Tutankhamun's DNA Reveals True Cause Of Death
The most famous mummy in history, Tutankhamun, has had his artifacts exhumed and studied since 1922. For the last two years, in an effort to reveal why the Egyptian 'boy king' died young, teams of scientists from Egypt, Germany, and Italy, have studied Tut's DNA and come up with some interesting conclusions.
Ten royal members of King Tut's family, mummified during the the late 18th century BC, have also been exhumed to study lineage, as well as possible diseases to which the royal family succumbed, and whether they were inherited or opportunistic. Using genetic fingerprinting, the scientists confirmed the identity of Tut's grandmother and father, but not the specific relationships of the other eight members.
Tutankhamun, who died at the age of 19, was a frail boy, was thought to have inherited Marfan syndrome, a connective tissue disorder whose sufferers often had voluptuous, feminine appearances. But the genetic evidence, made possible by the study of so many members of the royal family, makes it very unlikely that any one of Tut's family had Marfan syndrome, according the Egypt's chief archaeologist, Dr. Zahi Hawass.
The king probably did inherit Kohler disease II, however, a rare bone disorder affecting the foot. Additionally, he had a club foot and curvature of the spine. These disorders would affect the King's mobility, which explains, say the researchers, why there were sticks and staves in Tut's tomb; he must have used them as canes.
Like an episode of CSI, the scientists then proceeded to investigate cause of death. They learned that just before his death, King Tut fractured his leg, possibly in a fall from his carriage, and the fracture did not heal properly. This would leave the King in a weakened condition.
It was malaria that actually killed the King; the researchers actually found evidence of the disease in Tut's blood - evidence that is the oldest mummified proof of malaria in ancient populations found yet.
Ancestry and Pathology in King Tutankhamun's Family is published in the February 17, 2010 issue Journal of the American Medical Association (2010;303(7):638-647).