Crash test mummy: scientists find new evidence about how King Tut may have died

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Author: Zachary Petit
Date: Sept. 2014
Publisher: National Geographic Society
Document Type: Article
Length: 781 words
Lexile Measure: 1060L

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A young boy stands in a temple filled with burning incense as he waits for a priest to place a glittering crown on his head. The ritual is part of the child's coronation ceremony. Once completed, he will officially be the pharaoh of ancient Egypt, and his people will call him by his royal name--King Tutankhamun. For decades archaeologists have studied Tuts reign hoping to learn more about the ruler. They've uncovered a lot about his life, but a riddle remains. No one knows exactly how the king died.

Tut became pharaoh of Egypt in 1332 B.c. at the age of 9. He ruled the country during a time of conflict, when battles over land raged between Egypt and the neighboring kingdom of Nubia. Only a decade after coming to power, the young leader died. In 1922, explorers found the king's crypt beneath an Egyptian desert. Although drawings and carvings in the tomb tell of events in his life, the story of his death was never recorded.

Many people have guessed at what happened. Some think he was murdered by enemies. Others think he died of an infection. A few even think he was crushed by a hippo. Egyptologist Chris Naunton has a new theory. He believes King Tut may have been struck by a chariot.

X-RAY VISION

Naunton and his team developed their theory after gathering all of the x-rays taken of King Tuts mummy since it was discovered 90 years ago. Working with a forensics lab, which uses special equipment to solve crimes, they combined the x-rays to create a single, life-size image of Tut's body. The image was then displayed on a nearly seven-foot-long high-tech digital screen (above)."This was the first time that all of this evidence had been examined together," Naunton says. While conducting this "virtual autopsy," the experts began to realize something strange about Tut's body. On his left side, eight ribs and part of the pelvis were missing. The heart--usually left inside a mummy--was also gone.

Investigators suspected that Tut had been hit hard by a large object that shattered some of his bones and severely damaged his heart. Then the injured parts of his body were removed during the mummification process. After discussing different objects that could have caused such damage, the experts came up with a prime suspect: a chariot wheel. "This would have had the right amount of force to create those wounds," Naunton says. His team began to wonder if Tut had been in a chariot accident.

TEST-DRIVING THE THEORY

To test their hypothesis, the scientists got a replica Egyptian chariot from a company that makes props for movies, hitched it to horses, and took it out for a spin. During the drive, the team recorded how the vehicle maneuvered and its top speed, then passed the information to specialists who study car crashes. With the data, the specialists created different computer simulations of chariot accidents to demonstrate what might have happened to King Tut.

The first simulation showed Tut falling off his chariot. The next showed him crashing the ride. But neither of these would have caused the injuries he sustained. Finally they tried a scenario in which Tut was crouched on his knees--perhaps having fallen off his own vehicle--and was struck by the wheel of an oncoming chariot. This time everything lined up exactly. Naunton's team thinks that the king could have been cruising into battle, on a hunting trip, or maybe just taking a ride through the desert for fun when the accident took place. "Whatever happened, the evidence indicates that Tut may have taken a chariot ride that ended in tragedy," Naunton says.

To Naunton and his team, the chariot crash theory is the most logical explanation for Tuts death. Still, they're not quite ready to close the case. In fact, without records from Tut's era telling exactly what happened, Naunton thinks it's possible that we may never figure out the whole truth. "And that's fine," Naunton says. "The mystery just makes King Tut's story all the more amazing."

Caption: ONE OF TUT'S CHARIOTS

Caption: KING TUT'S COFFIN

Caption: COMBINED X-RAYS OF TUT'S MUMMY

Caption: RE-CREATION OF TUT'S FACE

EXPLORE EGYPT!

For more cool facts about the country, go online.

kids.nationalgeographic.com/egypt

ANCIENT EGYPT UNEARTHED

Some believe Egypt's triangular pyramids were inspired by the shape of the sun's rays.

Pepi II became pharaoh when he was about 6 years old and may have ruled for 94 years.

Archaeologists discovered the remains of nearly 4,500-year-old bakeries in Giza, Egypt.

An ancient Egyptian book had spells to protect people in the afterlife from such things as being forced to walk upside down.

Ancient Egyptians played a game similar to hockey.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A386211243