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Head Blow Did Not Kill King Tut, CT Scan Suggests

One of the great mysteries of ancient Egypt has just become a little less mysterious. Scientists who've been studying the 3,300-year-old mummy of King Tutankhamen say computerized scans contradict the long-held theory that a blow to the head killed the boy pharaoh.

Archeologists believe King Tutankhamun ascended the throne during the so-called 18th dynasty of ancient Egypt, when he was just 8 years old. He died at 19 and was mummified.

British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered King Tut's tomb, in the Valley of the Kings near Luxor, Egypt, in 1922. It was filled with some 5,000 artifacts, including a life-size golden mask of the young man's head. Since then, scientists have wondered how Tut died.

An X-ray taken in 1968 showed a bone fragment inside King Tut's skull, but the test was not advanced enough to reveal whether the fragment was the result of a blow to the head.

This past January, a group led by the head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, briefly removed King Tut's mummy from its tomb to examine the body with computerized scanning machines. They found no evidence of a blow to the head -- though they did find signs of a leg fracture.

Kathlyn Cooney, a Stanford University Egyptologist, says the computerized scans don't necessarily rule out murder. "All this has proved was that there was no blow to the back of the head," she says, adding that "the cause of death is by no means clear."

Egyptian scientists agree that it might have been murder -- by poisoning, for example. Or it could have been an infection. But there's no way to tell for sure.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Christopher Joyce is a correspondent on the science desk at NPR. His stories can be heard on all of NPR's news programs, including NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.

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