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Malaria killed Eygpt’s king Tut

The teen king's death has long been a mystery, but now researchers, who have looked at DNA from royal mummies, believe he may have died from a combination of malaria and bone problems. Every year, between 350 million and 500 million people catch the water-bourne disease, leading to 1 million deaths, according to estimates from the United Nations Children’s Fund, (UNICEF). And more than 80 per cent of these deaths — or about 800,000 a year— are in African children. “This is how King Tut died, severe malaria,” Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s senior archaeologist and co-author of the new study, said yesterday. “We actually can say for the first time that we revealed the mystery of the family of the Golden Boy – King Tut.”

The researchers said that to their knowledge “this is the oldest genetic proof of malaria in precisely dated mummies.” The head of one o f the most powerful royal houses of ancient Egypt, King Tut t himself died in 1324BC at just 19 years old. He shot to worldwide fame in 1922 when Howard Carter unearthed his tomb in the Valley of Kings. Many causes of death have been put forward since. It was thought he was murdered because there was a hole in his skull, but researchers later found out this was part of the mummification process. But now after two years of DNA testing and CT scans on mummies related to him, scientists who published their findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association, think they are a step closer to solving the riddle.

Traces of the malaria parasite were found in four mummies, including Tut himself. The report says: "These results suggest a vascular bone necrosis [condition in which the poor blood supply to the bone leads to weakening or destruction of an area of bone] in conjunction with the malarial infection as the most likely cause of death in Tutankhamun. "Walking impairment and malarial disease sustained by Tutankhamun is supported by the discovery of canes and an afterlife pharmacy in his tomb." The team, from the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Cairo, spent more than two years studying royal mummies, including Tut himself, using artefacts found in the tomb and radiological, and genetic techniques.  They also claim to have unlocked the key to the ruler’s family tree, naming previously unidentified mummies including his father, mother and grandmother.

By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children