Wednesday, February 17, 2010
The death of Tut
Not long ago, it was suggested that King Tutankhamun died of a broken leg and fractured skull, possibly a war injury, possibly murder. That theory has been overturned by a two-year long DNA and CT scan study on his mummy, and his mummy's mummy, and his daddy's mummy, and his daddy's daddy's mummy, and his mummy's mummy's mummy (stop me, somebody). His daddy's mummy, it is now confirmed, was also his mummy's mummy, and his mummy's daddy was also his daddy's daddy. In other words, his parents were siblings, an unfortunate tradition among Pharaohs. King Tut was hobbled from birth by congenital defects. He walked with the help of canes, which explains the dozen plus found in his tomb. At the age of 19, he was infected with malaria, which overwhelmed his weak immune system. The malaria probably led to a fall and that broken leg.
The hole in the skull was made during mummification.
Tutankhamun, as anybody who has read a bit of Egyptian history will know, was a minor Pharaoh. His anonymity kept him relatively safe from grave robbers who plundered tombs of better known monarchs like Ramses II and Tut's grandfather Amenhotep III (his mummy's daddy as well as his daddy's daddy). Some 3200 years after Tutankhamun died, Howard Carter broke into his burial chamber, which contained an astonishing treasure trove, now displayed in Cairo's Egyptian Museum. If a king as unimportant as Tutankhamun could command such a great hoard of gold and alabaster artefacts, it boggles the mind to imagine the original contents of the tombs of the greatest Pharaohs.
It's funny that a mosquito bite should have led to Tutankhamun's death, considering one also caused the demise of Lord Carnarvon, financier of Howard Carter's expedition. A few weeks after Tut's tomb was opened, Carnarvon, still in Egypt, was bitten by a mosquito; the bite got infected, Carnarvon lanced it while shaving, causing the condition to worsen. He died of blood poisoning a few days later, an event that gave wide currency to the idea of the Mummy's Curse.