King Tut and Life Expectancy

King Tutankhamun, commonly known as King Tut, ruled ancient Egypt from 1333 to 1324 BC.  King Tutankhamun became Pharaoh in 1333 at the age of nine years old and ruled until he died at the age of 19. He is a well known pharaoh today because his tomb was discovered in the early 20th century. This newsworthy finding revealed to the world a rich and historical set of artifacts. In the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) this week, we find out more about his possible cause of death.

“Over the years, many scholars have offered a wide variety of explanations for his early demise as well as the seemingly androgynous appearance of his face and gynecomastia portrayed in sculptures and other relics. These diagnoses have included Marfan syndrome, Wilson-Turner X-linked mental retardation syndrome, Fröhlich syndrome (adiposogenital dystrophy), Klinefelter syndrome, androgen insensitivity syndrome, aromatase excess syndrome in conjunction with sagittal craniosynostosis syndrome, and Antley-Bixler syndrome or one of its variants.”

“Although no evidence was found to confirm a diagnosis of either Marfan or Antley-Bixler syndromes, Tutankhamun did have juvenile aseptic bone necrosis of the left second and third metatarsals, which may be consistent with Köhler disease II or Freiberg-Köhler syndrome. Moreover, this orthopedic disease process appears to have been flourishing at the time of his death. Perhaps most interesting was the DNA evidence of Plasmodium falciparum in many of the royal mummies—including Tutankhamun’s. Indeed, this finding constitutes the oldest genetic proof of malaria in well-dated mummies. On the other hand, no evidence of bubonic plague, tuberculosis, leprosy, or leishmaniasis was found.”

So what is a Köhler disease? It is a rare bone disorder of the foot. It is often found in children below the age of 10.  It can cause pain and swelling in the foot and cause a limp.  It can usually be treated today, but in ancient times Mr. Tut likely suffered with the problem and may have used a cane as a result.

Mr. Tut’s autopsy appears to have revealed several inherited disorders that led to an inflammatory, immunosuppressive, and weakened condition.  With Malaria and a sudden fracture of his leg, this likely progressed to a life threatening condition.

Life Expectancy of an Egyptian at birth in that era: ~25
Survival Time of Mr. Tut:  19 years

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