Was it murder? Some scholars have speculated that it was, but a recent study of King Tut's mummy proved he wasn't killed by a blow to the back of his head.

A research team used a special X-ray machine and a computer to create 1700 three-dimensional images of the mummy from a series of cross-sections. (This technique is known as computed tomography, or CT scanning.) The images provided no evidence for many of the theories about King Tut's death—murder, a rare disease, poison—but suggest instead that he might have died from an infection due to a badly broken leg.

The head on his shoulders

Archaeologists discovered Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922; the king's body was dismantled as scientists tried to recover the artifacts buried with him. Decades later, scientists re-opened the tomb and X-rayed the mummy. The images revealed bone fragments in the king's skull and fueled theories that he might have been killed by a blow to the back of his head.

The CT scans were done to check the conclusions of previous examinations, and to look for details earlier investigators might have missed. (CT scans are a good way to examine specimens like King Tut's mummy because they're non-invasive, generate data about the whole body in a short time, clearly show both soft tissue and bone, and don't require that the body be moved again and again.)

The latest study proved that the bone fragments in King Tut's skull came from bones broken during his embalming or by archaeologists in 1922. The team of scientists agrees that the mummy's skull shows no evidence of murder. Six of the eight scientists, however, see evidence of an accident that caused a badly broken leg, with an open wound. The break itself wouldn't have killed King Tut, but a resulting infection surely could have.

Rest in peace

Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities and head of the team of scientists, said,

"We don't know how the king died, but we are now sure that it was not murder.... The case is closed. We should not disturb the king any more."

Make it at the Museum

On Saturday, February 18, you can make your own "mummy" and then check out the real one in the museum's Collections Gallery.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Liza's picture
Liza says:

Here's a WebQuest activity where you use scientific and historical information to try to solve the mystery of King Tutankhamun's death.

posted on Tue, 02/14/2006 - 3:24pm
Niccolo''s picture
Niccolo' says:

This is real cool. I wonder if King Tut broke his leg when he was walking down the stairs and tumbled down to his death just like that. It's a good gag though.

posted on Wed, 09/27/2006 - 10:23am

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