Inside King Tut’s final months – from gruesome leg break to malaria battle

THE TRAGIC final months of King Tutankhamun’s life have been explored in a new documentary.

The “Boy King”, who ruled Egypt 3,000 years ago, suffered from bouts of malaria and a broken leg before his untimely death aged just 19.

Tutankhamun's famous solid-gold death mask


Tutankhamun’s famous solid-gold death maskCredit: Getty – Contributor Historian and broadcaster Bettany Hughes with King Tut's mummy at his tomb in Egypt's Valley of the Kings


Historian and broadcaster Bettany Hughes with King Tut’s mummy at his tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the KingsCredit: Channel 5

In the years prior to his death, the famous Pharaoh is also believed to have limped with a crippling foot condition that left him disabled.

British historian and broadcaster Bettany Hughes hosted a new show, “Tutankhamun: Waking the Dead”, about Tut’s life on Friday.

The documentary combined previous research with new evidence to investigate the circumstances surrounding Tut’s untimely demise.

Tutankhamun, a pharaoh of the 18th Egyptian dynasty, ruled Egypt from 1332 to 1323 B.C.

He is most famous for his age – experts believe the boy was nine when he took the reigns of the world’s most powerful empire.

His death 10 years later has puzzled experts for decades. Some believe he died of a broken leg or other accident, while others suspect he was assassinated.

Bettany travelled to Cario’s Egyptian Museum to speak to researchers who work with some of the country’s famous royal mummies.

Professor Sahar Saleem, a radiographer and mummy expert, was part of a crack team that scanned and sampled Tut’s remains last year.

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They revealed that the pharaoh may have spoken with a lisp thanks to an overbite and a slight cleft pallet.

“With communication and public profile essential for any ruler, the Boy King may have been facing a big challenge straight away,” Bettany said.


And that’s not the only difficulty the young man had to contend with – he also had family troubles.

In 2010, Egyptologists extracted DNA from the mummified bodies of Tut and a number of other royal mummies.

They were able to confirm a long-standing theory that an unidentified female found in the tomb of Amenhotep II in the Valley of the Kings was in fact Tutankhamun’s mother.

CT scans of the mummy, known only as “The Younger Woman”, revealed the dark secrets of his family.

It’s believed the girl, who was found naked next to two other bodies hidden in a secret side chamber, was married to her brother.

She died a violent death after a blunt object struck her face, taking out a huge chunk of the skull around her jaw area.

Prof Saleem said: “She was quite young when she died. Her wisdom teeth had not erupted yet, so she was maybe about 25 years old.”

CT scans of Tut's remains reveal that he suffered from a crippling foot condition


CT scans of Tut’s remains reveal that he suffered from a crippling foot conditionCredit: Channel 5

The injury was determined to have happened before she was mummified and is likely what killed her.

Scans showed no signs of healing around the trauma before she died. It’s thought to have been brutally inflicted by a blunt object, such as a club with a stone head.

“It looks like an attack,” Prof Saleem said. “The injury could have killed her because she choked on her own blood.

“Fractured bones could have gotten into her airway tract. This could have been fatal.”

Clearly, as Tutankhamun was growing up, there was serious trouble in his household.


When Tut took control of an empire at the height of its powers, his health was one of the biggest obstacles he faced.

CT scans show that he had an unusually elongated skull, which may have been the result of inbreeding.

More than 130 walking sticks found in the ruler’s tomb are thought to have been required due to a crippling foot condition.

“The right and the left foot appear to look quite different from each other,” Dr Carolyn Rando, an archaeologist at University College London, told Bettany.

“We can see that his left foot has quite a high and marked arch, while his right foot is almost completely flat.

The mummy of Tut's mummy. She's believed to have been killed by a violent blow to the face. Her chest was later caved in by grave robbers


The mummy of Tut’s mummy. She’s believed to have been killed by a violent blow to the face. Her chest was later caved in by grave robbersCredit: Channel 5

“He was probably putting more weight on his right foot for some reason and less weight on his left foot.”

X-rays show signs of necrosis, or tissue death, on his right foot, likely the result of a painful bone infection that left him disabled.


Archaeologists have for decades argued that Tut was murdered as a result of a power struggle at the very top of the Egyptian regime.

Based on a dark patch visible in early imaging efforts that was thought to be a pool of blood, experts had argued that the boy was killed with a blow to the head. However, this is not backed up by later CT scans.

Dr Rando said that the skull is intact and lacks any obvious signs of trauma, suggesting that no fatal head injury had occurred.

The dark patch seen in earlier images was in fact resin that had pooled there during the mummification process.

Other theories have posited that the boy suffered a horrific leg break in a chariot accident and later died of sepsis.

Scans show signs of fracture on his left femur.

“This could suggest that he’s had some sort of impact from the side hitting the top of his left knee,” Dr Rando said.

“It could have dislocated it and caused this large, potential fracture.”

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She added: “It’s difficult to say how close to his death this happened. There’s no healing, so he didn’t survive long after it.”

If the skin was broken, the wound was likely infected and could have easily gone septic, Dr Rando said.

This could have very quickly led to death, although it’s impossible to know if sepsis is indeed what finished Tut off.

“We know it’s what he died with, but not what he died from,” Dr Rando added.

But there’s another – and far more gruesome – theory as to what killed the young ruler of the planet’s largest empire.

DNA samples collected from the pharaoh included genes from the parasite that causes malaria.

Evidence suggests that Tutankhamun suffered bouts of the disease on a number of occasions throughout his short life.

It’s thought that the disease, which is passed to humans by mosquito bites, may have weakened the king.

A viral infection could have then finished the job while he was in a vulnerable state. Archaeologists don’t know for sure, however – and may never find out.

Tut’s tomb was unearthed in the East Valley of the Kings near Cario by British archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922.

The find was unusual in that the site had never been visited by looters, leaving the lavish treasures inside undisturbed for 3,300 years.

It remains one of the most famous archaeological discoveries of all time.

“Tutankhamun: Waking the Dead” is now available on My5.

Brit archaeologist Howard Carter discovered Tut's tomb in 1922


Brit archaeologist Howard Carter discovered Tut’s tomb in 1922

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