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- 17 April 2014 12:48 pm , Vol. 344 , #6181
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Blow to Head Didn't Kill King Tut
9 March 2005 (All day)
Fifteen minutes in a scanner have quelled decades of speculation that King Tutankhamun was done in by a blow to the head. A series of computed tomography (CT) scans of Egypt's most famous mummy indicate that bone fragments in his skull, which showed up in earlier X-ray studies, were not caused by an injury during Tut's lifetime. But the scans failed to pin down a cause of death for the young king, who was entombed in 1352 B.C.E. at age 19.
In two separate studies in 1968 and 1978, groups x-rayed King Tut's mummy, finding two free-floating bone fragments in his skull. Along with Tut's young age at death and suspected intrigue within the royal family, the bone fragments fueled theories that Tut was murdered.
In January a team led by Egyptologist Zahi Hawass of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, scanned the mummy. Over the last 2 months, they reviewed the images and called in three international experts to confer. On 8 March, the team announced its conclusion that the skull was probably damaged either during embalming or during studies by archeologist Howard Carter's team, which discovered the mummy in 1922. The Hawass's team identified the bone fragments as parts of the topmost vertebra and the opening at the base of the skull. The team says that if the fragments resulted from an injury before death, they would have become embedded in the embalming material; instead they are loose in the cranium.
In addition, the scans showed no evidence of mineral deposits in the bone that might point to poisoning. But the findings don't rule out the use of other poisons that don't leave behind mineral traces, cautions pathologist Eduard Egarter Vigl, caretaker for Ötzi the iceman at the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology in Italy, who reviewed the scans of King Tut. The team speculates that Tut may have succumbed to an infection after suffering a serious break to his leg. King Tut had two broken legs, and most of the team agrees that the break to the lower left femur happened while he was alive, says Egarter Vigl.
Philosopher and Egyptologist Bob Brier of Long Island University, New York, a proponent of the murder theory, says he accepts the conclusions of the scanning team. However, he's not ready to rule out foul play. "The case is not closed," Brier says. "You cannot say he wasn't poisoned; you cannot say he wasn't stabbed."