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King Tut's feet The feet of King Tut's mummy are shown here in a photo taken during an examination of Tut's remains in his underground tomb in Luxor, Egypt, on November 4, 2007. (Photo: Ben Curtis/AP Images)

Mummy Murder Mystery Solved?

Scientists unveil what they believe to be the real cause of death for King Tut, the famous boy pharaoh

By Laura Leigh Davidson | null null , null
The gold covered-coffin of ancient Egyptian King Tutankhamen is seen in this undated photo released by the Museum Of Antiquities, Basel, Switzerland. (Photo: Andreas F. Voegelin/Museum Of Antiquities Basel/AP Images)
The gold covered-coffin of ancient Egyptian King Tutankhamen is seen in this undated photo released by the Museum Of Antiquities, Basel, Switzerland. (Photo: Andreas F. Voegelin/Museum Of Antiquities Basel/AP Images)

What killed King Tut? Historians and scientists have long believed that ancient Egypt's most famous king was probably murdered. But a recent scientific study claims to have found a different solution to this more than 3,300-year-old mystery.

A team of researchers now say that King Tut, the boy ruler, died of complications from a broken leg and not as a result of foul play. The team released their findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in February.

A Boy King

Tut's full name was Tutankhamen (too-tahng-KAH-mun). He was just 9 years old when he became pharaoh, or ruler, of Egypt in 1348 B.C. His treasure-packed tomb was revealed to the world almost a century ago. It made him one of the best-known Egyptian kings of all time. Tut's burial chamber was filled with royal riches, including a solid-gold coffin, a gold mask, and piles of jewelry.

But Tut did not have much time to enjoy his vast wealth. His reign was cut short at the age of 19. Many experts have thought that Tut was killed by one of his advisers, named Ay, who wanted the throne for himself.

But thanks to a major modern science project, it seems Ay is off the hook.

Science Solves History Mystery

Researchers set out to solve the mystery of King Tut's death by using the tools of  science. They began their investigation of Tut's well-preserved mummy by conducting an autopsy, which is an in-depth medical examination to determine how someone died. The king's autopsy included DNA tests and electronic scans of his remains.

Scientist Carsten Pusch conducted the tests on Tut for the new study. He thinks a broken leg contributed to the young king's death.

A scan of Tut's mummy showed an unhealed fracture in his thigh bone. This confirms that the Egyptian leader broke his leg sometime close to his death. The DNA also indicates that the pharaoh had an illness that causes bones to become frail and brittle.

More than 100 walking sticks were found in King Tut's tomb. This supports the autopsy findings. Many of the sticks were well-worn, showing regular use.

"It is very likely that a bone [disease] required King Tut to use canes," Pusch told Discovery News. “Maybe he just fell and broke his leg."

But how could a person die from a simple broken leg?

Pusch also found DNA evidence in Tut's remains that indicates he had malaria (muh-LAIR-ee-uh), a disease carried by mosquitoes. Malaria severely weakens the immune system.

Pusch and his fellow researchers believe the malaria and the bone disease together caused the king's fracture to become life-threatening. Ultimately, the young pharaoh was just too weak to heal. So the effects of disease combined with the bad luck of a broken bone—not a jealous adviser—are likely the real culprits in King Tut's death.

Mummies Tell Us More

Dr. Howard Markel, a medical historian at the University of Michigan, says the study does more than solve a history mystery. The information gained by studying these mummies could give us valuable insight into the diseases they had.
"This is very exciting that we can take modern technology and learn more about Egyptian history," Markel told CNN. "Mummies are very powerful tools. We can learn a lot from the dead, [like] how illnesses evolve."

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