The Cause of King Tutankhamun’s Death
King Tutankhamun, popularly known as King Tut, remains one of the important historical figures in Egypt. Since discovery of the tomb by a British archaeologist, Howard Carter, in 1922, there have been controversies on the cause of death of this young king who took over the reign when only eight years old, going ahead to rule until his death at nineteen years. He took over the reign from Akhenaten, his father. However, his death marked the end of a dynasty because he had no surviving child who could have taken over the royal throne, leading to his close advisors taking over the Kingdom’s leadership. Various autopsy examinations over many years have led different archeologists and historians to develop different theories to the cause of death to this young king who ruled during a volatile time in ancient Egypt’s history. The latest CT scan over the dead body of the pharaoh has disproved popular theories of murder and the chariot accident. The answer of the mystery itself lies on the lineage of Tutankhamun, which tells us that his inherited diseases had led him to death.
According to Reeves (121-123), the importance of King Tutankhamun comes from the fact that his death marked an important transition from a dynasty to the rule of people who were not from royal lineage. Another reason could be seen in his death at an early age, just nineteen, considering that the ancient Egypt was more developed, and had better foods and other royal supplies that made people live longer. After the discovery of King Tut’s tomb, archeologists embarked on a journey to find out some of the reasons for his death. Buchanan (n.p) argues that the cause of the king’s death could not be established because his predecessors erased some of the important royal records on Tut’s lineage from the historical books. Therefore, the discovery of his dummy provided an opportunity for the archeologist to find out the some of the historical issues (Hawass, et al. 640).
Murder was one of the theories that earlier archeologists had advanced as the possible cause of death for the King Tut. This came from the examination of the dummy found in the 1922 discovery by Howard Carter. The backside of the skull was found to have bumps and marks that indicated an injury by a blunt object, most probably by a person with a sinister motive (Hoving 32-43). This theory was supported by the fact that King Tut was a young leader who must have relied most on the powerful advisors in order to run affairs of the Kingdom. The second possible cause of King Tut’s death is chariot fall that might have caused serious bodily harm that he might have later succumbed. According to Hoving (32-43), archeologist point to the broken bones in King Tut’s dummy as possible cause of his death. Haag (10-21) notes that the king may have fallen or run over by a chariot while on his knees, leading to serious bodily harm and his death. This theory has since been disputed by the fact that the broken bones may have been caused by the archeologists in the process of removing the remains from the discovered tomb. The body was seriously dismembered in the process of transferring it to the museum and examination centers, leading to the doubts whether the broken bones could have all been caused before the death (Hawass, et al. 640).
However, the recent CT scan on King Tut’s dummy finds out that his death may have been caused by a serious illness that is related to the family lineage. According to Neubert (43), a thorough CT scan on the preserved remains of King Tut has proven the fact that his parents were indeed a brother and sister. It is likely that he must have been born with a serious genetic disorder, something that affected his normal life operations. The genetical problem comes from the many artifacts that were found in King Tut’s tomb, in which, he either stood by a support or sat down while with his wife. None of the ancient artwork found in his grave shows that he stood normally, advancing the theory that he might have been born by a genetical problem from both parents. He had also been using walking sticks to aid his mobility (Hawass, et al. 640). He may have died from the complications that arose from the genetical disorder acquired from his birth.
In order for this theory to be valid, it is important to have advanced it with respect to previous probable causes of his death. One of the earlier theories alluded to the fact that he may have had an accident while riding a chariot or he may have been run over by a chariot (Hawass, et al. 646). The recent discovery doubts whether King Tut was able to ride a chariot by himself, given that he had a bodily disorder that affected his movement. Therefore, the only way he would ride a chariot was by using an aid and such movement would be highly regulated because he was the king of the Egyptian empire. The accident theory was advanced because of the many fractures that were discovered in his remains, something that (Andritsos 22) is believed was caused in the process of transferring the body from the tomb to other places. According to the CT scan and virtual autopsy, only one breakage may have happened before his death.
My opinion is that murder theory does not appear to be correct because of the argument that the head injury seen by the archeologists may have been caused by various factors other than a person by a sinister motive. The first explanation is that the scar at the back of the head may have been caused during the rigorous embalming process before the burial of his remains. The preservatives required that certain parts of the body be opened for administration, something that likely occurred with King Tut. On the same note, the removal of the body from the highly secured coffins may have caused the head injury. For instance, the body was discovered with the royal crown on the head. The process of removing this object by the archeologists may have caused the scar at the back of the head.
Therefore, I believe that as the recent CT scan has shown, King Tut may have never been murdered or had a chariot accident. The fact that his parents were close relatives may have led to a serious health disorder that was not curable by the available medicine. All the paintings and other artifacts show that he never walked unaided, indicating that he may have never ridden a chariot. Most of the body injuries that have been seen may have been caused in the process of transferring the body from the tomb. However, there is need for more research on some of the ancient literature in order to have a clear understanding the life during King Tut’s time. Nevertheless, no much can be done on the remains of the King since the modern investigations have been exhaustive.
Andritsos, John. Social Studies of Ancient Egypt: Tutankhamun. Australia, 2006.
Buchanan, Rose Troup. “King Tutankhamun did not die in chariot crash, virtual autopsy reveals.” The Independent. N.p., 20 Oct. 2014. Web. April 21, 2015<http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/king-tutankhamun-did-not-die-in-chariot-crash-virtual-autopsy-reveals-9806586.html>.
Neubert, Otto. Tutankhamun and the Valley of the Kings. London: Granada Publishing Limited, 1972.
Haag, Michael. The Rough Guide to Tutankhamun: The King: The Treasure: The Dynasty, London, 2005.
Hawass, Zahi et al. “Ancestry and Pathology in King Tutankhamun’s Family”. The Journal of the American Medical Association 303 (7): 2010, 638–647.
Hoving, Thomas. The Search for Tutankhamun: The Untold Story of Adventure and Intrigue Surrounding the Greatest Modern archeological find. New York: Simon & Schuster, 15 October 1978.
Reeves, C. Nicholas. The Complete Tutankhamun: The King, the Tomb, the Royal Treasure. London: Thames & Hudson, 1 November 1990.