Share

King Tut Spontaneously Combusted Inside His Sarcophagus

November 5, 2013

Getty Images

The face of Pharaoh Tutankhamen is displayed in a climate-controlled case at his tomb in the Valley of the Kings, near Luxor, Egypt in 2007. The true face of ancient Egypt's boy king was revealed to the public for the first time since he died in mysterious circumstances more than 3,000 years ago.

Though the famed Egyptian pharaoh King Tutankhamun died more than 3,300 years ago, the mystery surrounding his death and mummification continues to haunt scientists.

Now, British researchers believe they've found evidence explaining how the boy king died and, in the process, made a shocking discovery: After King Tut was sealed in his tomb in 1323 B.C., his mummified body caught fire and burned.

Since Egyptologists Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter uncovered King Tut's tomb in 1922, their discovery has been shrouded in mystery and fear. A "curse of the mummy's tomb" entered the popular imagination after several members of the archaeological team died untimely deaths. [Image Gallery: The Beautiful Sarcophagus of an Egypt Pharaoh]

Archaeologist Chris Naunton, director of the Egypt Exploration Society, recently came across comments in Carter's original notes stating that King Tut's body appeared to have been burned, the Independent reports. Naunton then contacted Egyptologist Robert Connolly of Liverpool University, who had small samples of Tutankhamun's bones and flesh in his office.

When the team examined the pharaoh's remains under an electron microscope, they found that the pharaoh's flesh did, indeed, burn after he was laid to rest inside a sealed tomb — an extremely odd event, given the meticulous attention usually afforded the mummification of a king.

These and other revelations are detailed in a new British documentary, "Tutankhamun: The Mystery of the Burnt Mummy," featuring Naunton's investigative work (which has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal). But how would the fire in Tut's sealed tomb have occurred?

A Hasty Burial

Experts suspect the oils used in the embalming process soaked the linen that formed the king's burial shroud. In the presence of oxygen, these flammable oils started a chain reaction that ignited and "cooked" Tutankhamun's body at temperatures exceeding 390 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius).

For years, evidence has suggested the pharaoh was buried in haste — spots on the walls of Tut's tomb caused by microbial activity, for example, led researchers to believe that the paint on the walls hadn't even dried before the tomb was sealed. The additional evidence of an accidental burning lends credence to the idea that Tut's entire burial was basically a rush job.

Getty Images

A replica of the death mask of Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun.

"The charring and possibility that a botched mummification led to the body spontaneously combusting shortly after burial was entirely unexpected — something of a revelation," said Naunton, as quoted in the Independent.

Is Spontaneous Combustion Real?

Spontaneous human combustion, once considered an impossibility, has received renewed interest from scientists worldwide. British biologist and author Brian Ford believes that flammable acetone produced by a body could — in the presence of a spark from static electricity or some other ignition source — cause a human body to catch fire and burn.

And by analyzing the injuries sustained by car-crash victims, forensic scientists have now shed light on the events surrounding the death of the boy king, who is believed to have been just 17 years old when he died.

Investigators were able to determine that the young pharaoh was on his knees when a horrific chariot accident smashed his rib cage, shattered his pelvis and crushed many of his internal organs, including his heart, according to the Guardian. This may explain why his heart was never found in his mummified body.

Follow Marc Lallanilla on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.

MORE ON LIVESCIENCE.COM

MORE: Giza's Pyramids

The Icon of Egypt

The Icon of Egypt

Getty Images

The oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (and the only one still standing), the Great Pyramid of Giza was completed sometime around 2540 BCE. It is part of a complex of pyramids and monuments that includes the Great Sphinx, about 5 miles out in the desert from the town of Giza. (KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)

  • The Icon of Egypt
  • The Icon of Egypt
  • The Icon of Egypt
  • The Icon of Egypt
  • The Icon of Egypt
  • The Icon of Egypt
  • The Icon of Egypt
  • The Icon of Egypt
  • The Icon of Egypt
  • The Icon of Egypt
  • The Icon of Egypt
  • The Icon of Egypt
  • The Icon of Egypt
  • The Icon of Egypt
  • The Icon of Egypt
  • The Icon of Egypt
  • The Icon of Egypt

Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Featured Blogs

More Water For California: New Enormous Water Works Programs Are Expensive

By Dr. Jeff Masters
April 18, 2014

From November 2013 - January 2014, a remarkably extreme jet stream pattern set up over North America, bringing the infamous "Polar Vortex" of cold air to the Midwest and Eastern U.S., and a "Ridiculously Resilient Ridge" of high pressure over California, which brought the worst winter drought conditions ever recorded to that state. A new study by Utah State scientist S.-Y. Simon Wang found that this jet stream pattern was the most extreme on record, and likely could not have grown so extreme without the influence of human-caused global warming.

A Warm Winter in Alaska

By Christopher C. Burt
April 18, 2014

In contrast to much of the contiguous U.S., the National Weather Service (NWS) in Alaska noted in a post this week that Alaska has enjoyed its third warmest ‘winter’ on record for 2013-2014. The period of time they are calling ‘winter’ is for the six months of October 2013 through 2014. Here are a few details.

I am a Failed Father

By Shaun Tanner
April 17, 2014

Being a father is very hard! I know, I sound like a whiner, but I felt especially bad this week when I caused my daughter to miss the lunar eclipse.

Polar Vortex, Global Warming, and Cold Weather

By Stu Ostro
January 10, 2014

Some thoughts about the recent viral meme(s).

What the 5th IPCC Assessment Doesn't Include

By Angela Fritz
September 27, 2013

Melting permafrost has the potential to release an additional 1.5 trillion tons of carbon into the atmosphere, and could increase our global average temperature by 1.5°F in addition to our day-to-day human emissions. However, this effect is not included in the IPCC report issued Friday morning, which means the estimates of how Earth's climate will change are likely on the conservative side.

Astronomical VS. Meteorological Winter

By Tom Niziol
March 1, 2013