Experts Speculate Tutankhamun's Death Was Due to A Drink Driving Chariot Accident
A crown prince who abused his authority, driving fast and drunk? It doesn’t seem implausible, but when you tie that to King Tutankhamun, ancient Egypt’s famed boy king, it seems almost outrageous. New research shows that King Tut could have lived as dangerously as other teenage boys throughout history, enjoying driving chariots fast and drinking wine (perhaps simultaneously). They even propose that this incident was the cause of his death!
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“He was like a typical teenager, drinking and probably driving the chariot too fast,” Biomedical Egyptologist Sofia Aziz told BBC Science Focus during the Cheltenham Science Festival. She further elaborated that it was probably an alcohol-induced high-speed chariot crash leading to Tutankhamun’s infamous infected open wound, which would ultimately result in his death.
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Tut’s tomb contained dry white wine and six chariots interred with him in the tomb, along with a breastplate and other armor. Aziz cites these as proofs of Tutankhamun’s warrior-hardened persona, rather than the inverse. This goes along with other claims it is likely that the 19-year-old’s leg hit the dashboard of the chariot at high speed, causing a fracture that the autopsy supports, and the infected wound. From this, Aziz concludes that Tutankhamun was likely a battle-hardened warrior, rather than the frail, sickly boy that history has written him as.
But even ancient Egyptian folklore has portrayed him as frail and deformed with a club foot. His remarkably preserved burial also exacerbated this point – he was buried with 130 fragmented and complete sticks of numerous designs and shapes, which suggested that he needed walking sticks to aid his mobility. But conversely, there were also throwing sticks used in hunting included in the tomb.
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One of six chariots found in Tutankhamun’s tomb. ( Mary Harrsch / Flickr)
"By examining the CT scans [of Tutankhamun], I do not find any evidence of ankle arthritis, which is a long-term effect of walking on the side of the foot. So my opinion is that the presence of this mild deformity [club foot] did not cause significant gait disturbance for the king. Tut's foot condition did not prevent him from participating in activities. He was an active teenager."
Dr Campbell Price, curator of Egypt at Manchester Museum, also spoke about Tutankhamun at the same festival, and supports the notion that the sickly boy-king notion is mythical. He also argued that walking sticks were status symbols, and the myth around Tut was strengthened because a lot of young men had perished in the First World War, shortly before the tomb was discovered, and so the notion of a sickly-boy was all-pervasive.
“We have this sympathy for Tutankhamun, he's not what you would expect from the golden mask. And I would totally agree that anything in Pharaonic art is not what people looked like, because it's the world of the gods. But it's gone the other way where we have a view of him as this poor creature,” he argued according to the BBC Science Focus report.
The speculation around King Tut’s disability was also compounded by the fact that there was a missing middle bone in the second toe of his left foot, reports The Daily Mail. Aziz argues that this bone could have gone missing after being transferred into a sand box, or taken as a souvenir – there is no evidence to suggest otherwise either.
Mummy of Tutankhamun. (Howard Carter/ Public domain)
“When I studied Tutankhamun, I personally don't think there was any evidence he was disabled, because I have seen mummies where it looks like there is a club foot. We call these pseudo-pathological changes. The walking sticks were just a sign of royalty,” added Aziz. “His legs were aligned so well - if he did have a deformity, and if he had a club foot, he would have had difficulty walking, but the long bones just don't show any evidence of that.”
A String of CT Scans: Misguided Reveals
A poorly conducted autopsy in 1925, three years after the tomb’s discovery by British archaeologist Howard Carter, resulted in a disarticulation of Tut’s body, which was cut into pieces. In 2005, another poorly conducted CT scan tried to reaffirm the club foot hypothesis. The deformity, however, could have been caused by the poorly conducted CT scans, and in fact, his legs are equal in length.
“Because of the way that the autopsy was conducted in 1925, sadly, a lot of vital information has been lost. So even though we have conducted CT and we know some new things, there's a lot of things that we can't answer,” said Aziz, rather ruefully.
Howard Carter and an Egyptian workman examine the third (innermost) coffin of Tutankhamun made of solid gold, inside the case of the second coffin. (Public Domain)
In 2015, another round of CT scans was conducted on Tutankhamun's tomb itself. This time, the scans focused on the walls of the burial chamber. The purpose was to examine the possibility of hidden chambers behind the walls, sparked by a theory suggesting the presence of Queen Nefertiti's burial within Tutankhamun's tomb. However, the scans revealed no evidence of hidden chambers or significant findings.
Other scholars are not fully convinced of the veracity of this hypothesis and research. Dr Zink Albert, head of the Institute for Mummy Studies at the Eurac Research Centre, maintains the conclusions of his 2010 CT study remains valid, and Tutankhamun died from his genetic faults not an accident.
Dr Albert said there is “no doubt” Tutankhamun had a walking impairment, making it “difficult to imagine that he was able to ride a chariot in standing position”. He added, “It is true that he suffered from a leg fracture. Although it is impossible to prove the exact cause.”
Current technological standards suggest that DNA sequencing is the best step forward, and may reveal hidden facets of Tutankhamun’s death. Even Aziz concedes that there is a high possibility that the ‘real’ truth of Tut’s death may never be fully understood or revealed.
By Sahir Pandey
Allen, V. 2023. King Tutankhamun was a 'battle-hardened warrior' and NOT a sickly boy-king as previously thought, experts claim. Available at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-12177645/King-Tutankhamun-battle-hardened-warrior-NOT-sickly-boy-king-experts-claim.html.
Blakely, R. 2023. King Tut ‘was more teen dynamo than frail pharaoh’. Available at: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/king-tut-was-more-teen-dynamo-than-frail-pharaoh-c9ldnq93b.
Leach, N. 2023. Tutankhamun may have died in drink-driving crash, bold new theory claims. Available at: https://www.sciencefocus.com/news/tutankhamun-death-drink-driving/.
Marquis, E. 2023. Egypt's Most Famous Pharaoh May Have Died Due To A Drunk Driving Crash. Available at: https://jalopnik.com/egypts-most-famous-pharaoh-may-have-died-due-to-a-drunk-1850528850.