Friday, June 25, 2010

How Tutankhamun died - the latest questions

A new Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) letter from Christian Timmann, MD and Christian G. Meyer, MD, challenges the Hawass et al conclusions about how Tutankhmaum died published earlier this year.

Although this is the letter that the media have picked up on there are also four other letters in the same issue which respond to the article. None of the letters are available free of charge but the introductory paragraphs can be viewed free of charge on the JAMA website.


An extract from the letter

Dr Hawass and colleagues1 suggested Plasmodium falciparum malaria in conjunction with Köhler disease II as a possible cause of death for Tutankhamun. Falciparum malaria was endemic in ancient Egypt. Although detection of plasmodial MSP1, STEVOR, and AMA1 gene fragments in the mummy may prove presence of P falciparum, we are not convinced that the disease pattern suggested by the authors was the primary cause of Tutankhamun's early death. In endemic areas, malaria is a life-threatening disease commonly affecting children until the age of 6 to 9 years, not semi-immune adults of 18 to 19 years,2 the age that Tutankhamun apparently reached.

Heritage Key (Ann Wuyts)

King Tut died from sickle-cell disease, not malaria, say experts. German researchers at Hamburg's Bernhard Noct Institute for Tropical Medicine (BNI) have rejected a theory put forward by Egyptian antiquities chief Zahi Hawass, claiming sickle-cell disease (SCD) caused King Tut's early demise. A team led by Dr Hawass had said a combination of Köhler disease and malaria was the primary cause of Tutankhamun's death. Yet the German team are calling for more tests on the boy-king's DNA, which they say will easily confirm or deny their claim.

The BNI team have cast doubt on Hawass' conclusions, after studying DNA tests and CT-scans used in the article, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (and accompanied by a host of television documentaries) in February this year.

Google / AFP

Legendary pharaoh Tutankhamun was probably killed by the genetic blood disorder sickle cell disease, German scientists said Wednesday, rejecting earlier research that suggested he died of malaria.

The team at the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in the northern city of Hamburg questioned the conclusions of a major Egyptian study released in February on the enigmatic boy-king's early demise.

That examination, involving DNA tests and computerised tomography (CT) scans on Tutankhamun's mummy, said he died of malaria after suffering a fall, putting to rest the theory that he was murdered.


Ann said...

Hi Andy,

It might be worth pointing out Google/AP is quoting the wrong letter?

""We question the reliability of the genetic data presented in this (the Egyptian) study and therefore the validity of the authors' conclusions," the letter said." is from another letter about the study.

Scrabcake said...

Sigh. I think my decision to dive into this paper after the biological community eviscerated it was a good one. I find the statement in one of the letters that Tutankhamun probably didn't die of Plasmodium falciparum to be interesting--to my knowledge, that's true. If you are going to die of falciparum it's usually as a toddler. After that, you get enough immunity to clear the infection until the next mosquito bites you and gives it to you again. Also, from what I've heard, falciparum was less common in previous eras than it is now. I wonder what impact the known history of the prevalence of falciparum will have on whether this theory is eventually invalidated. I'm a bit annoyed that no one can duplicate these results because of the SCA's rule that only native Egyptians are allowed to do DNA testings on mummies in Egypt. This not only limits verification of this study...which is a necessity in peer reviewed scientific Egyptian scientists, but in reality, it limits it to Egyptian scientists who toe Zahi's line...and that's not really peer review.
Oh well. At least some of the more annoying theories about the end of the Amarna period have finally been put out of their misery. :)

AliceG said...

So we're back to Tut being black. Zahi won't like that! He yells when someone says that.

karima said...

Did I read somewhere that P. falciparum was also found in Tutankhamun's grandmother Queen Tiye? I'm not sure if this is accurate..

Anonymous said...

Hi Alice, no, we're not 'back to black'...

They have only suspicions, questions. They can't say that it was that, in fact, they've asked for tests to be done to find out.


"Recently the medical report detailing the testing done on Tutankhamun and members of his family was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The article, “Ancestry and Pathology in King Tutankhamun’s Family” describes how Dr. Hawass and his team uncovered the long-debated members of Tutankahmun’s family, as well as his cause of death. A research team from Hamburg’s Bernhard Noct Institute for Tropical Medicine (BNI) however have disputed the claims that King Tut died of malaria, and instead believe that sickle-cell disease is to blame for his death. While some of the symptoms between malaria and sickle-cell disease are similar, Dr. Hawass and his team, stand behind their findings and reaffirm that Tutankhamun died of complications from malaria and Kohler’s disease, an ailment that effects blood supply to the bones.

During recent CT scans and DNA tests, Hawass and his medical team discovered that King Tutankhamun had an accident a few hours before he died, which caused a fracture in the king’s left leg. This makes the inclusion of Tutankhamun’s chariot to the New York exhibit even more interesting as the young king may have fallen from this very chariot. Hawass added, “As we discover more about Tutankhamun’s death, we may find that this very chariot is an important piece of the puzzle that we’ve been working for decades to solve.”"

Also, closeup images in this video show contrast with black slaves or soldiers compared to Tut. Image comes from a box from his grave, full image (but smaller) at the link above this paragraph.

Anonymous said...

msvixen, I also read something like that somewhere.

P. falciparum is cerebral malaria - an awful thing - and if it's really serious you can die within hours, especially if you're already not in optimum health. It can have serious complications (if you even survive) and I don't wish that on anyone :(