THE DEATH OF TUTANKHAMUN
Appendix to TUTANKHAMUN: THE EXODUS CONSPIRACY
Andrew Collins and Chris Ogilvie-Herald
international bestseller The Murder of Tutankhamun, first published
in 1998, paleopathologist Bob Brier accuses Aye, Tutankhamun's vizier
and administrator, of assassinating the boy-king. This conclusion was
reached after he examined forensic evidence derived from the pathological
studies of Tutankhamun's remains conducted by Professor Ronald G. Harrison
of the University of Liverpool.
scholarly requests to examine the mummified body, Harrison was finally
granted permission by the Egyptian authorities to X-ray the boy-king
in 1968. Since its earlier examination by Dr Douglas E. Derry, the Professor
of Anatomy at the Egyptian University, Cairo, in 1925, the skeleton
had rested in one of the gilded coffins re-interred inside the great
quartzite sarcophagus left in situ within the tomb.
Working alongside a specialised team which included experienced radiologists, physicians, dentists and Egyptologists, Harrison was allowed to expose the pathetic remains of the king for just two days only. What they found shocked them, for there was considerable damage to the skeleton never officially recorded by Carter and Derry. Harrison even found that the body had been sawn in half in order to free it from the innermost coffin. Yet this realisation simply enabled Harrison to carry the head, and other body parts, over to the machine and photograph them individually. The team was only allowed to carry out their work in daylight hours, and the X-rays taken were carefully transported back to Luxor where they were developed in one of the rooms of the Winter Palace Hotel, rented for this purpose.
This was important, for a number of Egyptologists had continually cited the mistaken way in which some speculative writers wrongly used the presence of the small bone as evidence of Tutankhamun's death. Yet as Brier pointed out, the bone fragment was a 'red herring', diverting the eyes away from the real evidence that the boy-king had suffered severe internal injuries after a major blow to the head.
This is within the normal limits [of skull growth], but in fact, it could have been caused by a hemorrhage under the membranes overlaying the brain in this region. And this could have been caused by a blow to the back of the head and this in turn could have been responsible for death.
exactly was this dark area, or 'density', at the bottom of the skull,
and how might it have been the result of 'a blow to the back of the
head'? Among those consulted by Brier in an attempt to find some answers
was Dr Gerald Irwin, medical director of the Radiologic Technology Program
at the C. W. Post Campus of Long Island University, and an expert on
the X-rays of head trauma patients. Having been shown the Harrison video,
Dr Irwin examined an X-ray photograph of Tutankhamun's skull sent to
Brier by one of Harrison's former colleagues at Liverpool University,
who has since died. In conclusion, Irwin agreed that the dark area (as
well as a thinning of the skull at this point) could easily have been
the result of a blow to the back of the head. Furthermore, he speculated
that this type of trauma, or effect, was, as Harrison had hinted, strong
evidence of a haematoma, the accumulation of blood beneath the skin.
The density could thus be explained in terms of a calcified membrane
which had grown over a blood clot, something physicians refer to as
chronic subdural haematoma, a swelling caused by blood.
commented also on the strange position of the trauma which was at the
base of the head, where the neck joins the skull. If Tutankhamun had
been struck purposefully then it must have occurred when he was either
lying on his stomach or on his side. Brier concluded that although the
evidence presented by the X-ray was not proof of foul play, it added
up to what the police might argue was an 'indication of suspicious circumstances'.
this what happened to Tutankhamun? Was he perhaps bludgeoned whilst
asleep in bed, leaving him to die a slow painful death as he lay in
a delirious state waiting for the end to come? Certainly, this is what
Bob Brier believes, and he could well be right for the evidence to suggest
that the boy-king did indeed die from a blow to the head is very powerful
indeed. But was it foul play? Was somebody responsible for his death?
