King Tut’s Death

Since King Tut was so young when he died, and because his father, Akhenaten, was an unpopular, some say hated, ruler, theories abound as to how King Tut died. Adding to the mystery are differing accounts of the tomb itself. Howard Carter, who discovered King Tut’s tomb in 1922, said the tomb was filled with “wonderful things” and it took him 10 years to excavate and inventory the contents. [The Humanities, Culture, Continuity and Change, p. 5] Another account of the tomb [Time Magazine, September 9, 2002] stated that the tomb was of diminutive size and in an unfinished condition, suggesting that King Tut had died unexpectedly and was buried in a tomb built for a non-royal. The article goes on to state that the wall paintings were marred by splashes of paint that nobody bothered to clean up and that some of the funerary artifacts contained other people’s names that were scratched out and replaced with King Tutankhamen’s name.

Time Magazine, September 9, 2002, chronicles the findings of Greg Cooper, a former FBI profiler and chief of police in Provo, Utah, and Mike King, director of the Ogden, Utah, police department’s crime-analysis unit, who studied the case at the request of British film producer Anthony Geffen. The article promotes the theory that King Tut was murdered by none other than his Prime Minister, Ay. They theorize that Ay, who was also Prime Minister under Tut’s father, coveted the throne since he was the de facto King while he was advising the young Pharaoh.

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They cite a letter purportedly from King Tut’s widow, Ankhesenamun, to a Hittite king asking for the king to send one of his sons for her to wed, otherwise she would be forced to marry one of her servants. The Hittite king’s son was killed en route and Ankhesenamun did marry Ay. Other scholars said that their evidence is flawed and the conclusions were reached interpreting such things as paintings in the tomb, which were always happy and were idealized scenes, not factual.

According to the National Geographic News, December 1, 2006, King Tut died from an infection caused by a broken leg. This finding was presented at a meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago in 2006. Using a full-body CT scanner, over 1,900 cross-sectional images of the mummy were taken and studied to reach this conclusion. While there were numerous fractures of the skeleton, only one fracture in his left thigh had embalming resin around the break, suggesting that he broke his leg shortly before his death.

The Team Leader was Ashraf Selim, a radiologist at Kasr Eleini Teaching Hospital at Cairo University in Egypt. The team dismissed the notion that King Tut had been murdered by a blow to the skull. They surmised that the bone fragments in the skull which fueled the murder theory were most likely caused by Carter’s team removing the ceremonial death mask that was tightly affixed to the body.

They also state that Carter’s team dismembered much of the mummy while removing it from the sarcophagus, making it more difficult to distinguish damage from Tut’s lifetime or from the embalming process itself. While I love a good murder mystery as much as the next guy (or gal), I’m more inclined to believe the team led by Kasr Eleini from Cairo University in Egypt. Cooper and King were hired by a movie producer to uncover who murdered King Tut, so they approached the task with the assumption that King Tut was murdered and went on to make a 2-hour special for the Discovery Channel.

Had they concluded that King Tut died from a broken leg it would probably not make for very interesting television. Their given professions (FBI profiler and director of a crime analysis unit) also tend to give them a pre-disposition for a finding of murder. The broken leg theory was based on hard data, mainly the over 1,900 CT scans that were taken and studied to reach this conclusion. The fact that embalming fluid resin was around the break in the thigh substantiates their findings.

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