How did Tutankhamun die?

As part of our 'History Extra explains' series, leading historians answer the burning questions you were too afraid to ask...

Howard Carter and Tutankhamen © Everett Collection Historical / Alamy

How did Tutankhamun die?

Tutankhamun ruled Egypt from approximately 1336-1327 BCE. His mummy, discovered in the Valley of the Kings in 1922, shows that he died when he was approximately 18 years old. However, it does not show how he died.

Tutankhamun’s body is not well preserved: it suffered damage at various stages – immediately before or immediately after death, during the curiously hasty mummification process, within the tomb (where a chemical reaction caused it to ignite in its coffin), and while being extracted from the coffin.

Even without this damage to confuse the situation, it can be difficult to identify a cause of death in a mummy as not all illnesses leave an obvious trace. This has not stopped Egyptologists from speculating.

Clearly Tutankhamun did not die of old age. The very obvious damage to his chest and legs suggest an accident – a chariot or hunting accident maybe? Or perhaps death on the battlefield? Others have suggested that he may have been murdered.

Dr Joyce Tyldesley is a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Life Sciences at the University of Manchester, where she writes and teaches a number of Egyptology courses.

For more burning historical Q&As on the Tudors, ancient Rome, the First World War and ancient Egypt, click here.

 

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