The Assassination of King Tut (2006)

Discovery Channel

Zahi Hawass (centre), director of the Supreme Council of Egyptian Antiquities, supervises the removal of Tutankhamun's mummy from his sarcophagus in the underground tomb in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor. (Image: Ben Curtis/ AP)
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Three thousand years ago, a boy became king. Tutankhamun, the most famous of all the Egyptian pharaohs, died before his 20th birthday. The cause of death: a mystery. Even though the crime occurred over 3,000 years ago, evidence still remains. Examine the clues and see if you can name the prime suspect.You be the detective and evaluate the clues. Find out about the victim and the prime suspects. Whodunit? Was it Tut's ambitious commander-in-chief of the most powerful army in the known world, fearful that Tut's youth and physical weaknesses might leave Egypt vulnerable to attack? Perhaps Maya, Tut's chief finance minister and the man who held the country's purse strings, felt his wealth threatened by the young king. Did Ankhesenamun, Tut's bride since childhood, blame him for two heartbreaking miscarriages? Or could it have been Ay, Tut's prime minister, advisor, protector and father figure, who wanted the boy king cast aside in his own insatiable quest for power?
On March 8, 2005, Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass revealed the results of a CT scan performed on the pharaoh's mummy. The scan uncovered no evidence of a blow to the back of the head and no evidence suggesting foul play. There was a hole in the head, but it appeared to have been drilled, presumably by embalmers. A fracture to Tutankhamun's left thighbone was interpreted as evidence that the pharaoh badly broke his leg shortly before he died and his leg became severely infected; however, members of the Egyptian-led research team recognized, as a less likely possibility, that the fracture was caused by the embalmers. Altogether 1,700 images were produced of Tutankhamun's mummy during the 15-minute CT scan.

Much was learned about the young king's life. His age at death was estimated at nineteen years, based on physical developments that set upper and lower limits to his age. The king had been in general good health and there were no signs of any major infectious disease or malnutrition during his childhood. He was slight of build, and was roughly 170 cm (5 ft 7 in) tall. He had large front incisor teeth and the overbite characteristic of the Thutmosid royal line to which he belonged. He also had a pronounced dolichocephalic (elongated) skull, although it was within normal bounds and highly unlikely to have been pathological. Given the fact that many of the royal depictions of Akhenaten (possibly his father, certainly a relative), often featured such an elongated head, it is likely an exaggeration of a family trait, rather than a distinct abnormality.The research also showed that the pharaoh had "a slightly cleft palate". A slight bend to his spine also was found, but the scientists agreed that there was no associated evidence to suggest that it was pathological in nature, and that it was much more likely to have been caused during the embalming process. This ended speculation based on the previous X-rays that Tutankhamun had suffered from scoliosis. (However, it was subsequently noted by Dr. Zahi Hawass that the mummy found in KV55, provisionally identified as Tutankhamun's father, exhibited several similarities to that of Tutankhamun — a cleft palate, a dolichocephalic skull and slight scoliosis (also found on one of her stillborns), the first and third elements being a common defect on people suffering from Klippel-Feil syndrome, which incapacitated him and might have had a role on his accidental death.)

The 2005 conclusion by a team of Egyptian scientists, based on the CT scan findings, is that Tutankhamun died of gangrene after breaking his leg. After consultations with Italian and Swiss experts, the Egyptian scientists found that the fracture in Tutankhamun's left leg most likely occurred only days before his death, which had then become gangrenous and led directly to his death. The fracture in their opinion was not sustained during the mummification process or as a result of some damage to the mummy as claimed by Howard Carter. The Egyptian scientists also have found no evidence that he had been struck on the head and no other indication that he was murdered, as had been speculated previously. Further investigation of the fracture led to the conclusion that it was severe, most likely caused by a fall from some height — possibly a chariot riding accident due to the absence of pelvis injuries — and may have been fatal within hours. Despite the relatively poor condition of the mummy, the Egyptian team found evidence that great care had been given to the body of Tutankhamun during the embalming process. They found five distinct embalming materials, which were applied to the body at various stages of the mummification process. This counters previous assertions that the king’s body had been prepared carelessly and in a hurry. In November 2006, at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, Egyptian radiologists stated that CT images and scans of the king's mummy revealed Tutankhamun's height to be 180 centimetres or 5 feet 11 inches tall, a revision upward from the earlier estimates. Michael R. King continues to dispute these findings, claiming that the king was murdered. He argues that the loose sliver of bone was loosened by the embalmers during mummification, but that it had been broken before. He argues that a blow to the back of the head (from a fall or an actual blow) may have caused the brain to move forward, hitting the front of the skull, breaking small pieces of the bone right above the eyes.


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