King Tut Wasn't Bludgeoned to Death: Study

By E.J. Mundell
HealthDay Reporter
Monday, November 27, 2006; 12:00 AM

MONDAY, Nov. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Dead men don't tell tales, but dead pharaohs might.

CT scans of King Tutankhamun's mummy may put the world's oldest "cold case" to rest, refuting the notion that the ruler's enemies bludgeoned him to death.

Instead, a festering leg wound may have led to the boy-king's early demise at 19, more than 3,300 years ago, researchers say.

The scans, the first ever performed on an identified royal Egyptian mummy, "finally lay to rest this rather loosely based conjecture about a murder plot. I don't think that anyone who reads the findings as they are written can believe that any longer," said Dr. David Mininberg, a New York City physician who also holds a degree in Middle Eastern Art and is an expert in the medicine of ancient Egypt.

Mininberg was not directly involved in the study but reviewed the paper prior to its presentation Monday at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, in Chicago.

Because of the spectacular trove of objects found in 1922 in his intact tomb, Tutankhamun remains the most famous of the hundreds of royal mummies buried throughout Egypt. However, the reasons for his early death remain mysterious.

One of the more sensational theories stems from the fact that his skull appeared to contain loose bone fragments. This led to the notion that the young man was bludgeoned to death by his enemies, then quickly entombed to hide the evidence.

It's a theory few serious Egyptologists ever entertained seriously, according to Mininberg.

For the new research, a team led by radiologist Dr. Ashraf Selim of Cairo University's Kasr El Aini Teaching Hospital used high-tech CT scans to examine Tutankhamun's corpse in minute detail. The corpse had been cut into several pieces and was in a "critical stage of preservation," they wrote.

According to the researchers, Tutankhamun died at between 18 and 20 years of age and measured about 5-feet, 11-inches in height. They also concluded that the bone fragments found inside the pharaoh's skull came from the first vertebrae in his neck,nothis cranium.

Some mishap, perhaps during a modern X-ray examination, probably explains the dislocated fragments, Selim's team concluded. The upper vertebrae may even have made their way into the skull 84 years ago, when a team led by British Egyptologist and Tut discoverer Howard Carter pried off the mummy's golden mask.

"I think this lays to rest the notion that the bone fragments in the head were caused pre-mortem, before his death," said Dr. Joseph Tashjian, a St. Paul, Minn., radiologist and member of the RSNA's public information committee. "It's pretty clear, looking at the images from this study, that they almost certainly came from the removal of the mask from the head. It definitely didn't occur either pre-mortem or even during the embalming period."

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