Tutankhamun’s body spontaneously combusted in his sarcophagus

According to British experts, the mystery surrounding King Tutankhamun’s death has finally been solved. The king died in 1323 B.C., aged just 19, having ruled as Pharaoh for just nine years. Yet even after the much publicised discovery of his tomb in 1922 by Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon, and the sumptuous findings therein, the cause of his death was mere supposition. Some believed, because of the damage that was done to his body, that he may have been murdered. Now, however, it has been revealed that he almost certainly died in a chariot accident.

An Independent article explains how the researchers came to this conclusion. Dr. Chris Naunton, who is the head of the Egypt Exploration Society, read in Carter’s records of the tomb discovery, that the body had been burned, adding to the mystery of his death. Yet when Dr. John Connolly, an anthropologist at Liverpool University, discovered that he had a piece of King Tutankhamun’s flesh amongst a selection of his bones in his office, Naunton realised that there was a chance of discovering what really happened. Connolly was one of the team who X-rayed the king’s remains back in 1968.

Forensic archaeologist Dr. Matthew Ponting then joined forces with Connolly to complete a series of tests on the flesh, which showed beyond doubt that it had been burned. It was a shock, however, to discover that the body had not been burned before death, and therefore did not contribute to his death. The burning happened after it had been sealed in his golden sarcophagus. Tutankhamun’s body had, in fact, spontaneously combusted at temperatures of well over 200 degrees Centigrade. The researchers believe the mummification process was botched and that the combination of the embalming oils used, plus linen and oxygen, led to the body catching fire. 

Researchers also carried out a virtual autopsy to see if they could determine the cause of Tutankhamun’s death. Scientists from the Cranfield Forensic Institute discovered there were a series of injuries down one side of the pharaoh’s body, which were consistent with a car crash. His ribs and pelvis were shattered. They were therefore able to conclude that the cause of his death was a chariot crash, probably at great speed. His body was probably run over by a chariot wheel. 

The researchers were able to solve another mystery linked to Tutankhamun – why he was buried without his heart, unlike other pharaohs. They believe the accident would have crushed his heart to the extent that there was nothing left to bury. Scans revealed his breastbone and sternum were also missing.

The Daily Mail quotes Naunton explaining that it is no surprise that the mummification of Tutankhamun’s body was not carried out properly; the embalmers would have been used to dealing with dead bodies, but not one that was mangled to the extent that Tutankhamun’s was. 

Those interested in finding out more about how the researchers pieced together the evidence can look forward to watching a Channel 4 documentary called Tutankhamun:
The Mystery of the Burnt Mummy.