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Saturday, February 20 2010 @ 09:26 AM CST

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The real cause of Tutankhamun's death has finally been discovered, reports Nevine El-Aref

Journalists from across the globe flocked yesterday morning to the foyer of the Egyptian Museum, desperate to catch a glimpse of the mummies of King Tutankhamun's parents and grandmother.



Newly identified: the mummies of Tutankhamun's parents and grandmother Tiye. Above is the face of Queen Tiye - (photos: Khaled El-Fiqi)

Eighty-eight years after the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb the enigma of the 18th Dynasty, one of the most powerful royal houses of the New Kingdom which included Akhenaten as well as the boy king, is finally being unravelled.

"The Amarna period is like an unfinished play. We know its beginning but have never succeeded in discovering its end," Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), told reporters at the press conference held at the Egyptian Museum. "Now, using modern scientific technology and DNA analyses of five New Kingdom royal mummies, 70 per cent of the history of the Amarna period has been uncovered and several perplexing questions answered.

Hawass announced that the mummy from tomb KV 55 in the Valley of the Kings, which archaeologists in 1955 believed to be of Semenka Re, who died at the age of 25, belongs to the monotheistic king Akhenaten, who died aged between 45 and 55. DNA tests also show that Akhenaten is Tutankhamun's father, not his brother as some have claimed.

Archaeological evidence supports the results, not least the inscribed limestone block pieced together by Hawass in December 2008. It shows Tutankhamun and his wife, Ankhesenamun, seated together. The text identifies Tutankhamun as the "king's son of his body, Tutankhaten", and his wife as the "king's daughter of his body, Ankhesenaten." The only king to whom the text could refer as the father of both children, says Hawass, is Akhenaten.

The stylised male/female physique characteristic of representations of Akhenaten is, says Hawass, an iconographic convention that bears relation to the Pharaoh's actual appearance. "According to Amarna religious belief Aten was both male and female and therefore Akhenaten, as his representative, was depicted as having the form of both a man and a woman."

The mummy of Queen Tiye, the wife of Amenhotep III and mother of Akhenaten, has also been identified. Known as the Elder Lady with Hair, it was found in KV 35 alongside the remains of a younger woman, now identified as Tutankhamun's mother. Her name has yet to be established, though the result of the DNA analyses show that she was one of five daughters of Amenhotep III and a sister of Akhenaten.

"The results show previous claims that the mummy is either Nefertiti or Akhenaten's daughter Merit Amoun are unfounded," said Hawass.

But how did Tutankhamun die?

To solve the mystery of Tutankhamun's early death the SCA began comprehensive scientific studies on Tutankhamun's mummy and 11 others in 2005. Egyptologists, radiologists, anatomists, pathologists and forensic experts examined 1,700 CT-scan images of Tutankhamun's mummy and concluded that the young king, who died aged 19, was not killed after being hit on the back of his head as had been supposed.

There was no evidence suggesting a blow. The two loose bone fragments in the skull could not possibly have resulted from a pre- death injury as they would have become stuck in the embalming material. After matching these pieces to the fractured cervical vertebra and foramen magnum, the team concluded they were broken either during the embalming process, or by Howard Carter's team as they tried to remove the famous golden mask glued onto the face.

The team theorised that the open fracture at the back of the mummy's head was most likely used as a second route through which embalming liquid was introduced to the lower cranial cavity via the back of the upper neck. The two layers of different density solidified material found in this area support the claim. The first cervical (topmost) vertebra and the foramen magnum (large opening at the base of the skull) are fractured, which may have occurred either when the hole was made to pour in the embalming liquid, or when Carter's team clumsily removed the head from the mask.

The studies also showed a fracture in the left thighbone, leading to speculation that Tutankhamun broke his leg just a few days before he died.

Now, says Hawass, with the help of the same Egyptian scientific team and medical anthropologists from Germany, the real causes of Tutankhamun's death are known. He died from malaria tropica and pathogen.

"Unfortunately this was the worst form of malaria. Even today we don't have very good medications to deal with it," palaeogeneticist Carsten Pusch, from the University of T├Ębingen, told reporters. The team concluded that a sudden leg fracture might have led to a life-threatening condition when the malaria infection occurred.

"He was not a proud Pharaoh or a strong leader, he was a young boy, frail and weak. He couldn't walk by himself and needed other people or walking sticks because of bone necrosis," Pusch said.

Tutankhamun's family was plagued by malformations and infections. Several pathologies, including Kohler Disease II, a bone disorder, have been diagnosed in Tutankhamun and four other mummies of his family.

The CT scans, says Cairo-scan Centre Executive Director Ashraf Selim, reveal that Tutankhamun was also afflicted with vascular bone necrosis, a condition in which diminished blood supply to the bone leads to serious weakening or destruction of tissue. "This might have rendered Tutankhamun particularly vulnerable to physical injuries and be the cause of the definitely altered structure of his left foot."

"The findings provide an answer to why 130 walking sticks were found inside his tomb and why he is shown in several relief shooting arrows while sitting," points out Hawass.

ahram.org.eg

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