Timmann and Meyer said that if Tut had sickle cell disease, it would explain the condition of his weakened bones and how he could have died from complications brought on by the leg fracture. Because sickle cell disease causes red blood cells to be shaped like half-moons rather than their normal round shape, the red blood cells can clump together and block capillaries, restricting blood flow and clogging vessels, all of which can be life-threatening.
"Furthermore, if Tutankhamun had possessed the sickle cell gene, he would not die from malaria, as these individuals are protected from severe courses of malaria," Meyer said. The BNITM researchers will soon publish their arguments in favor of further analysis of the DNA samples taken from Tut to determine whether he had sickle cell disease.
But other researchers disagree with Timmann and Meyer's conclusions.
"There is no radiological evidence for 'weak bones' in Tutankhamen, his bones were very sound.There is absolutely no evidence from the x-rays suggesting sickle cell or any haemoglobinopathies [genetic blood disorders]," said Robert Connolly, senior lecturer in physical anthropology at the University of Liverpool, who has studied Tut's mummy and previously worked with the Egyptian researchers who published the malaria findings.
Among those questioning the findings is Arizona State University bioarchaeologist Brenda J. Baker, whose letter to the Journal of the American Medical Association appears in the June 23 edition.
A specialist in human osteology and paleopathology, Baker takes issue with the identification of the skeletonized mummy KV55 as Tutankhamun’s father, Akhenaten. The authors place this individual’s age at the time of death at 35-45, despite producing no evidence that repudiates well-known prior examinations citing the age in the 18-26 range.
These earlier analyses – documented with written descriptions, photographs and radiographs – show a pattern of fused and unfused epiphyses (caps on ends of growing bones) throughout the skeleton, indicating a man much younger than Akhenaten is believed to have been at the time of his death. Baker also uses a photograph of the pubic symphysis of the pelvis to narrow the age of KV55 to 18-23 based on recent techniques used in osteology and forensic anthropology.
In addition, Baker questions the supposed pathology shared between KV55 and King Tutankhamun, none of which are supported by previous studies. Her conclusion is that KV55 are the remains of another son of Amenhotep III.