House, M.D. :King Tut Edition


leg1 foot

Tut’s Fractured Left Femur and Left Clubbed Foot

It is no surprise that King Tutankhamen is Egypt’s poster boy when it comes to the pharaohs of antiquity. Equally unsurprising is the air of mystery surrounding the boy king’s death. The romantics in all of us would like to believe that in a Game-of-Thrones-esque play for power, the young king was murdered. The evidence, as it always seems to do, discount this fanciful account.

It has been postulated that he suffered from a genetic disease known as Marfan syndrome. As a Human Biology major, I might finally be able to contribute my line of study for the benefit of this anthropology class. Marfan syndrome is a connective tissue disorder. Connective tissue is found in almost every part of your body. It’s not only the cartilage that caps bones, or the ligaments that hold them together, but also blood vessels and the sutures between bones. One way Marfan syndrome can manifest is in an Acute Aortic Aneurysm (AAA); in which your aorta suddenly herniates and bursts. As an EMT, I know there are few things that change an ambulance into a hearse quicker than an AAA – a possibility for his quick death.

Where I have speculated, researchers from U of M have done extensive genetic and morphological studies. Tut’s overly flat head directly contradicts the elongated skull typical of Marfan syndrome. They discovered evidence of Friedburg-Kohler’s syndrome that manifest as King Tut’s lame left foot (the disorder represents a flaw in the load bearing function of the arch of your foot, thus making it difficult and painful to walk). Couple with the fractured left femur and the hoard of canes found with his tomb, it can be deduced that King Tut probably lead a sedentary lifestyle (simply meaning he doesn’t exercise all that much). A sedentary lifestyle does a myriad of negative things to your health, one being a weakened immune system.

DNA analysis also shows signs of a parasitic infection in the King. Add on the fact that he was super inbred (Targaryen?), and the compounding picture is of a frail, immuno-compromised boy who had a lot of difficulty getting around (left leg broken, left foot lame). While we will never be able to know 100% the cause of death, it seems more than likely that these factors directly contributed to his death at the hands of… (wait for it) Malaria! Malaria, in 2013 isn’t as big of a deal; but left untreated it can lead to multiple organ failure, swelling of the brain, and a herniated spleen. In 1300 B.C., a herniated spleen (which bleeds profusely) would have meant death – and quickly (explaining his crappy mummification).

While not as exciting as an internal struggle for control of the Egyptian kingdom, King Tut’s death was most likely attributed to a bout of malaria. Sorry, sometime science ruins cool stories.

1 thought on “House, M.D. :King Tut Edition

  1. I liked in this post how you went at the information from a medical point of view. My major is also in the medical field so I was able to appreciate the things you were explaining. It’s so amazing all of the tests that current medicine is able to do on a thousands year old mummy, to be able to deduce what sort of diseases he may have been suffering from. That they seem to have ruled out Marfan’s syndrome is interesting especially after in class we learned that some scientists believed this to be Tut’s connection to Akhnaten. This alternate theory of malaria makes a lot of sense in the context of where and how this king lived. My major is in laboratory sciences and I have a lot of knowledge about malaria. One especially deadly form of the disease comes from Plasmodium falciparum, which is known to inhabit sub-Saharan Arica and causes many of the cases there today. Even in recent times malaria is still an ongoing problem for many people in Africa last year it caused 247 million cases of which 98% were reported in Africa. Around the world, malaria is the most significant parasitic disease of humans, and claims the lives of more children worldwide than any other infectious disease. The malaria parasite was thought to have been around since the dawn of the human species but in this case Tut’s malarial infection would have been the oldest case with a known time of infection. This kind of thing is important because what we learn about these people who lived thousands of years ago can still help us to understand our lives in the present.

Comments are closed.