true answer is that nobody knows. The only evidence we have for the
involvement of foul play in the boy-king's death derives from personal
interpretations of the Harrison X-ray made in 1968 and what little we
know about the life of Tutankhamun. It is just as likely that he sustained
his wound through accidental means. For example, falling backwards awkwardly
can result very easily in blows to the base of the skull. Thus he could
easily have been thrown backwards out of his chariot and knocked his
head on a rock, or some other similar such protrusion. There is no reason
to assume murder took place just because of the peculiar positioning
of the trauma. Then there is the problem of why the would-be assassin
did not complete the job. If he, or she, had bludgeoned the king whilst
asleep, why not finish him off there and then, either with repeated
blows or by strangling him whilst he lay unconscious. Surely, the person,
or persons, responsible would not have assumed that the king was dead
simply by giving him one single blow to the head. Logically, this makes
no sense whatsoever.
if murder is the answer, Bob Brier's choice of Aye as the murderer seems
totally illogical. According to him, the only other candidate was Horemheb,
the king's Deputy and Regent, who took charge of military and political
affairs from Memphis, Egypt's administrative centre, and if he had done
the dirty deed then nothing would have prevented him from seizing the
throne of Egypt. Thus by default the only other possible candidate was
Aye who, as we know, succeeded Tutankhamun as king of Egypt. In the
opinion of the authors, this theory is baffling in the extreme, for
the evidence weighs heavily against it.
Following Tutankhamun's sudden and presumably unexpected death, it was Aye, the old family retainer, who was left to make the arrangements for the funeral. This we know is correct because Aye is depicted on the wall of the tomb wearing the leopard skin of the setem-priest. He stands before the mummified body of Tutankhamun in his guise as Osiris, god of the underworld, holding an adze and carrying out the Opening of the Mouth ceremony. In this capacity Aye takes the role of Horus, the 'son' of Osiris, reviving his spiritual 'father', an act conducted only by the heir apparent. This mural demonstrates also that Aye was decreed honorary heir to the throne of Egypt, and thus was responsible for conducting the various rites of passage that would enable the boy-king to enter the next world.
of the Aten
this beautiful work of art was deemed suitable to accompany the pharaoh
on his journey into the next world, it seems clear that Tutankhamun,
as well as his wife Ankhesenamun, must have remained sympathetic towards
the outlawed religion, even at the very end of his reign. Moreover,
since we know that Aye was almost certainly responsible for making the
king's funeral arrangements, he would have been aware that various items
of Amarna art were being placed in the tomb, demonstrating that he too
retained at least some sympathies towards the Aten. This realisation
implies very strongly that Ankhesenamun and Aye were working in concert,
and were not opposed to each other's religious or political ideals.
established these facts, we come now to a matter crucial to this debate,
the correspondence between Ankhesenamun and Suppiluliumas, the king
of the Hittites, following the death of Tutankhamun. In the knowledge
that there was no heir to the throne, she feared a military cue, an
uprising, from those who sought to take away her power and influence.
It forced her into a decision unprecedented in Egyptian history. In
order to try and find a suitable partner, who would rule the kingdom
with an iron fist comparable with that of the greatest of pharaohs,
she sent a letter to Suppiluliumas beseeching him to send her a son
so that he might become Pharaoh. At first he was suspicious of the request,
but eventually he relented and dispatched a young prince named Zannanza,
who was mysteriously murdered en route from the land of Hatti, i.e.
Turkey, to Egypt.
original message to Suppiluliumas, she tells him that: 'Never shall
I pick out a servant of mine and make him my husband!' Who exactly might
she have been referring to when she made this powerful statement? Aye
had been an important member of the royal court at Amarna during Akhenaten's
reign. He took the title Master of the Horse, which in effect meant
that he was a military adviser and vizier to the king. Yet in inscriptions
he also styled himself 'Father of the God', a title he kept from the
reign of Akhenaten through to his own brief four-year reign. By 'God'
he meant god-king, or pharaoh, implying that he was a relative, or in-law,
of Akhenaten. The same title, 'Father of the God', was used by Yuya,
the father of Tiye, the Great Royal Wife of Amenhotep III, Akhenaten's
father. Thus Aye was most probably related to the heretic king, and
it has been proposed that he was probably the father of Nefertiti. Since
Aye was regarded therefore as a member of the royal household, Ankhesenamun
can hardly have been referring to him as a 'servant of mine', in other
words a commoner.
