King Tutankhamun also known as King Tut or Tutankhamen was an Egyptian pharaoh who ruled between the period of 1336 and 1327 BC. He is believed to the 12th ruler of the 18th Dynasty of Egyptian history (Carter and Romer 2008). His precious mummy discovered in 1922, in the Valley of Kings by Howard Carter and George Herbert first brought king Tutankhamun to light.. It is the discovery of Tutankhamun’s mummy that first made Tutankhamun and his lineage a subject of public interest worldwide. A lot of facts have been uncovered about him ever since, and all these facts and information made him the most widely known Egyptian pharaoh. There are a lot of speculations surrounding the mystery of his death which, according to many, has been a murder. On the other hand, some people believe that because he was born of an incestuous relationship, he suffered from some congenial genetic defects contributing to his early demise. Of all the facts that make Tutankhamun the most widely known Egyptian Pharaoh, facts related to the discovery of his treasure-filled tomb, the stories about his life and the speculations surrounding the cause of his death are worth taking note of.
Discovery of Tutankhamun’s Tomb
One of the very facts that make Tutankhamun famous is the discovery of his treasure-filled tomb. The British archaeologist Howard Carter who unearthed his mummy in 1922 described the opulence of the tomb contents as "the property-room of an opera of a vanished civilization" (Marchant 2013). Carter first reached Egypt in 1891. After the World War I came to an end, Carter along with his workmen and sponsor Lord Carnarvon began searching for Tutankhamen's tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Some small pieces of evidence, connected with Tutankhamen, like a piece of gold foil, a faience cup and a cache of funerary items were already discovered in and around the Valley of the Kings, leading Carter and his team believe that the tomb would be found nearby (Carter and Romer 2008). It was on 4th November, 1922 that Carter discovered the first 12 stairs leading to the entrance of the tomb. Several days later after the first discovery, the sealed doorway of the entrance was removed, and on 26th November, Carter and his team finally managed to enter the inner chambers of the tomb (Tyldesley 2012). The mummy of Tutankhamun was found wearing a gold mask weighing 24 pounds. In addition to the golden mask, there were two golden hands lying upon the chest of Tutankhamun's mummy holding the royal insignia and below that was an enormous gold Ba-bird to give protection to the mummy (Gilbert, Holt and Hudson 1976). Besides this, there were a lot of jewels and amulets found between the wrappings of the mummy. The coffin of King Tut was made of solid gold. He was laid in three coffins; all fitted one inside the other. All of these gold objects and jewelries made the process of unwrapping the mummy very difficult, but Carter and his team braving all the obstacles very meticulously unwrapped the mummy using hot knives to melt the black layer of resin to remove the jewels (Gilbert, Holt and Hudson 1976). It is after Howard’s discovery of the treasure-filled tomb of Tutankhamun that made the pharaoh a subject of great public interest, and a lot of facts and information related to his family were uncovered since then.
Background Information about Tutankhamun
Born in 1346 BC, Tutankhamun was a boy king who sat at the throne at the age of 9 in 1336 BC under the supervision of two senior members of the kingdom of his father, Aye and Horemheb. Both Aye and Horemheb were military generals. Aye was the brother of Tiy, Amenhotep III's wife. Amenhotep III is believed to be the grandfather of Tutankhamun. Tutankhamun was originally named as Tutankhaten who was the son of Akhenaten also known as Amenhotep IV. His mother was Kiya who, besides being a wife of Akhenaten, was either one of his sisters or one of his cousins and that makes Tutankhamun a child born out of incestuous relationship. He grew up in Amarna. When he was nine years old, he got married to his half-sister named Ankhesenpaaten who later was known as Ankhesenamun (Dunn 2011). It is believed that Ankhesenamun was older than Tutankhamun because she already had a child from her previous marriage to Tutankhamun's predecessor. It is speculated that they had two daughters from their marriage, but both the children were stillborn. It is believed that Tutankhamun didn't succeed his father immediately to the throne, it was an older brother or an uncle named Smenkhkare who proved himself unfit to be a king and thereupon, Tutankhamun at the age of 9 years was crowned the king with Aye and Horemheb appointed as his advisors. Though Tutankhamun was seated at the throne, most of the important decisions were taken by Aye and Horemheb (Dunn 2011). Though his reign of 10 years is considered to have little historical significance, there is evidence that he has restored the temples of Amen, which were ravaged during the reign of Akhenaten. He built his tomb in the Valley of Kings and continued with the construction of Karnak temple.
Mystery of Tutankhamun’s Death: Different Theories
Scientists have tried over the years to come to a conclusion about the cause of death of the boy king who died at a tender age of 19 in 1324 BC. There are several arguments and theories made by the researchers over the cause of King Tut’s death. According to many, his death was caused by a blow to the head, a murder plot designed by Aye who succeeded to the throne after Tutankhamun and married his widow, Ankhesenamun. Bob Brier in his book 'The Murder of Tutankhamun' accused Aye of assassinating King Tutankhamun. He derived the conclusion of murder after examining the forensic evidence of the boy king's remains. The x-ray of Tutankhamun's skull showed a black spot at the base of his head, which might have resulted from a blow to his head. According to him, the blow has resulted in blood clot, a condition known as subdural haematoma that led to his death (Brier 1999). Bob Brier believes that Aye had motive to kill the boy king as he was next in line to the throne. He not only gained access to the throne after Tutankhamen's death, he also wedded the boy king's wife Ankhesenpaaten. A letter written by Ankhesenpaaten further substantiates that the marriage took place against her will (Brier 1999). However, the theory of Bob Brier has not been accepted by many researchers who believe that if Aye would have plotted to kill the king, then he would have tried to make sure that the king was dead by striking repeated blows to the head. It is unlikely that one deadly blow to the head could have killed Tutankhamen.
However, a CAT scan exposed a broken leg of the king that led many to believe that the king might have suffered an accidental fall due to which gangrene had spread quickly through his body, resulting in his death (Rosenbaum 2012). Dr. Hutan Ashrafian, a lecturer and surgeon at the Imperial College London, substantiated the likelihood of Tutankhamen's death by a fall with his theory of epilepsy. According to him, the boy king had wide hips and enlarged breasts, which are indicative of a condition called gynecomastia that is likely to form temporal lobe epilepsy in the king (Rosenbaum 2012). He explained that people suffering from epilepsy are likely to die from accidents or fall due to the unpredictable nature of seizure onset. The boy king might have suffered from one of such falls when he injured himself grievously and that ultimately led to his death. Since the boy king was born of an incestuous relationship, there are many scientists who believe that the Tutankhamun suffered from some congenital genetic defects that led to his death.
Dr. Hutan Ashrafian’s theory, however, is not acceptable to many scientists who argue that since both King Tutankhamun's and his father's chests were missing, no one can definitively conclude that the boy king had enlarged breasts indicative of a genetic disorder. According to a group of Egyptian scientists, the boy king might have died from a combination of malaria and a fall. They substantiated their theory by stating that "Seeds, fruits and leaves found in the tomb, and possibly used as medical treatment, support this diagnosis" (Roberts 2010). They argue that the condition of malaria worsened after the king suffered from a fall, resulting in his death (Wuyts 2010). On the basis of the DNA analysis of King Tutankhamun, the Egyptian researchers concluded that the primary cause of the boy king's death was malaria as the DNA showed genes specific to a malaria-causing parasite. Zahi Hawass, who led the team of Egyptian scientists, also argued that coupled with the malaria infection, the king also suffered from a genetic condition called Kohler's disease (Wuyts 2010). Kohler's disease is a bone disorder that impedes blood flow to the bones causing erosion and weakening of the bones. The fractured leg of the boy king could be suggestive of this bone disorder, and the presence of malaria-causing parasite in the DNA testing made this group of researchers sure of their theory. They further theorized that incest being common among the pharaohs, the genetic bone disease ran in the pharaoh families (Bates 2010). Not only King Tutankhamun's parents were brother and sister, Tutankhamun himself too married his half-sister Ankhesenpaaten, and they shared the same father. According to them, the king was frail and weak who had to walk with the support of canes and that explains why there were over 100 canes found in his tomb (Bates 2010).
However, the theory of malaria and Kohler's disease has been refuted by a team of German researchers from Bernhard Noct Institute for Tropical Medicine (BNI). According to this group of researchers, the boy king might be immune to malaria as he was born and raised in a place where malaria is a childhood disease. By the time, people in such areas grow up, they develop semi or full immunity to malaria, and hence Tutankhamun is very unlikely to have died from malaria infection. Rather the lesions on his foot are indicative of the sickle cell disease, a genetic blood disorder common in malaria infested places like Egypt. They argue that the sickle cell disease happens to 9 to 22% of people who live in Egypt (Wuyts 2010). The disease can surface only if both the parents are carriers of the germs of sickle cell disease. Both of Tutankhamun’s parents were relatively old, and so they might be carriers of the sickle cell disease which resultantly passed on to their offspring. Christian Timmann, who is a professor at BNI, states that sickle cell disease distorts the shape of blood cells making them clump together. The blood vessels become clogged due to the clumping of the blood cells, resulting in restrictive blood flow and that explains why Tutankhamun's condition worsened after he suffered a fall (Wuyts 2010).
Another researcher who believes that King Tutankhamen did not die from malaria is Dr. Bob Connolly, an anthropologist at Liverpool University (Roberts 2010). Being a part of the team who examined the boy king's remains through an x-ray in 1968, Dr. Connlly believes that the boy king suffered from an injury sustained by a fall from his chariot. The chest cavity and broken ribs are cited as evidence of the boy king's death from the fall (Roberts 2010). Connolly states that the existence of malaria-causing parasite in the boy king's blood does not confirm that the king suffered and died from malaria.
The most Likely Reason of Tutankhamen's death
Taking into account all the theories of Tutankhamen’s death, I believe that it is most likely that the king might have died from a combination of a fall and the complications developed after it. The genetic disorder might be true as recent researches have shown how incestuous relationships lead to genetic abnormalities. It is very much likely that the king suffered from genetic defects, probably sickle cell disease which aggravated the king’s condition after he suffered a fall. Since the diagnosis of sickle cell disease was not possible at the time when medicinal treatment was administered through herbs and fruits, it is most likely that the king and his family suffered from a genetic blood disorder, but due to the absence of established medical theories, the treatment for malaria was administered to the king as malaria was endemic in Egypt. The seeds, fruits and leaves found at the tomb prove that.
Tutankhamun also renowned as King Tut was an Egyptian pharaoh who is believed to have ruled between the era of 1336 and 1327 BC. It was the discovery of Tutankhamun's mummy and the precious gold mask and jewels by Howard Carter that all of a sudden brought him to the light. Overnight after the discovery of his tomb, King Tutankhamun became a subject of great public interest. Scientists from all the over the world engaged in researching about him and revealed many information that was, hitherto, unknown to people. Especially, the facts related to the discovery of his tomb, his death at the tender age of 19 and the speculations surrounding the mystery of his death made this Egyptian Pharaoh world famous. There are different theories cited by researchers as the cause of his death. However, researchers are yet to come to a unanimous conclusion regarding the mystery of Tutankhamen’s death. It is the different stories and facts surrounding his life and death that make him an enigma in our eyes, etching his name in our memories for many more years to come.
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