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Mystery solved! King Tut died in horrible chariot accident, says researchers

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The discovery of scorched skin from young pharaoh Tutankhamun's mummy may have solved the mystery of his death …

The question of how the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamen died has endured since his tomb was first discovered in 1922, but with a little bit of good fortune and a lot of great science, a team of researchers appears to have finally solved the mystery.

Over the years, scientists have puzzled over King Tut's life and death. It's generally thought that he was a sheltered young king, protected from potential dangers by his elders, that he may have suffered from epilepsy, and he died as a result of a broken leg (possibly due to suffering a fall during a seizure). Research in the '60s even proposed that he was the victim of a brutal assassination. However, more recent evidence tells a very different story. The extensive injuries suffered by the boy king just before he died — including crushed ribs, a shattered pelvis and a broken leg, as well as the mummy's missing heart — point to a more active life, and it was very likely a chariot accident that ultimately caused his death.

The idea that he died in a chariot accident, possibly while out hunting or maybe even during a joy-ride, has been around for a few years now. The most recent findings, though, came from a few fortunate discoveries. Dr. Chris Naunton, the director of the Egypt Exploration Society, found mention in Howard Carter's original notes that Tut's body had been burned, and Liverpool University anthropologist Dr. Robert Connolly discovered a strip of Tut's skin in his collection. Examination of the skin under an electron microscope confirmed the charring, and chemical analysis showed that a reaction caused by the combination of embalming oils, the linens that wrapped him and oxygen caused Tut's body to spontaneously combust after it was sealed away in its sarcophagus.

Adding scientists from the Cranfield Forensic Institute to the team, a 'virtual autopsy' was performed on Tut's mummy, giving the team a good look at all the injuries he'd sustained before his death.

"I wasn't aware to the full extent of the damage that the mummy has sustained in the torso area," Naunton told ShawConnect.ca in an interview earlier this year, "and the extent to which we can be fairly sure that this happened during the life of the king, or shortly afterwards, rather than it being something that had happened during the time of the discovery of the tomb. Having looked closely at the mummy, it is really shocking what a state it is in."

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How did the scientists determine that it was specifically a chariot accident? That revelation apparently came from comparing his injuries to work done by investigators performing car-crash simulations using chariots. Previous studies led researchers to believe that Tut had likely fallen from his chariot, however these new results apparently suggest that he was on his knees when he was hit by a speeding chariot.

(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

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