statement refers most likely to Horemheb who was devoid of any royal
blood, or royal connections. He is the only other suspect in the hunt
to find the hypothetical killer of Tutankhamun. As a military genius
he had quite obviously set his sights on becoming king at a very early
stage in the Amarna heresy, and quite probably he worked in concert
with the disbanded Amun priesthood, as well as other army officials,
to achieve his aims. If this is correct, then the sheer fact that Horemheb
did not ascend to the throne after the death of Tutankhamun, makes it
even more unlikely that the boy-king was assassinated. For if Horemheb
was responsible for his murder, then Aye would never have become king;
it is as simple as that.
With these thoughts as a backdrop to the death of Tutankhamun, we can now better understand why Ankhesenamun dispatched amessage to the Hittite king asking him for a husband. Quite obviously, she had been faced with the prospect that since the couple had produced no heir, there was no one to succeed her husband to the throne. She therefore feared that Horemheb was plotting to seize the throne by initiating a military coup and forcing her to marry him in order to legitimise his reign. In fear, she pleaded with the Hittite king to send her a son, only to find that the young prince was assassinated on his way to Egypt. With time running out for the frightened queen, she honoured Aye with the title of king of Egypt in order to block Horemheb's intentions.
When his skull was examined originally by Carter and Derry in 1925 it was found to have been shaved, an uncommon practice for a dead king. Can we imagine, therefore, the physicians of the royal court removing the king's hair in order to determine the nature of the swelling, which would have occurred in the weeks that followed the initial blow to the head? Thus having found no external evidence of a wound, there would have been little they could have done to alleviate the swelling, leaving the king to suffer ever-worsening headaches and black outs as the haematoma gained ground. Finally, he would have fallen into a coma before losing his fight for life. Since calcification occurred around the swelling, it points towards the fact that Tutankhamun must have lived for a minimum of two months after the blow, and conceivably up to several months before death eventually overcame him.
The answer is this: as early as 1923, even before Carter and Derry's examination of the mummified remains of Tutankhamun, British Egyptologist Arthur Weigall in his book Tutankhamen and Other Essays, highlighted a curious story in the Talmud, the literary corpus containing the folklore of the Jews. It echoes the violent manner in which Tutankhamun seems to have died, and yet concerns the fate of the pharaoh said to have ruled Egypt at the time when Moses left Goshen for the land of Midian, having slayed an Egyptian official whom he found maltreating an Israelite. According to the legend, at this time Pharaoh was struck down with leprosy (an allusion, perhaps, to the fact that he was infected by the much shunned Aten heresy). Moreover:
He knew that his end was come to die, and the queen Alfar'anit and his nobles gathered about his bed, and they wept a great weeping with him.
Could it be possible that preserved among the folklore of the Jews is a dim recollection of the fall which led to the death of Tutankhamun? If so, did the boy-king fall from a horse, as is suggested here, or from his chariot? Some confusion might well have entered the story when still an oral tradition among the ancestors of the Jewish peoples since pharaohs usually rode in chariots, and not on horseback. Although there are other elements in the Talmud legend that do not make sense of what we know about the boy-king, a connection with the reign of Tutankhamun cannot be ruled out. Weigall himself was of the opinion that the Pharaoh in question was none other than Akhenaten, due to the clear relationship between the Amarna regime and Manetho's Osarsiph-Moses story and the fact that the Talmud asserts that the king produced so many offspring ('He had three sons and two daughters by the queen Alfar'anit, besides children from concubines' ). However, Weigall would surely have switched his focus of attention to Tutankhamun if he had lived to see the X-ray of the boy-king's skull produced in 1968 by Professor Harrison. Such evidence weighs heavily against Bob Brier's belief that Tutankhamun was murdered in his sleep by the orders of Aye, a theory which holds no weight whatsoever.
All references to this article are to be found in TUTANKHAMUN: THE EXODUS CONSPIRACY by Andrew Collins and Chris Ogilvie Herald. Signed copies by Andrew Collins can be obtained by clicking here.