King Tut Was Disabled, Malarial, and Inbred, DNA Shows (2022)

"Frail boy" needed cane, says study, which also found oldest genetic proof of malaria.

ByKer Thanfor National Geographic News

Published February 17, 2010

9 min read

King Tut may be seen as the golden boy of ancient Egypt today, but during his reign, Tutankhamun wasn't exactly a strapping sun god.

Instead, a new DNA study says, King Tut was a frail pharaoh, beset by malaria and a bone disorder—his health possibly compromised by his newly discovered incestuous origins. (King Tut Pictures: DNA Study Reveals Health Secrets.)

(Video) New Evidence That King Tut Was Born Out of Incest

The report is the first DNA study ever conducted with ancient Egyptian royal mummies. It apparently solves several mysteries surrounding King Tut, including how he died and who his parents were.

"He was not a very strong pharaoh. He was not riding the chariots," said study team member Carsten Pusch, a geneticist at Germany's University of Tübingen. "Picture instead a frail, weak boy who had a bit of a club foot and who needed a cane to walk."

Regarding the revelation that King Tut's mother and father were brother and sister, Pusch said, "Inbreeding is not an advantage for biological or genetic fitness. Normally the health and immune system are reduced and malformations increase," he said.

Short Reign, Lasting Impact of King Tut

Tutankhamun was a pharaoh during ancient Egypt's New Kingdom era, about 3,300 years ago. He ascended to the throne at the age of 9 but ruled for only ten years before dying at 19 around 1324 B.C. (Pictures: "King Tut's Face Displayed for First Time.")

Despite his brief reign, King Tut is perhaps Egypt's best known pharaoh because of the wealth of treasures—including a solid gold death mask—found during the surprise discovery of his intact tomb in 1922. (See pictures of King Tut tomb treasures or see them in person in Toronto through April 30.)

The new study, published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, marks the first time the Egyptian government has allowed genetic studies to be performed using royal mummies.

"This will open to us a new era," said project leader Zahi Hawass, the Secretary General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) and a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. (National Geographic News is part of the National Geographic Society.)

"I'm very happy this is an Egyptian project, and I'm very proud of the work that we did."

(See "King Tut: Unraveling the Mysteries of Tutankhamun"—a 2005 National Geographic magazine report on forensic studies that recreated Tut's face, among other developments.)

King Tut's Close-Knit Family

In the new study, the mummies of King Tut and ten other royals that researchers have long suspected were his close relatives were examined. Of these ten, the identities of only three had been known for certain.

Using DNA samples taken from the mummies' bones, the scientists were able to create a five-generation family tree for the boy pharaoh.

(Video) King Tut's Inbred Family Tree: How He looked in Real Life- Mortal Faces

The team looked for shared genetic sequences in the Y chromosome—a bundle of DNA passed only from father to son—to identify King Tut's male ancestors. The researchers then determined parentage for the mummies by looking for signs that a mummy's genes are a blend of a specific couple's DNA.

In this way, the team was able to determine that a mummy known until now as KV55 is the "heretic king" Akhenaten—and that he was King Tut's father. Akhenaten was best known for abolishing ancient Egypt's pantheon in favor of worshipping only one god.

(Pictures: "Who Was King Tut's Father?" [2007].)

Furthermore, the mummy known as KV35 was King Tut's grandfather, the pharaoh Amenhotep III, whose reign was marked by unprecedented prosperity.

Preliminary DNA evidence also indicates that two stillborn fetuses entombed with King Tut when he died were daughters whom he likely fathered with his chief queen Ankhensenamun, whose mummy may also have finally been identified. (See "King Tut Tomb Fetuses May Reveal Pharaoh's Mother.")

Also, a mummy previously known as the Elder Lady is Queen Tiye, King Tut's grandmother and wife of Amenhotep III.

King Tut's mother is a mummy researchers had been calling the Younger Lady.

While the body of King Tut's mother has finally been revealed, her identity remains a mystery. DNA studies show that she was the daughter of Amenhotep III and Tiye and thus was the full sister of her husband, Akhenaten.

