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RSNA: Skull Fracture Did Not Cause King Tut's Death

Researchers disprove skull-fracture theory but identify possibly fatal thighbone fracture

MONDAY, Nov. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Egypt's King Tutankhamen wasn't killed by a blow to the head, as some investigators have believed, but did have a possible thighbone fracture that could have led to his death, according to research presented this week at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago.

Ashraf Selim, M.D., of Cairo University in Egypt, and colleagues used a mobile, multi-detector computed tomography scanner to perform a full-body scan of the 3,300-year-old-mummy and obtained about 1,900 digital cross-sectional images.

The researchers found two loose bone fragments in the cranial cavity that exactly matched a defect within the first vertebra in the neck, ruling out the possibility of skull fracture. The researchers speculated that the fragments may have been dislodged during the mummification process, when archaeologists discovered Tut's tomb in 1922, or when researchers first X-rayed the mummy in 1968. They also identified a possible thighbone fracture and suggested that an associated open leg wound could have caused a lethal infection.

"We believe that this broken piece from the first vertebra of the king's spine may have been fractured and dislodged when Carter, Derry, Hamdy and their team tried to remove and free the gold mask, which was tightly glued and quite adherent to the body, by using some metal instruments that broke the thin, fragile piece of bone that lies immediately underneath the bone defect in the skull base through which the spinal cord emerges," Selim said in a statement.

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