History Files


Ancient Egypt

Did Disease Kill Tutankhamun?

by Caroline Hawley, BBC News, 1 August 2000



A senior Egyptian antiquities official, Zahi Hawass, has called for a new effort to solve the mystery of how the young Pharaoh Tutankhamun died.

The manner of his death has again come into the spotlight after Dutch researchers who had studied the size of his clothes concluded that he had suffered from a disease which left substantial fatty deposits around his hips.

But Zahi Hawass has been quoted in the Egyptian press as saying that a power struggle over succession, not obesity, was most likely to blame.

He said it was time for the case finally to be solved by using the latest scientific techniques to study the king's mummy.

Tutankhamun 'was ill'

The magnificent contents of Tutankhamun's tomb, discovered in 1922, have ensured an abiding interest in the life and mysterious death of the young pharaoh.

His death still intrigues scholars and the public

An exhibition based on more than 400 items of clothing found in his burial chamber is currently touring Europe.

The director of the Tutankhamun Wardrobe Project at Leiden University in Holland says the clothes are not only a treasure-trove of ancient fashion. They also reveal that the pharaoh - thought to have been only eighteen at the time of his death - was ill.


Based on the size of his clothes, she says the circumference of his hips was at least 30 cm wider than his chest, indicating he had some form of unidentified disease.

Could this illness have killed him?

DNA analysis

Over the years, several theories have been put forward as to how he might have died.

An X-ray analysis of the mummy has led some to conclude that he may have been killed by a blow to the head.

But Nasry Iskander, an Egyptian scientist who has done extensive work on mummies, says Tutankhamun's mummy was in too poor a condition for X-rays to yield any conclusive answers.

He says that in the future, DNA analysis of tissue material might help solve the mystery.



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