death, King Tut was certainly old enough to have sired an heir to the throne himself, which would have at least technically eliminated Aye and Horemhab from ever ascending the throne. It is also noteworthy that the young King Tut was greatly loved in ancient Egypt for restoring the Amun priesthood after the death of his presumed heretic father, Akhenaten. However, this was almost certainly the work of Aye and General Horemhab, who could have even resented Tut receiving all the glory of their work. Finally, there was the issue of King Tut's widow, Ankhespaton, who was apparently forced to marry Aye after King Tut's death. Only a short time later, she disappeared from the annals of history, leading to speculation that she too might have been murdered. These circumstances all contribute to an ancient mystery, and much intrigue, a situation that was not completely uncommon in the Egyptian royal court. Attempts had, and would be made to murder pharaohs, a few of which were successful. Usually, these seem to have been plots within the harem with the goal of elevating one wife's son to the throne over another's. Now we are told, in absolute terms, that King Tut died by natural causes. However, lets take a little closer look. One of the most interesting aspects of Egyptology is that various scholars very frequently present their interpretation of events as absolute, and particularly in books or releases to the general public, neglect to reveal opposing views. This occurs all the time, frequently with one expert asserting absolutely one conclusion, while another asserting absolutely a completely different conclusion. For example, debates continue to rage over who was actually King Menes, the founder of the 1st ancient Egyptian Dynasty, with some scholars stating unequivocally that it was Aha, with others still believing it to have been Narmer. In the case of King Tut, one must first remember that his mummy is not in very good condition today. When Carter discovered it, his team basically dismantled the corpse while looking for amulets and other jewelry. Furthermore, many of its parts present at the original examination by Carter are now missing, and both skin and bones were broken in numerous places, supposedly also by the Carter team. Dr. Zahi Hawass, the Director of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), makes some interesting comments about the most recent findings on King Tut. Though he seems to mostly be in agreement with these findings, he states, for example, that, "...some (not all) team members interpreted a fracture in the left thighbone as evidence for the possibility that Tutankhamun broke his leg badly just before he died". He goes on to explain that: "The team has noted a fracture of the left lower femur (thighbone), at the level of the epiphyseal plate. This fracture appears different from the many breaks caused by Carter's team: it has ragged rather than sharp edges, and there are two layers of embalming material present inside. Part of the team believes that the embalming material indicates that this can only have occurred during life or during the embalming process, and cannot have been caused by Carter's team. They note that this type of fracture, unlike most of the others, is possible in young men in their late teens, and argue that it is most likely that this happened during life. There is no obvious evidence for healing (although there may be some present, and masked by the embalming material). Since the associated skin wound would still have been open, this fracture would have had to occur a short time, days at the most, before death. Carter's team had noted that the patella (kneecap) on this leg was loose (now it is completely separated, and has in fact, been wrapped with the left hand), possibly suggesting further damage to this area of the body. The part of the team that subscribes to this theory also notes a fracture of the right patella and right lower leg. Based on this evidence, they suggest the king may have suffered an accident in which he broke his leg badly, leaving an open wound. Although the break itself would not have been life-threatening, infection might have set in. However, this part of the team believes it also possible, although less likely, that this fracture was caused by the embalmers". "Part of the team believes that the above scenario is absolutely not possible. They maintain that the fracture mentioned above can only have been done by Carter's team during extraction of the body from the coffin. They argue that if such a fracture had been suffered in life, there would have been evidence for hemorrhage or hematoma present in the CT scan. They believe the embalming liquid was pushed into the fracture by Carter's team". However, one of the main reasons that murder has ragged on as a possible cause of King Tut's death is because of a fracture to the back of his head. Revealed in an X-ray of his mummy made by the University of Liverpool, a trauma specialist at Long Island University in the US theorized that the blow was not caused by an accident. However, according to Dr. Hawass, "The entire team agrees that there is NO evidence for murder present in the skull of Tutankhamun. There is NO area on the back of the skull that indicates a partially healed blow. There are two bone fragments loose in the skull. These cannot possibly have been from an injury from before death, as they would have become stuck in the embalming material. The scientific team has matched these pieces to the fractured cervical vertebra and foramen magnum, and believes these were broken either during the embalming process or by Carter's team". So, while some recent news coverage seems to indicate that all of the questions surrounding Tutankhamun's death have now been answered, at least for some scholars, they have not. Perhaps, once all the results of the recent CAT scan have been released, everyone may be in agreement, but there still seems to be some question, at least according to Dr. Hawass, that at least some of the team that examined the CAT scans disagree with the absolute finding that gangrene caused by a broken leg caused King Tut's death. Therefore, we know that he wasn't murdered.