The Family Life and Death of Tutankhamun

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Tuthankamen's famous burial mask, Egyptian Museum

Several new findings shed light on the boy king’s family tree and mysterious death.

He is easily the most well-known and iconic of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs, first capturing the public imagination in 1922, when Howard Carter discovered his fabulously unplundered tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Tut’s young age at death has always added to his mystique, spurring theories of murder and nefarious family dynamics. But recent research has been steadily unwrapping the secrets around the boy king’s extraordinary life and strange death.

Was King Tut Murdered?

The publication of Who Killed King Tut? by Michael R. King, Gregory M. Cooper and Don Denevi in 2006 initiated a flood of new speculation about Tutankhamun’s death at nineteen years of age, only nine years into his reign as pharaoh. The murder scenario initially seemed plausible because of what appeared to be a grievous head wound discovered on Tut’s mummy.

In early 2010, though, scientific analysis pointed to much more mundane possibilities. Researchers found the genes of a malaria-causing parasite in Tut’s DNA, and speculated that a case of malaria, combined with a genetic bone disorder exacerbated by a leg fracture, conspired to kill the boy king. Other researchers question this assertion, feeling the evidence for sickle cell anemia as the fatal disease is more compelling. The debate continues.

Tut’s Wife, Children, and Parents

Despite Tutankhamun’s young age, it is generally accepted that he fathered twin girls, the mummified remains of whom were originally found in his tomb in 1922. The mother of Tut’s children is thought to be Nefertiti’s daughter Ankhesenamen.

More recent DNA analysis has seen researchers studying eleven mummies from the time period of the New Kingdom, when Tut reigned; they are attempting to reconstruct an accurate family tree for the boy king, though the identities of only three of the mummies are known for certain. It seems likely from genetic comparison that Tut’s father was the pharaoh Akhenaten, though candidates for Tut’s mother are still being sorted out. Researchers believe that one of the mummies studied, however, is probably Tiye, Akhenaten’s mother and Tut’s grandmother.

Amenhotep III

The identity of Tut’s grandfather is fairly well established — he was King Amenhotep III, who ruled from 1390-1352 BC during the Eighteenth Dynasty. Amenhotep’s mummy was found in 1898, but as recently as 2010 a cache of funerary statues was discovered in Kom El-Hittan, consisting of several stone depictions of the pharaoh. The most recently unearthed of these is a beautifully fashioned statue of red granite showing Tut’s grandfather wearing a crown decorated with an asp and seated on a throne beside the god Amun.

Sources:

  1. LiveScience Staff. “Ancient Statue of King Tut’s Grandfather Revealed.” LiveScience.
  2. LiveScience Staff. “King Tut’s Mom and Dad ID’ed.” LiveScience.