Some Egyptologists have speculated that King Tut's mother was Akhenaten's chief wife, Queen Nefertiti—made famous by an iconic bust (Nefertiti-bust picture). But the new findings seem to challenge this idea, because historical records do not indicate that Nefertiti and Akhenaten were related.

(See "Nefertiti's Real, Wrinkled Face Found in Famous Bust?")

Instead, the sister with whom Akenhaten fathered King Tut may have been a minor wife or concubine, which would not have been unusual, said Willeke Wendrich, a UCLA Egyptologist who was not involved in the study.

"Egyptian pharaohs had multiple wives, and often multiple sons who would potentially compete for the throne after the death of their father," Wendrich said.

Inbreeding would also not have been considered unusual among Egyptian royalty of the time.

(Video) What Killed People Who Opened King Tut’s Tomb?

King Tut Plagued by Malaria, Required Cane

The team's examination of King Tut's body also revealed previously unknown deformations in the king's left foot, caused by the necrosis, or death, of bone tissue.

"Necrosis is always bad, because it means you have dying organic matter inside your body," study team member Pusch told National Geographic News.

The affliction would have been painful and forced King Tut to walk with a cane—many of which were found in his tomb—but it would not have been life threatening.

Malaria, however, would have been a serious danger.

The scientists found DNA from the mosquito-borne parasite that causes malaria in the young pharaoh's body—the oldest known genetic proof of the disease.

The team found more than one strain of malaria parasite, indicating that King Tut caught multiple malarial infections during his life. The strains belong to the parasite responsible for malaria tropica, the most virulent and deadly form of the disease.

The malaria would have weakened King Tut's immune system and interfered with the healing of his foot. These factors, combined with the fracture in his left thighbone, which scientists had discovered in 2005, may have ultimately been what killed the young king, the authors write.

Until now the best guesses as to how King Tut died have included a hunting accident, a blood infection, a blow to the head, and poisoning.

UCLA's Wendrich said the new finding "lays to rest the completely baseless theories about the murder of Tutankhamun." (Related: "King Tut Not Murdered Violently, CT Scans Show" [2005].)

King Tut's Father Not "Egyptian Quasimodo"

Another speculation apparently laid to rest by the new study is that Akhenaten had a genetic disorder that caused him to develop the feminine features seen in his statutes, including wide hips, a potbelly, and the female-like breasts associated with the condition gynecomastia. (See "Men With Breasts: Benign Condition Creates Emotional Scars.")

When the team analyzed Akhenaten's body using medical scanners, no evidence of such abnormalities were found. Hawass and his team concluded that the feminized features found in the statues of Akenhaten created during his reign were done for religious and political reasons.

(Video) New Research suggests Tutankhamun died from genetic weakness caused by family inbreeding

In ancient Egypt, Akhenaten was a god, Hawass explained. "The poems said of him, 'you are the man, and you are the woman,' so artists put the picture of a man and a woman in his body."

Egyptologist John Darnell of Yale University called the revelation that Akhenaten's appearance was not due to genetic disorders "the most important result" of the new study.

In his book Tutankhamun's Armies, Darnell proposes that Akhenaten's androgynous appearance in art was an attempt to associate himself with Aten, the original creator god in Egyptian theology, who was neither male nor female.

"Akenhaten is odd in his appearance because he belongs to the time of creation, not because he was physically different," said Darnell, who also did not participate in the DNA research.

"People will now need to consider Akenhaten as a thinker, and not just as an Egyptian Quasimodo."

(Read more about Akhenaten in National Geographic magazine's "Pharaohs of the Sun.")

"Beautiful DNA" Found in King Tut Study

The generally good condition of the DNA from the royal mummies of King Tut's family surprised many members of the team.

Indeed, its quality was better than DNA gathered from nonroyal Egyptian mummies several centuries younger, study co-author Pusch said.

The DNA of the Elder Lady, for example, "was the most beautiful DNA that I've ever seen from an ancient specimen," Pusch said.

The team suspects that the embalming method the ancient Egyptians used to preserve the royal mummies inadvertently protected DNA as well as flesh. (Related: "King Tut Move Designed to Save Mummy.")

"The ingredients used to embalm the royals was completely different in both quantity and quality compared to the normal population in ancient times," Pusch explained.

Preserving DNA "was not the aim of the Egyptian priest of course, but the embalming method they used was lucky for us."

(Video) Ancient Aliens: King Tut's Mummified DNA (Season 9) | History

FAQs

What did King Tut's DNA show? ›

The results showed that King Tut belonged to a genetic profile group, known as haplogroup R1b1a2, to which more than 50 percent of all men in Western Europe belong, indicating that they share a common ancestor. Among modern-day Egyptians this haplogroup contingent is below 1 percent, according to iGENEA.

What type of malaria did King Tut have? ›

Four of the 11 mummies, including King Tut's, had genetic traces of malaria tropica, the most severe form of the infection. The researchers said several other pathologies were diagnosed in the Tut mummy, including a bone disorder known as Köhler's disease II, which alone would not have caused death.

Why did King Tut have so many diseases? ›

Scientists believe genetics and inherited diseases played a role in Tut's bad health because of inbreeding. A genetic analysis of his family's mummies suggests that his parents were siblings. “Tutankhamun: The Truth Uncovered” will air Sunday on BBC.

Did King Tut have Marfan syndrome? ›

The CT scans of Tutankhamun found a cleft palate and fairly long head, as well as a curved spine and fusion of the upper vertebrae, which are conditions associated with Marfan's syndrome.

Why was King Tut disabled? ›

Tutankhamun was physically disabled with a deformity of his left foot along with bone necrosis that required the use of a cane, several of which were found in his tomb. He had other health issues including scoliosis and had contracted several strains of malaria.

What does recent DNA testing of Tut's mummy tell us about his death? ›

The scan revealed a fractured femur, which could have caused death from infection or from a blood clot. The present study revealed that juvenile aseptic bone necrosis—a disorder in which poor blood supply leads to bone damage—might have rendered Tut particularly vulnerable to physical injuries.

Why do people think King Tut died to malaria? ›

The scientists speculated Tut was weakened by a broken leg possibly from a fall. That and a malaria infection led to his death, they believe. Tut was afflicted with a cleft palate, mild clubfoot in his left foot and other bone ailments.

What was King Tut known for? ›

Tutankhamun, also spelled Tutankhamen and Tutankhamon, original name Tutankhaten, byname King Tut, (flourished 14th century bce), king of ancient Egypt (reigned 1333–23 bce), known chiefly for his intact tomb, KV 62 (tomb 62), discovered in the Valley of the Kings in 1922.

What did King Tut eat? ›

Their staple diet was bread, vegetables, fowl and even beer. If you were richer, you could afford port, mutton or wine. Tutankhamun himself would have eaten animals he'd hunted himself, such as ox. “These dishes are yummy but there's something different about them,” says Jackie.

Who was the most evil pharaoh in Egypt? ›

Akhenaten
Akhenaten Amenhotep IV
Died1336 or 1334 BC
BurialRoyal Tomb of Akhenaten, Amarna (original tomb) KV55 (disputed)
MonumentsAkhetaten, Gempaaten
ReligionAncient Egyptian religion Atenism
12 more rows

How do they know what King Tut looked like? ›

Tut underwent a “virtual autopsy,” with CT scans, genetic analysis, and over 2,000 digital scans used to generate a computer model of the pharaoh.

What happened to King Tut's wife? ›

Ankhesenamun does not appear anywhere. She is not even on the walls in the tomb of Tutankhamun. The reason why she does not appear in Tutankhamun's tomb is that Aye intended to marry her, and he did not intend to put her on the walls of Tutankhamun's tomb for eternity.

What are the facts that are known about King Tut's lineage? ›

The facts that were known about King Tut's lineage was that he was possibly the son or grandson of Amenhotep III, a powerful pharaoh who had ruled for almost four decades at the height of the eighteenth dynasty's golden age.

What haplogroup was Tutankhamun? ›

The results showed that King Tut belonged to a genetic profile group, known as haplogroup R1b1a2, to which more than 50 percent of all men in Western Europe belong, indicating that they share a common ancestor.

What injuries did King Tut have? ›

The team speculates that Tut may have succumbed to an infection after suffering a serious break to his leg. King Tut had two broken legs, and most of the team agrees that the break to the lower left femur happened while he was alive, says Egarter Vigl.

What happened to king Tuts body? ›

Grand Egyptian Museum

Today the most fragile artifacts, including the burial mask, no longer leave Egypt. Tutankhamun's mummy remains on display within the tomb in the Valley of the Kings in the KV62 chamber, his layered coffins replaced with a climate-controlled glass box.

Where is King Tut now 2022? ›

Beyond King Tut will mark its world premiere with the start of its North American tour in spring 2022. The world premiere showings include a special installation at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C. (June 2022-February 2023) and SoWa Power Station in Boston (July 8-September 18).

Who was the last of King Tut's family line? ›

His son Amenhotep IV succeeded him. He shocked the people by attacking Amun, a major god. The boy king Tut changed his name to Tutankhamun but was more popular as Tut. He ruled for 9 years and was the last ruler of his dynasty.

Was King Tut's father's tomb found? ›

Known as KV 55, the remains were found in 1907 in the Valley of the Kings.

Did Egyptians marry their own daughters? ›

In ancient Egypt, it was common for the kings to marry in their own families. The Egyptian pharaohs would marry their own daughters and have children. King Tutankhamen had a relationship with his half-sister and they later married. The Egyptians did this so as to ensure that their bloodline remain pure.

Is malaria caused by a parasite? ›

Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito which feeds on humans. People who get malaria are typically very sick with high fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like illness. Four kinds of malaria parasites infect humans: Plasmodium falciparum, P.

How many kids did King Tut have? ›

King Tut's Wife

Around 1332 B.C.E., the same year that Tutankhaten took power, he married Ankhesenamun, his half-sister and the daughter of Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti. While the young couple had no surviving children, it is known they had two daughters, both likely to have been stillborn.

Did King Tut have sickle cell disease? ›

King Tutankhamen, Egypt's boy king, was killed by the inherited blood disorder sickle-cell disease – not malaria.

What are 3 accomplishments of King Tut? ›

Here is a list of King Tut's Greatest Achievements!
  • Restoring Peace to the People. King Tut's father made his people stop worshiping all the gods and goddesses, and instead just worship one god (Aten). ...
  • Restoring Peace with the Gods. ...
  • Time to Continue Building the Holy Sites.

Why was King Tut called the boy king? ›

When was Tutankhamun born? King Tut lived around 1341 to 1323 BC, and because he was only ten years old when he became a pharaoh, he was called the 'boy king'. King Tut's father was the pharaoh Akhenaten.

Where is King Tut now 2021? ›

Scheduled to open in 2021, the Grand Egyptian Museum will tell the story of 3,000 years of ancient Egyptian history with over 100,000 artefacts. The new museum will also be the final resting place of the Tutankhamun collection.

How did King Tut change Egypt? ›

He changed the entire religion of Ancient Egypt to worship only the sun god Aten. He did away with over a thousand years of traditional Egyptian religion and forced people to change the way they worshiped. He even built a new capital city in honor of the god Aten called Amarna.

Why did King Tut marry his sister? ›

Incestuous alliances were common among Egypt's royalty, said renowned Egyptologist Zahi Hawass. “A king could marry his sister and his daughter because he is a god, like Iris and Osiris, and this was a habit only among kings and queens,” Hawass told a news conference at Cairo's Egyptian Museum.

What was King Tut's ethnicity? ›

Tutankhamun (sometimes called “King Tut”) was an ancient Egyptian king. He ruled from 1333 BCE until his death in 1323 BCE.

Was Cleopatra a Persian? ›

Scholars generally identify Cleopatra as essentially of Greek ancestry with some Persian and Sogdian Iranian ancestry. This is based on the fact that her Macedonian Greek family – the Ptolemaic dynasty – had intermarried with the Seleucid dynasty that ruled over much of West Asia.

Why was Tutankhamun's name changed to Tutankhamun quizlet? ›

-As a result of suggestion or coercion, the young Tutankhaten changed his name to Tutankhamun early in his reign and authorized the abandonment of the city of Armana.

Where do ancient Egyptians come from? ›

Most Egyptians were probably descended from settlers who moved to the Nile valley in prehistoric times, with population increase coming through natural fertility. In various periods there were immigrants from Nubia, Libya, and especially the Middle East.

Were ancient Egyptians white or black? ›

Ancient Egyptians Were Likely To Be Ethnically Diverse

Instead, they simply classified themselves by the regions where they lived. Scholarly research suggests there were many different skin colours across Egypt, including what we now call white, brown and black. But this is still a subject of much debate.

What skin color were ancient Egyptian? ›

From Egyptian art, we know that people were depicted with reddish, olive, or yellow skin tones. The Sphinx has been described as having Nubian or sub-Saharan features. And from literature, Greek writers like Herodotus and Aristotle referred to Egyptians as having dark skin.

What skin color did King Tut have? ›

Using large amounts of this black liquid, which turned King Tut's skin a blackish color, may have been a deliberate attempt to depict the pharaoh, as literally as possible, as Osiris.

Was Queen Cleopatra black or white? ›

Despite these attempts to understand the anomalies in Cleopatra's family history, for the most part, when asked, most scholars and students of the Greco-Roman world, will say, without hesitation “Cleopatra VII was white—of Macedonian descent, as were all of the Ptolemy rulers, who lived in Egypt.” They often even ...

What ethnicity is Cleopatra? ›

Cleopatra was of Macedonian descent and had little, if any, Egyptian blood, although the Classical author Plutarch wrote that she alone of her house took the trouble to learn Egyptian and, for political reasons, styled herself as the new Isis, a title that distinguished her from the earlier Ptolemaic queen Cleopatra ...

Where is Cleopatra's mummy? ›

The mummified remains of Cleopatra, at the British Museum.

Which statement is true concerning the significance of the heart in the Egyptian ritual? ›

Which statement is true concerning the significance of the heart in the Egyptian ritual of "last judgment"? It encompassed a duality of good and bad aspects of an individual's life.

How is the identification of the king with Egypt itself emphasized in this representation? ›

Egyptian Museum, Cairo. How is the identification of the king with Egypt itself emphasized in this representation? The black soil of the Nile Valley is reflected in the darkened skin, set off by the white dressing associated with depictions of the god Osiris. the horse-drawn chariot, which served military purposes.

What was one major change that King Akhenaten ruled that directly affected the art world? ›

What was one major change that King Ikhnaton ruled that directly affected the art world? Tried to make Egypt a monotheistic culture.

What race is closest to Egyptian? ›

Both types of genomic material showed that ancient Egyptians shared little DNA with modern sub-Saharan Africans. Instead, their closest relatives were people living during the Neolithic and Bronze ages in an area known as the Levant.

Are Egyptians genetically Arab? ›

All the invasions that Egypt has experienced over millennia, including the Arab invasion, do not seem to account for more than 15% of modern Egyptians' ancestry. So Egyptians are not genetically Arabs, but they may be so culturally and linguistically.

What race is Egyptians? ›

Ethnic groups. The population of the Nile valley and delta, which are home to the overwhelming majority of Egyptians, forms a fairly homogeneous group whose dominant physical characteristics are the result of the admixture of the indigenous African population with those of Arab ancestry.

Videos

1. Revealed: How King Tut Died
(Smithsonian Channel)
2. A Virtual Autopsy Of Tutankhamun Revealed Some Eye-Opening Truths About The Famous Pharaoh
(Did You Know ?)
3. Weirdest Facts About King Tut
(Weird History)
4. Scientists Discover Creepy Mysteries of King Tut of Egypt
(Nutty History)
5. America's Most INBRED Family
(Eskify)
6. This Is Why Inbreeding Is So Dangerous
(Thoughty2)

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