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Ancient Egypt

Did Disease Kill Tutankhamun?

by Caroline Hawley, 1 August 2000

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

The manner of his death again came into the spotlight in 2000 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 was quoted in the Egyptian press as saying that a power struggle over succession, not obesity, was most likely to blame (although later facts would occlude both theories - see related links, right). 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, but an exhibition based on more than four hundred items of clothing which had been found in his burial chamber was touring Europe in 2000.

The director of the Tutankhamun Wardrobe Project at Leiden University in Holland said the clothes were not only a treasure-trove of ancient fashion. They also revealed 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 thirty centimetres wider than his chest, indicating that he had some form of unidentified disease. Could this illness have killed him?

DNA analysis

Over the years, several theories had been put forward as to how he may have died. An X-ray analysis of the mummy led some to conclude that he may have been killed by a blow to the head. But Nasry Iskander, an Egyptian scientist who had carried out extensive work on mummies, said Tutankhamun's mummy was in too poor a condition for X-rays to yield any conclusive answers.

He said that in the future, DNA analysis of tissue material may help solve the mystery.



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