How Did King Tut Die?

Sep 28, 2012 By Arati Rao
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King Tut, the Egyptian boy king who captured the imagination of the world when his tomb was discovered intact in 1922, is back making news again. Why? Because no one has been able to figure out with certainty how he died. 

Dr. Hutan Ashrafian, of the Imperial College London has put forth a new theory based on art and depictions of the pharaoh-ancestors of King Tut. The sculptures of King Tut, Akhenaton (King Tut’s father), and  pharaohs that came before him – Amenhotep III and Tuthmosis IV – all seem to have very feminine figures. This could mean, Ashrafian says, that they could all be suffering from a genetic disorder called gynecomastia.

Also, going back to records of the time, all of these pharaohs died young – each one died at a slightly younger age than the other. This again could point to a genetic disorder. Moreover, two of the five pharaohs had “religious visions” – which could point to a disorder in the brain. Epilepsy is a disease of the temporal lobe of the brain, which causes seizures and hallucinations after exposure to sunlight. Apparently people with such a disorder experience the same kind of “religious fervor.” Could these pharaohs all have had temporal lobe epilepsy?

What's the connection? 

Apparently, what makes this theory plausible is that the temporal lobe is also connected to hormones and epilepsy can throw hormonal balances off. King Tut was known to have walked with a cane, and had a deformed left foot. Could this have been due to a fall from an epileptic seizure?

But we don’t know for sure. Some archaeologists believe that the sculptures and paintings that show the feminine bodies are actually religious and political in nature. Akhenaton, spurred by his religious vision, had proposed that Egypt move to worshipping only the sun. This was a huge departure from the polytheistic (many-god) society to a monotheistic (one-god) society. Akhentaon was considered “god,” and poems said of him “You are man and woman.” Could this be the reason that pharaohs of the time were shown with feminine bodies?

Now, if epilepsy had a genetic marker or a test to prove it, it would be so easy. But it does not. And for now, King Tut and his ancestors, keep the mystery of their lives and deaths to themselves.

A short video on the discovery of King Tut's tomb by Howard Carter in 1922: