King Tut’s Body Spontaneously Combusted Inside Coffin

By Lisa Raffensperger | November 4, 2013 2:16 pm
King Tut mummy replica

A replica of the mummified Tutankhamun. Credit: geraldford via Flickr

King Tut, that most famous of mummies, may yet have some secrets to spill. Researchers have reanalyzed the teenage king’s remains and determined that his broken bones indicate he died after being hit by a chariot—and that, adding insult to injury, his mummification was botched, leading his corpse to spontaneously combust inside its sarcophagus.

The chariot-crash evidence came from a “virtual autopsy” of the body using X-ray and CAT scans. To reconstruct the accident, lead researcher Chris Naunton, director of the Egypt Exploration Society in the UK, enlisted the help of car crash investigators, reports the Daily Mail:

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.”

Not only did his skeleton have broken ribs on its left-hand side but it was lacking a sternum, or breastbone, and heart.

King Tut’s Charred Remains

King Tut famous burial mask, on display in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Tuthankamen’s famous burial mask, on display in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Credit: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen

The other revelation, that Tut caught fire after death, came from a piece of flesh that an anthropologist apparently just had sitting around his office. It had been known since the 1960s that King Tut’s body had been burned, according to Raw Story. But the cause remained unclear.

The new study included other chemical tests on the fragment of flesh, and the results were analyzed by fire investigators.

They concluded that a shoddy mummification was to blame—maybe because embalmers were rushed, or because the pharaoh’s body was so mangled. The combination of oxygen, embalming oils and linen in the sarcophagus essentially caused the mummy to spontaneously combust.

Cause of Death

Previous theories for how the boy-king had died were many and varied, according to the Telegraph:

Although there has been speculation that Tutankhamun was assassinated or killed in conflict, many experts believed his death was the result of an accident or illness. A CAT scan taken in 2005 shows that he had suffered a left leg fracture shortly before he died, and that the leg had become infected. DNA analysis conducted in 2010 showed the presence of malaria in his system.

The new findings—part of a Channel 4 documentary airing Sunday, November 10, in the UK—may help put King Tut’s story to rest. But then, as the centuries-old history of grave-robbing attests: no mummy can lie undisturbed for long.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, select
MORE ABOUT: archaeology
  • Velvet Camel

    Car crash investigators conclude king tut was hit by a car, I mean, a chariot. In other news, the Pentagon decides that the best solution to the Iranian problem is military intervention while the State Department argues that the best solution is diplomacy.

  • Sara

    Which was it then? Did he die after being struck by a chariot? Or was he sick with malaria? Or did an infection in a leg wound kill him? Truth is, with all our technology, we will never know what actually killed him. But honestly, it’d be nice if we just let him rest in peace, not use his body to fuel our obsession with King Tut and the circumstances surrounding his death. I mean, look, if all this research was going to cure cancer, AIDS, world hunger, I’d be all for it. But it’s not. It’s just so that a bunch of over-educated people can figure out how the boy-king died. It’s disrespectful!

    • Zdeno Czarnowiejski

      You’re wrong if you think that just putting all the money and people into cancer or AIDS research would solve the problem. There are people working on cancer and there are those working on king Tut, and that’s just fine. Don’t you think that the ability to form hypotheses on his death cause and – what’s more – to test them and rule some out shows the power of science and human mind?

    • tsarstepan

      According to you these people’s priorities should be aimed at solving these particular problems. So? Why aren’t you trying to simultaneously trying to cure cancer, AIDS, figure out world hunger, etc…? Since you aren’t trying to do everything you yourself can do to solve these simple but time consuming problems (your implication not mine) then shame on you and your goofy celeb news obsession. Oh wait? You’re not a trained epidemiologist? Then why criticize those researchers highlighted in this article for not being oncologists, etc…? They are only doing what they trained to do for years and years. Nothing wrong with this type of research.

      • Kristi

        It seems to me that Sara’s point was that it would be better to respect the dead, considering what little advancement or answers all of this does at this point. I don’t really think she said that all the money should be spent on researching cancer or AIDS research.

    • John G

      Disrespectful to whom? Aken?

    • MediaMaestro

      He contracted malaria after being bitten by a mosquito visiting the West Nile, ironically. While in a feverish daze, he stumbled and cut himself resulting in an infected leg, which made him slower than usual, causing him to be struck by the chariot while crossing the street one day. Simple.

  • http://rybicki.wordpress.com/ Ed Rybicki

    Seriously complicated case of suicide…B-)

  • MediaMaestro

    He contracted malaria after being bitten by a mosquito visiting the West Nile, ironically. While in a feverish daze, he stumbled and cut himself resulting in an infected leg, which made him slower than usual, causing him to be struck by the chariot while crossing the street one day. Simple.

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