It wasn’t great being King Tut. He had a cleft palate, a club foot, a bone disease, and died of a broken leg exacerbated by severe malaria. That picture doesn’t come close to matching up to the King Tut exhibit that Mark and I saw in the mid-1980s.
Tut’s funerary finery— magnificent golden treasures and Egyptian works of art—gave the distinct impression that the pharoah was a graceful, young man who led a golden life. Only his death at 19 marred the perfect picture. King Tut may have lived in the “Golden Age of the Pharoahs,” but he certainly wasn’t the golden boy that the dazzling artifacts from his tomb portrayed. His DNA profile revealed genetic diseases which were the result of inbreeding. Marriage between siblings was common among royalty in ancient Egypt, and Tut’s father and mother were brother and sister. Not only were King Tut’s chronic diseases painful and crippling—he walked with a cane– he also had to deal with the turmoil caused by his grandfather who tried to force Egyptians to accept monotheism by worshiping the sun god Alton.
What I find really interesting about King Tut’s story is the use of advanced radiological and genetic techniques that unlocked the puzzle of his genealogy and general health. Successfully determining Tut’s DNA profile is another step towards helping modern doctors identify specific diseases, and to develop effective drugs to treat them. And using DNA to determine an ancestral line is just plain fun.