Solved: The mystery of King Tutankhamun’s death ~ JONATHAN OWEN, The Independent.
It has taken thousands of years, but a combination of 21st-century forensic science and luck has finally revealed what happened to Tutankhamun – the world’s most famous pharaoh.
Mystery has surrounded the boy king ever since his death in 1323BC, aged 19. The mystery intensified when the archaeologist Lord Carnarvon died in Cairo shortly after he and Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922.
Now British experts think they have solved the riddle of the king’s death. They believe injuries on his body are akin to those sustained in a chariot accident and that his mummification was botched.
Dr Chris Naunton, director of the Egypt Exploration Society, was intrigued when he came across references in Carter’s records of the body having been burnt. A clue came from Dr Robert Connolly, an anthropologist at Liverpool University, who was part of the team that X-rayed Tutankhamun’s remains in 1968. Among the bones in his office he recently found a piece of the pharaoh’s flesh – the only known sample outside Egypt.
Working with forensic archaeologist Dr Matthew Ponting, Dr Connolly used a scanning electron microscope to determine that the flesh had been burnt. Subsequent chemical tests confirmed that Tutankhamun’s body was burnt while sealed inside his coffin. Researchers discovered that embalming oils combined with oxygen and linen caused a chemical reaction which “cooked” the king’s body at temperatures of more than 200C. Dr Chris Naunton said: “The charring and possibility that a botched mummification led the body spontaneously combusting shortly after burial was entirely unexpected, something of a revelation.”
Working with scientists from the Cranfield Forensic Institute, researchers performed a “virtual autopsy” which revealed a pattern of injuries down one side of his body. Their investigation also explains why King Tut’s mummy was the only pharaoh to be missing its heart: it had been damaged beyond repair.
The pharaoh’s injuries have been matched to a specific scenario – with car-crash investigators creating computer simulations of chariot accidents. The results suggest a chariot smashed into him while he was on his knees – shattering his ribs and pelvis and crushing his heart.
The new findings will be shown for the first time in Channel 4’s ‘Tutankhamun: The Mystery of the Burnt Mummy’ next Sunday at 8pm
- The Egyptian boy pharaoh ‘burst into flame after chemical reaction’
- His body caught fire inside sarcophagus thanks to embalming fluid
- Scientists also believe a chariot crash was the cause of his death
The mummified body of Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun burst into flames inside his sarcophagus after a botched attempt to embalm him, according to scientists in a new documentary.
After his death in 1323 BC, Tutankhamun was rapidly embalmed and buried, but fire investigators believe a chemical reaction caused by embalming oils used on his mummy sparked the blaze.
A fragment of flesh from the boy pharaoh, whose tomb was discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter and the Earl of Carnarvon, was tested by researchers who confirmed his body was burnt while sealed in his coffin.
Tut has long fired the public imagination. He became pharaoh at the age of 10 in 1333 BC and ruled for just nine years until his death.
The discovery of his nearly intact tomb, complete with a gold coffin and gold funeral mask, was a worldwide sensation and sparked public interest in ancient Egypt.
Stunning treasure was found in his tomb, including an 24.2lb solid gold death mask encrusted with lapis lazuli and semi-precious stones.
Egyptologist Dr Chris Naunton examined Carter’s original notes and also carried out a virtual autopsy of the body using X-ray and CT scanning technology and now believes Tutankhamun was killed in a chariot crash in battle.
Dr Naunton said: ‘Although the death mask and other treasures are very familiar, a staggering amount of the evidence has been overlooked. It’s amazing how many questions have not even really been asked let alone answered.’
The true face of power: This reconstructed image of King Tutankhamun was created by Egyptian historians and the National Geographic Society. Pictured right is Howard Carter, who discovered the Pharaoh’s tomb in 1922
He added: ‘Despite all the attention Tut’s mummy has received over the years the full extent of its strange condition has largely been overlooked.
‘The charring and possibility that a botched mummification led to the body spontaneously combusting shortly after burial was entirely unexpected, something of a revelation in fact.
‘I think what the project shows is that when it comes to ancient material there is always more to learn, and there probably will be in the future, but with this study we have taken a big step forward in terms of understanding what happened at the end of Tut’s life.’
Tutankhamun: The Mystery Of The Burnt Mummy will be screened on Channel 4 on November 10.
DID HE DIE IN A CHARIOT CRASH? BOY KING’S BODY WAS ‘MANGLED’
Dr Naunton used the latest technology to reconstruct the death of the pharaoh and now believes a high-speed chariot crash was the cause of his death.
He said: ‘We believe there is now a very distinct possibility that he was struck by a chariot wheel in the torso at high speed – enough to do him very serious damage. In fact, that’s what killed him.
‘His body would have been a real mess – he would not have been left a little bloodied – and that would have given the embalmers a real problem. They were used to dealing with dead bodies, not mangled ones.’
In 1968, a photographer from Liverpool University took 50 X-rays of the mummy. It was found that a chunk of Tutankhamun’s skull had floated loose, leading to four decades of murder theories.
But now it is believed that the head injury was caused after his death and that the clues to his demise lie in his chest.
Not only did his skeleton have broken ribs on its left-hand side but it was lacking a sternum, or breastbone, and heart.
A fragment of the pharaoh’s flesh was also examined.
After discovering that Tutankhamun had not been murdered, Dr Naunton asked forensic experts to carry out further research – and it was revealed that King Tut’s injuries were consistent with being run over by a heavy, narrow wheel of the type used on chariots.
- Solved: The mystery of King Tutankhamun’s death (independent.co.uk)
- The mystery of Tutankhamun’s tomb takes another twist (telegraph.co.uk)
- King Tutankhamun was mummy-fried: Botched embalming made Egyptian pharaoh combust (express.co.uk)
- Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun “spontaneously combusted” after a botched attempt to embalm him (mirror.co.uk)
- Mummy-fried! Tutankhamun’s body spontaneously combusted INSIDE his coffin following botched embalming job after he died in speeding chariot accident (thisismoney.co.uk)
- King Tut ‘cooked’ in tomb (dailytelegraph.com.au)
- King Tut ‘killed by speeding chariot’: Mystery of his death is solved… 3,336 years later (thisismoney.co.uk)
- King Tut ‘killed by speeding chariot’: Mystery of his death is solved… 3,336 years later (dailymail.co.uk)
- Mummy ‘spontaneously combusted’ (standard.co.uk)
- Breaking News: Mummy ‘spontaneously combusted’ (crosbyherald.co.uk)