The Egyptian ‘boy king’ Tutankhamun
may well have died of malaria after the disease ravaged a body crippled by a
rare bone disorder, experts say.
The findings could lay to rest
conspiracy theories of murder.
The scientists spent the last two
years scrutinising the mummified remains of the 19-year old pharaoh to extract
his blood and DNA.
This revealed traces of the malaria
parasite in his blood, the Journal of the American Medical Association says.
Ever since Howard Carter’s
discovery of Tutankhamun’s intact tomb in the Valley of the Kings in 1922,
scholars have speculated over why the 19-year old ‘boy king’ died so young.
Some believe he was killed by a
fall from his chariot. Others suspect foul play.
Because he died so young, and left
no heirs, scholars have speculated that, instead, he may have suffered from a
disease that ran in his family.
Artefacts have shown the royalty of
that era as having a somewhat curvaceous and rather feminine appearance, which
some say would be typical of inherited conditions like Marfan syndrome.
But Egypt’s chief archaeologist Dr
Zahi Hawass rejects these explanations.
He and his team have painstakingly
picked over the remains of Tutankhamun and 10 other royal mummies from his
family – two of which they have now confirmed using genetic fingerprinting to
be the young king’s grandmother and most probably his father.
They say there is no compelling
evidence to suggest King Tut or indeed any of his royal ancestors had Marfan’s
– the voluptuous artefacts, they believe, are a red herring and merely reflect
the fashion of the time.
But they did confirm that the king
may have had some form of inherited disease, a rare bone disorder affecting the
foot called Kohler disease II, as well as a club foot and a curvature of the
Although this was not his ultimate
downfall, it would explain why among his possessions there were sticks and
staves that could have been used as walking canes, say the researchers.
Not long before his death, the king
fractured his leg, and the scientists think this was important.
The bone did not heal properly and
began to die. This would have left the young king frail and susceptible to
What finished him off, they
believe, was a bout of malaria on top of his general ill health.