The big news is that archeologists have reassembled King Tut’s mummy and are putting it on display, in a way that will protect the mummy from deterioration from the humidity and germs of visitors.

Tut’s head was removed at the time of discovery by over eager archeologists, so it’s nice to see him together again.

But with the news continues the question of why he died. CT scans of the body were performed to try to answer the questionof how he died and the rumors that he had been murdered.

Earlier X Rays suggested a skull fracture from a blow to the back of his head, but later X rays suggested this was an artifact.

However, a fracture of the thigh bone and missing sternum (the breast bone that connects with the ribs) have made some suspect fractured ribs from a chariot accident, either accidental or contrived to look accidental so that the king’s chief advisor could take over.

However, these theories might just be conjecture:

Zahi Hawass announced the results of the CT scan…
“In answer to theories that Tutankhamun was murdered, the team found no evidence for a blow to the back of the head, and no other indication of foul play,” according to a statement released Tuesday by Egyptian authorities.

“They also found it extremely unlikely that he suffered an accident in which he crushed his chest.”

Hawass says some members of the Egyptian-led research team, which included two Italian experts and one from Switzerland, interpreted a fracture to Tut’s left thighbone as evidence that the king may have broken his leg badly just before he died.

“Although the break itself would not have been life-threatening, infection might have set in,” the statement says. “However, this part of the team believes it also possible, although less likely, that this fracture was caused by the embalmers.”

This last statement is puzzling.

The thigh bone is fairly large, and not easy to break in a healthy person. When it breaks, there is usually quite a bit of bleeding in the area (hematoma)–often one or two pints of blood– so unless the embalmers drained the wound, there should be evidence of the bleeding. If the bone was broken after death, there would be no blood.

Would a simple femur fracture cause death? Yes, from blood loss/shock, from medicines given, and if the skin was broken, from sepsis.

A fracture of the femur would be a common injury from a chariot accident, but other injuries should be present. If thrown from a chariot, one would expect skin lesions on the arms and face from skidding across the ground. the skirt of Egyptian chariots usually came up to the thigh, and of course had no seat belts.
A good medical analysis of possible causes of Tut’s demise is found at ArcheologyRocks, which gives a good medical analysis of types of various injuries. One item I hadn’t thought of was a hippo bite. In Africa, death from hippos are more common than death from lions…one of my fellow docs treated a nasty bite, and saved the guy and his leg. But if Tut was bitten by a hippo, you’d see other injuries, not just a fracture.
From a medical point of view, without someone checking the skin and soft tissues for evidence to correlate the injury, I suspect Tut’s death will remain a mystery, at least until someone does an MRI to check the soft tissues, and allows a modern forensic pathologist to analyze the mummy.

Paging Dr. Brennan…paging Dr. Temperance Brennan

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket, and she writes medical essays on HeyDoc Xanga Blog

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