It is one of the greatest mysteries of the ancient world – how the Egyptian boy pharaoh Tutankhamun died. Theories have ranged from a violent murder to leprosy and even a snake bite. But now, 91 years after his discovery and 3,336 years since his death, a surprising new analysis on Tutankhamun’s remains has revealed just what it was that killed the boy king, the 11 th pharaoh of the 18 th dynasty of Egypt.
Mystery has surrounded the world’s most famous pharaoh ever since his death in 1323 BC, aged 19. The intrigue and superstition intensified when Lord Carnarvon, who was present when the tomb was opened, died shortly afterwards and a series of strange fates befell many of those who had entered the tomb.
Now British experts believe they have solved at least one of the mysteries surrounding the pharaoh – the question of how he died. The remarkable new analysis, which is due to be presented for the first time in the documentary ‘Tutankhamun: The Mystery of the Burnt Mummy’, has revealed substantial evidence that suggests the pharaoh died after being struck by a speeding chariot, and that a hasty embalming process caused his mummified body to spontaneously combust in his sarcophagus.
Dr Chris Naunton, director of the Egypt Exploration Society, became curious when he came across records produced by Howard Carter, who was the first to discover the tomb. Carter made reference to the body having been burnt, a fact that had been emitted from other discussions relating to his remains. Naunton realised that the question of the pharaoh’s death needed further attention and he carried out a virtual autopsy on the body using x-ray and CT scanning technology, as well as examining old records, and conducting an examination on the only known sample of the pharaoh’s flesh to exist outside Egypt
Nauton found that flesh had indeed been burnt and chemical tests revealed that Tutankhamun’s body had been burnt while sealed inside his coffin. Researchers discovered that embalming oils combined with oxygen and linen caused a chemical reaction which “cooked” the king’s body at temperatures of more than 200C. Dr Chris Naunton said: “The charring and possibility that a botched mummification led the body spontaneously combusting shortly after burial was entirely unexpected, something of a revelation.”
The virtual autopsy revealed another stunning discovery. The pattern of injuries down one side of his body, including shattered ribs and pelvis, were consistent with injuries caused by being struck by a high speed chariot. Also the fact that his heart was missing, something that has perplexed experts for decades, suggests that the heart was so badly damaged that it was removed before the embalming process. Computer simulations of chariot accidents put together by expert crash investigators suggest that the chariot struck Tutankhamun while he was on his knees.
“We believe there is now a very distinct possibility that he was struck by a chariot wheel in the torso at high speed – enough to do him very serious damage. In fact, that’s what killed him,” said Nauton.
Naunton believes it was the extent of his injuries that led to the botched embalming process: “His body would have been a real mess – he would not have been left a little bloodied – and that would have given the embalmers a real problem. They were used to dealing with dead bodies, not mangled ones,” he said.
The spectacular findings will be shown for the first time on Britain’s Channel 4’s ‘Tutankhamun: The Mystery of the Burnt Mummy’ next Sunday at 8pm.