The mummified body of Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun burst into flames inside his sarcophagus after a botched attempt to embalm him, according to scientists in a new documentary. After his death in 1323?BC, Tutankhamun was rapidly embalmed and buried, but fire investigators believe a chemical reaction caused by embalming oils used on his mummy sparked the blaze.
A fragment of flesh from the boy pharaoh, whose tomb was discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter and the Earl of Carnarvon, was tested by researchers who confirmed his body was burnt while sealed in his coffin. Tut has long fired the public imagination. He became pharaoh at the age of 10 in 1333 BC and ruled for just nine years until his death. He was the last of the royal line from the eighteenth dynasty of the New Kingdom, one of the most powerful royal houses of ancient Egypt. The discovery of his nearly intact tomb, complete with a gold coffin and gold funeral mask, was a worldwide sensation and sparked public interest in ancient Egypt. Stunning treasure was found in his tomb, including an 24.2lb solid gold death mask encrusted with lapis lazuli and semi-precious stones.
Egyptologist Dr Chris Naunton examined Carter's original notes and also carried out a virtual autopsy of the body using X-ray and CT scanning technology and now believes Tutankhamun was killed in a chariot crash in battle. Dr Naunton said: 'Although the death mask and other treasures are very familiar, a staggering amount of the evidence has been overlooked. It's amazing how many questions have not even really been asked let alone answered.'
He added: 'Despite all the attention Tut's mummy has received over the years the full extent of its strange condition has largely been overlooked. 'The charring and possibility that a botched mummification led to the body spontaneously combusting shortly after burial was entirely unexpected, something of a revelation in fact.
'I think what the project shows is that when it comes to ancient material there is always more to learn, and there probably will be in the future, but with this study we have taken a big step forward in terms of understanding what happened at the end of Tut's life.' Tutankhamun: The Mystery of the Burnt Mummy will be screened on Channel 4 on November 10.
Dr Naunton used the latest technology to reconstruct the death of the pharaoh and now believes a high-speed chariot crash was the cause of his death. He said: ‘we believe there is now a very distinct possibility that he was struck by a chariot wheel in the torso at high speed – enough to do him very serious damage. In fact, that’s what killed him. ‘His body would have been a real mess – he would not have been left a little bloodied – and that would have given the embalmers a real problem. They were used to dealing with dead bodies, not mangled ones.’ In 1968, a photographer from Liverpool University took 50 X-rays of the mummy. It was found that a chunk of Tutankhamun’s skull had floated loose, leading to four decades of murder theories.
But now it is believed that the head injury was caused after his death and that the clues to his demise lie in his chest. Not only did his skeleton have broken ribs on its left-hand side but it was lacking a sternum, or breastbone, and heart. A fragment of the pharaoh’s flesh was also examined. After discovering that Tutankhamun had not been murdered, Dr Naunton asked forensic experts to carry out further research – and it was revealed that King Tut’s injuries were consistent with being run over by a heavy, narrow wheel of the type used on chariots.