Not All Science is Equally ‘Scientific’

Scientists have argued a great deal about the cause of death of the famous Egyptian pharaoh, Tutankhamun.1 For many years, people believed that the boy-king had died from a haemorrhage, following a blow to the head. Some even speculated that he had been murdered.

However, following extensive CT scanning in 2005, a number of experts, including Frank Rhüli of the University of Zurich, concluded that there had been no blow to the head. Instead, it was suggested that the young pharaoh had suffered a break to the left thigh bone, possibly leading to fatal bleeding or infection. Some were more dogmatic, such as experts featured in the National Geographic documentary, King Tut’s Final Secrets. The evidence was unequivocal, they claimed; Tutankhamun clearly died from complications following a broken leg.

Another team of experts, featured in the Discovery Channel documentary, King Tut Unwrapped, came to a different conclusion. The young pharaoh was a deformed, sickly youth who died of malaria they said. The CT scans, they argued, showed that he had diseased bones, a club foot and a cleft palate. Moreover, samples of DNA were said to have tested positive for malaria and blemishes were found on the skin which could have been mosquito bites.

However, in another twist, James Gamble, an orthopaedic surgeon from Stanford University, poured cold water on the deformities theory, claiming that these could have resulted from the mummification process. Two experts from the Bernhard Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg were also sceptical of the malaria theory, arguing that an Egyptian of Tutankhamun’s age would probably have been immune to malaria. Other experts weighed in regarding the DNA tests, claiming that, in the warm environment of the tomb, the DNA would have degraded within a few centuries and that the data collected may have been the result of contamination.

Bob Connolly, a senior lecturer in physical anthropology at Liverpool University, is also sceptical of the weakling/malaria theory. A more likely explanation, he believes, is that he died from a fall from his chariot. According to Connolly, his chest cavity was caved in and he had broken ribs consistent with his having suffered such an accident. Raymond Johnson of the University of Chicago also sees Tutankhamun as a very active youth. Carvings from a temple in Luxor, he says, clearly show him engaged in military campaigns and the weapons, chariots and armour found in his tomb show clear signs of use. Frank Rhüli, however, points out that a fatal accident would have damaged other parts of the skeleton such as the backbone and arms….

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