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Ancient Egypt

Tutankhamun Died Hunting

Edited from Mathaba News, 22 October 2007

Studies using a CT medical scanner revealed that Tutankhamun suffered a badly broken leg shortly before he died, just above his knee. In 2007, further evidence came to light which suggested that he suffered the fracture while hunting game from a chariot.

Despite several theories in the past (see related feature links, right), the mystery behind the sudden death of Tutankhamun, the boy king who ruled Egypt between about 1333-1324 BC, may finally have been solved by scientists who believed that he fell from a fast-moving chariot whilst out hunting in the desert.

Speculation surrounding Tutankhamun's death had been rife since his tomb was discovered in 1922 by archaeologist Howard Carter. X-rays of the mummy taken in 1968 indicated a swelling at the base of the skull, suggesting that the boy pharaoh had been killed by a blow to the head.

New findings

More recent studies using a CT medical scanner, however, changed that picture. The broken leg he was found to have suffered probably led to fatal blood poisoning. Then further evidence came to light suggesting that he suffered the fracture while hunting game from a chariot.

These newer findings were still circumstantial, but one of Egypt's leading experts on Tutankhamun said in a television documentary screened in October 2007 that he believed the case was now solved regarding how the boy king met his sudden and unexpected end.

He was not murdered as many people thought. He had an accident when he was hunting in the desert. Falling from a chariot created this fracture in his left leg and this really is how he died, as Zahi Hawass stated as general secretary of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.

Until that point, many historians had assumed that he was treated as a rather fragile child who was cosseted and protected from physical danger. However, Nadia Lokma of the Cairo Museum said that a recent analysis of the chariots found in the tombs of the pharaohs indicated that they were not merely ceremonial but showed signs of wear and tear. Hundreds of arrows recovered from the tomb also showed evidence of having been fired and recovered.

These chariots were hunting chariots not war chariots. It could be seen from the wear on them that they were actually used.

A cache of clothing found in Tutankhamun's tomb, which was stored in the vaults of the Cairo Museum, suggested that he was accustomed to riding these chariots himself. They included a specially-adapted corset which would have protected the wearer's abdominal organs from any damage from an accident or the heavy jostling of a chariot ride.

A final piece of evidence came from a garland of flowers which had been placed around the neck of Tutankhamun's mummy. Botanists found that it included cornflowers and mayweed which were fresh at the time at which the decoration was made. These were in flower in March and April, thereby given us the time of year in which he was buried, according to Nigel Hepper of the Royal Horticultural Society at Kew Gardens.

Because the flowers could have been collected only between the middle of March and the end of April, and as the complex process of mummification lasted seventy days, this meant that Tutankhamun probably died in December or January. That timing coincided with the middle of the winter hunting season.


The results of this latest research into Tutankhamun came just a few weeks before Britain hosted the first exhibition of his tomb's artefacts in thirty-five years at The O2 centre, formerly the Millennium Dome, in south-east London.

  A chariot could have reached 25mph. If [it] turns over at that speed, you could easily break your leg very seriously

Lord Carnarvon  

When the first Tutankhamun exhibition in London was held at the British Museum in 1972, some 1.5 million people made the pilgrimage to see his fabulous solid gold facemask. This time, however, the mask would remain in Egypt because of fears it may not withstand the trip.

The present-day Lord Carnarvon, whose ancestor paid for Howard Carter's 1922 expedition, said the latest findings indicated that Tutankhamun was an active young man who took risks with his life.

People had previously thought that he was an over-cosseted child, but he really does seem to have been out in the field, taking part in kingly activities towards the end of his short life. His chariots could have reached considerable speeds, up to forty kilometres an hour (25 mph). If a chariot turns over at that speed, you could easily break your leg very seriously.



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