When British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamun in 1922, he proclaimed the “wonderful things” he could see. And in an instant, the boy king—with his golden cavern, gilded mask, and untimely death—captured the world’s imagination.
Now, in a BBC One documentary called Tutankhamun: The Truth Uncovered, scientists have pulled back the shroud of mystery surrounding the pharaoh’s life and death. “For the first time, a virtual autopsy of Tut's mummified body reveals astonishing secrets about the pharaoh,” a description of the program promises. The most astonishing secret of all? Tut was probably ugly.
According to the Daily Mail, the iconic, strong-jawed, sharp-featured burial mask hid a face that was, in fact, rather ordinary. The “virtual autopsy” employed in the documentary uses CT scan data, more than 2000 computer scans, and genetic analysis to conclude that King Tutankhamun “had buck teeth, a club foot, and girlish hips.” It’s likely that Tut used a cane for mobility—and, in fact, 130 used walking canes were found in the pharaoh’s tomb.
Rendering of King Tutankhamun by BBC One
The Truth Uncovered posits that Tut’s less-than-dreamy appearance was likely the result of incest between his sibling parents. Albert Zink, Scientific Director for Italy’s Institute for Mummies and the Iceman, gleaned from studies of the royal family’s DNA that Tut was born after his father, King Akhenaten, had a—shall we say, biblical—relationship with his own sister. Incest was not uncommon in ancient Egypt and carried no social stigma, as the health implications of inbreeding were not yet known. In fact, Tutankhamun married his own half-sister, Ankhesenpaaten, when he took the throne at age 9 or 10.
The most disappointing revelation (for us gore-mongers) put forth by the documentary, however, is that King Tut’s death was not the result of a high-speed chariot race (his club foot would have rendered all chariot racing impossible) or a gruesome murder. In fact, it wasn’t glamorous at all. Tut was most likely victim to an inherited hormonal imbalance that left him weak and he died after suffering a fall.
So, there we have it: The majestic King Tut was in all likelihood a doughy, clumsy, sickly teenager. Consider your dreams dashed.