Ever since his spectacular tomb was discovered in 1922 by Englishman Howard Carter, Tutankhamun has been an endless source of interest and fascination for Egyptologists and the public alike.
Tutankhamun was a pharaoh of the 18th dynasty and ruled between 1332 BC and 1323 BC. He was the son of Akhenaten, became king at the age of nine or ten, and married his half-sister, Ankhesenpaaten.
The golden throne of Tutankhamun with his wife, Ankhesenpaaten
Now a new documentary by the BBC, to be aired on Sunday, reveals startling new information about the young pharaoh, who died at the tender age of 19, bringing an end to the 18th dynasty.
Using state of art genetic sampling, medical research and CT scan analysis this theory sheds new light, not only on Tutankhamun’s death, but also his family history.
An image of Tutankhamum rising from a lotus flower
A ‘virtual autopsy’, made from more than 2,000 computer scans, was carried out with a genetic analysis of Tutankhamun’’s family, which supports the evidence that his parents were brother and sister.
Scientists believe that the boy-king inherited physical impairments, which included a club foot and epilepsy, triggered by hormonal imbalances, because of the close relationship of his parents.
Previous DNA tests had shown that Akhenaten was the king’s father, who ruled Egypt for 17 years and died in 1334 BC.
Canopic stopper from the tomb of Tutankhamun
The new findings are based on mitochondrial DNA tests, which prove that Tutankhamun’s mother was Akhenaten’s sister.
Now we understand the implications of incestous relationships, but in ancient Egypt this was common in royal families to conserve the royal blood line, which was believed to be divine.
Tutankhamun had a club foot, feminine hips and a pronounced overbite, according to the ‘virtual autopsy’, using computer-aided scans of the pharaoh’s body, which still lies in the Valley of the Kings.
The gold mask of Tutankhamen
These disablilites were most likely the result of incest between his father and mother, who were siblings.
“The ‘virtual autopsy’ shows the toes are divergent, meaning a club foot,” said Ashraf Selim, an Egyptian radiologist.
“He also developed Kohler’s disease or death of the bones, during adolescence, which would have been incredibly painful. There is only one site where we can say a fracture happened before he died and that is the knee,” Selim explains.
Using the latest scan data, the programme creates the first ever full-size image of the boy king.
Tutankhamun had a club foot, probably a genetic defect (photo: BBC)
Current theories on the reason for Tutankhamun’s early death have included assassination, disease or a fatal accident.
It is believed he broke his leg and died from an infection in the wound. DNA analysis in 2010 also found traces of malaria in his system.
In the BBC documentary the CT scans show Tutankhamun suffered a fracture to his leg before his death, as other broken bones are believed to have been damaged afterwards, probably during the mummification process.
Tutankhamun’s golden sandals
The break is considered extremely rare, according to Hutan Ashrafian, a lecturer in surgery at Imperial College in London, but is common amongst epileptics.
If he had a club foot and a condition that made his bones weak that would explain why 139 ebony, ivory, silver and gold walking sticks were found in his tomb.
Portrait of Tutankhamun from the third solid gold coffin of the king.
Documentary presenter Dallas Campbell says, “When they did the original DNA testing you get hints of the maternal line, but it could be a grandmother or an aunt.
“Albert Zink, scientific director for the Institute for Mummies and Iceman in Italy has proved without doubt that Tutankhamun was the product of incest, his parents were brother and sister.
“The ancient Egyptians believed incest kept the blood line pure but in reality it did the opposite. They would have had no idea of the health implications and the outcome on the offspring.”
Tutankhamun’s gold coffin in Cairo museum
Coupled with his unusually large breasts – characteristics shared by his father and uncle – scientists have suggested he may have suffered from inherited temporal lobe epilepsy.
Ashrafian claims that several members of the family appeared to have suffered from ailments which can be explained by hormonal imbalances.
He said, “A lot of his family predecessors lived to a ripe old age. Only his immediate line were dying early, and they were dying earlier each generation.”
Death mask of Tutankhamun (photo: Egyptian museum)
The documentary – Tutankhamun: The Truth Uncovered – will be shown on BBC 1 on Sunday, 26 October.