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Did King Tut Die in a Chariot Accident?

Archaeologists suspect the young pharaoh was struck by a chariot, a new twist on an old theory. Does it hold up?

ByTim De ChantNOVA NextNOVA Next
A new theory suggests King Tut died after being struck by a chariot.

Modern civilization is a bit obsessed with King Tutankhamun, the Ancient Egyptian pharaoh who died young and was buried in an extravagant tomb that was discovered in 1922 in remarkably pristine condition. So you can imagine the excitement when British archaeologists recently announced that they know how King Tut died—in a chariot accident.

Theories abound for how the young pharaoh passed away, most involving traumatic injuries due to the broken nature of his mummy. This latest hypothesis isn’t the first time experts have suspected a chariot accident, but it adds a new twist.

Alex Knapp, writing for Forbes :

The team was led by Dr. Chris Naunton of the Egypt Exploration Society . Naunton and a team of forensic scientists from Cranfield used x-ray and CT data of King Tut’s body to perform a “virtual autopsy” of the body. That “autopsy” showed a distinct pattern of injuries on one side of Tut’s body. Car crash investigators then used computer simulations similar to those used to determine injuries to car crash accidents to put together the most likely chariot crash scenario that killed the Pharaoh.

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What makes Nauton’s theory different from the others is how he thinks Tut was killed by a chariot—that the pharaoh wasn’t riding the chariot but was struck by one while kneeling on the ground. Still, as A.R. Williams points out at National Geographic , there are myriad other possibilities, including being tossed off a chariot:

The king might have been riding in a chariot during a hunt or a battle—activities that ancient Egyptian rulers routinely performed as part of their kingly duties.

The damage to Tut’s chest might also be explained by a swift kick from a horse —entirely possible, since horses pulled the pharaoh’s chariot.

Or was it a hippopotamus that killed Tut ? Perhaps the pharaoh was in the wrong place at the wrong time—hunting on foot in a marsh when a hippo charged.

Today hippos are extinct in Egypt, but farther to the south in Africa these aggressive 3,000-pound (1,360-kilogram) creatures with powerful jaws and sharp incisors are legendary for their attacks. Victims may suffer massive tearing, deep puncture wounds, and crushed bones, any combination of which could be fatal.

Other experts have wondered if modern thieves—likely operating during World War II when Tut’s tomb was unguarded—sawed through the pharaoh’s ribs to remove the last beads stuck to the goop that coated his chest.

The CT scans taken in 2005 have focused many recent theories on traumatic injuries, most likely an accident rather than foul play. Given the remarkable stability of Egyptian chariots at the time, Nauton’s theory is perhaps more likely than Tut being thrown from one. But the condition of Tut’s mummy—it has been mishandled at times since its discover over 80 years ago—and the lack of historical record means we’ll likely never definitively know the truth of the young pharaoh’s early demise.

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