King Tut's Death
Experts Seek King Tut's Cause of Death
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: January 5, 2005
Filed at 6:33 p.m. ET
LUXOR, Egypt (AP) -- A team of researchers briefly removed King Tut's mummy
from its tomb Wednesday and laid bare his bones for a CT scan that could
solve an enduring mystery: Was it murder or natural causes that killed
Egypt's boy pharaoh 3,000 years ago?
Tut's toes and fingers and an eerie outline of his face could be seen as the
mummy, resting in a box to protect it, was placed inside the machine in a
specially equipped van parked near his underground tomb in the famed Valley
of the Kings.
The 1,700 images taken during the 15-minute CT scan could answer many of the
mysteries that shroud King Tutankhamun's life and death -- including his
royal lineage, his exact age at the time of his death -- now estimated at
17 -- and the reason he died.
A simpler X-ray done 36 years ago showed bone fragments inside the skull of
Tut -- who was buried in a ``hurried'' fashion in a glitter of gold
treasures, said Zahi Hawass, Egypt's chief archaeologist. But that previous
test wasn't sophisticated enough to determine if the bone fragments
signified a blow to the head.
The CT scan, in contrast, will provide a far more detailed,
three-dimensional view of the scattered bones and coverings that make up
CT imaging has been used for numerous Egyptian mummies in the past,
including one of famed pharoah Ramses I. It also was used on the
5,200-year-old remains of a Copper Age man found frozen in 1991 in a glacier
in the northern Italian Alps. In that case, CT imaging picked up what
simpler X-rays had failed to identify -- an arrowhead in the iceman's body
that possibly killed him.
Hawass, part of the 10-man team that conducted Wednesday's tests, said the
results of the Tut scan will be announced later this month in Cairo.
``There are so many stories about his death and his age,'' Hawass said.
``Today we will determine what really happened.''
The removal of the mummy from its tomb -- the first time in 82 years -- also
showed that it's in bad condition, Hawass said, adding that Egyptian
officials will begin a ``process of restoration to protect and preserve
After the scan the mummy was returned to the tomb, where all restoration
will be done, he said.
The short life of Tutankhamun has fascinated people since his tomb was
discovered in 1922 by a British archaeologist, revealing a trove of fabulous
treasures in gold and precious stones that showed the wealth and
craftsmanship of the Pharaonic court.
A U.S. museum tour a quarter-century ago of Tut's treasures drew more than 8
million people. A smaller number of treasures -- minus Tut's famous gold
mask -- will again go on display in the United States starting June 16 in
Los Angeles, after touring Germany and Switzerland.
The decision to allow the exhibit was a reversal of an Egyptian policy set
in the 1980s that confined most of the objects to Egypt, after several
pieces were damaged on international tour.
Archaeologists have long wondered if Tut was murdered. Hawass said one
factor was that the conditions of his burial in the tomb seemed ``hurried.''
Tutankhamun ruled about 3,300 years ago and is believed to have been the
12th ruler of ancient Egypt's 18th dynasty. He ascended to the throne at
about the age of 8 and died around 1323 B.C.
Tut's lineage also has long been in question. It's unclear if he is the son
or a half-brother of Akhenaten, the ``heretic'' pharaoh who introduced a
revolutionary form of monotheism to ancient Egypt and who was the son of
The CT scan, conducted under rare cloudy skies in the valley on the Nile's
west bank, began with the removal of the wooden box that holds Tut's mummy
from underneath a stone sarcophagus in the underground tomb. Tourists to the
tomb see only that stone covering.
The box holding the mummy was then carried up stone steps out of the vault.
Coverings, which appeared to be insulation-like material, were then pulled
back. The blackened mummy, still resting in the box to protect it, was then
inserted into the CT machine.
The machine, brought from Germany, was donated by Siemens and National
Geographic, Hawass said.
National Geographic Executive Vice President Terry Garcia said his
organization would fund the project for about five years, during which many
Egyptian mummies would be scanned to determine how best to preserve them and
learn more about their health before they died. A documentary is also in the
``The most pressing purpose of this work is conservation, and through the
imaging work we can determine what steps might be necessary to conserve
them,'' Garcia said. ``Then we will also be trying to get a better picture
of health and disease in ancient Egypt.''
Egyptian officials had previously announced they were planning the tests,
but did not give a date or inform most media ahead of time. Hawass has given
exclusive rights to film archaeological events to certain media in the past
in return for financial assistance or research help.
The mummy had not left the tomb since the British archaeologist Howard
Carter excavated the tomb 82 years ago. Hawass said Carter's team damaged
the mummy when they used sharp tools to prize off the famous gold and blue
The team of examiners included medical doctors who operated the machine,
senior antiquities officials and restoration experts.
Plans for the examination had raised a row among archaeologists and
officials in Egypt, who insisted the mummy not be taken from Luxor, and that
the research be done by Egyptians. The researchers originally planned to
move the mummy to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo for examination, but altered
that after the outcry.