The CT Scan of Tutankhamun

Mummy of Tutankhamun

Mummy of Tutankhamun

On January 6, 2005, the mummy of Tutankhamun (c. 1355-1346 B.C.) was removed from its tomb in the Valley of the Kings to be subject of a state-of-the-art non invasive CT scan, which gave evidence that the young king had suffered a compound left leg fracture shortly before his death, and that the leg had become infected, and did not support the popular assumption that the king had been murdered.

Tutankhamun’s tomb was discovered in 1922 by the British archaeologist Howard Carter along with George Herbert, the Earl of Carnarvon. The men found the tomb’s content and its structure intact. Next to the tomb, the archaeologists found murals painted on the walls and several artifacts including oils, perfumes, toys and jewelry. The stone sarcophagus contained three coffins and the final coffin made of gold revealed King Tut’s mummy which had been preserved for more than 3000 years.

Since there are no records of Tutankhamun’s final days, his cause of death has been debated for a long time. Harvard microbiologist Ralph Mitchell suggested that Tutankhamun’s burial may have been hurried and that he had even been buried before the paint on the walls of the chamber had dried. There were speculations that Tutankhamun was assassinated and in 2005, a CT scan was performed in order to non invasively get a clearer picture of King Tut’s death. The scans showed that the king had an infected leg and also a DNA analysis performed five years later showed that he might have had malaria. This led to the assumption that malaria and Köhler disease II together caused his death.

Even though further causes of King Tut’s death were raised by scientists including the sickle cell disease, the research conducted by archaeologists, radiologists, and geneticists, who performed CT scans on the mummy, found that he was not killed by a blow to the head, as previously thought. New CT scans also show congenital flaws, which are more common among the children of incest. For instance it is believed that the king had a partially cleft palate.

Yehia Gad and Somaia Ismail from the National Research Centre in Cairo conducted further CT scans under the direction of Ashraf Selim and Sahar Saleem of the Faculty of Medicine at Cairo University. They were further consulted by Carsten Pusch of the University of Tübingen, Albert Zink of the EURAC-Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, and Paul Gostner of the Central Hospital Bolzano. Further STR analysis based DNA fingerprinting analysis combined with the other techniques have rejected the hypothesis of gynecomastia and craniosynostoses or Marfan syndrome and even though pathologies including Köhler disease II were diagnosed in Tutankhamun, none alone would have caused death. Also the exact contribution of malaria tropica to King Tut’s death is still debated.

In 2013, a virtual autopsy of Tutankhamun was performed which revealed an injury pattern on the inside of the kings body. Along with the Egyptologist Chris Naunton, car-crash investigatiors simulated chariot accidents and they concluded that Tutankhamun was killed in a chariot crash. However one year later it was revealed that it was rather unlikely that he had been killed in a chariot accident. Scans found that all but one of his bone fractures, including those to his skull, had been inflicted after his death. The scans also showed that he had a partially clubbed foot and would have been unable to stand unaided, thus making it unlikely he ever rode in a chariot. However, it is mostly assumed that genetic defects arising from his parents being siblings, along with complications from a broken leg and his suffering from malaria, together caused his death.

At yovisto you can learn more about the pharao Tutankhamun and his relics in the presentation of Nicholas Reeves at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Arts about ‘Behind the Mask of Tutankhamun‘.

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