Paleopathology of King Tutankhamun And His Relatives

As mentioned in a previous post Jama has published the results of some interesting research on Tutankhamun and his family.

The study used CT scans and genetic analysis to examine the pathology and kinship of 16 mummies dating from 1550-1479 BC (five mummies) and 1410-1324BC (11 mummies). The kinship analysis was pretty straightforward and a rundown of it can be found here. One other aspect of genetic analysis was the finding of
Plasmodium falciparum DNA was found in at least four of the mummies (that of Tutankhamun, Thuya, Yuya, and TT320-CCG61065). Previous studies and the current CT scans indicated a wide variety of pathological conditions, the most prevalent being cleft palate, clubfoot, scoliosis, incisional hernias, and several types of trauma.

Tutankhamun showed signs of cleft palate, club foot, malaria, Kohler Disease II, leg fracture, and the second toe of the left foot is missing the middle phalanx. The authors of the paper speculate that all these conditions combined to give Tutankhamun some sort of immunosuppresive syndrome:

He might be envisioned as a young but frail king who needed canes to walk because of the bone necrotic and sometimes painful Kohler disease II, plus slight oligodactyly (hypophalangism) in the right foot and clubfoot on the left. A sudden leg fracture might have resulted in a life-threatening condition when a malaria infection

The authors mention that some of the seeds and leaves in the tomb might have had some medical properties (real or believed). They also mention a number of canes and staves found in Tutankhamun’s tomb to support their contention. This is at odds with portrayals of Tutankhamun in artwork from the time. The way that Tutankhamun and his family have been portrayed in art has led others astray. As the authors of the current paper point out in a different context:

…the particular artistic presentation of persons in the Amarna period is confirmed as a royally decreed style most probably related to the religious reforms of Akhenaten. It is unlikely that either Tutankhamun or Akhenaten displayed a significantly bizarre or feminine physique.

Later they say:

Thus, especially in the absence of morphological justification Akhenaten’s choice of a “grotesque” style becomes more significant.

Interpretations of pathology, or the lack of pathology, based on artistic representations is a somewhat dicey proposition especially if the artistic conventions being used are dictated by the subjects being portrayed.

%d bloggers like this: