CT scan may reveal why Tut died

LUXOR, Egypt - A team of researchers briefly removed King Tut's mummy from its tomb Wednesday and laid bare his bones for a CT scan that could solve an enduring mystery: Was it murder or natural causes that killed Egypt's boy pharaoh 3,000 years ago?

Tut's toes and fingers and an eerie outline of his face could be seen as the mummy, resting in a box to protect it, was placed inside the machine in a specially equipped van parked near his underground tomb in the famed Valley of the Kings.

The 1,700 images taken during the 15-minute CT scan could answer many of the mysteries that shroud King Tutankhamun's life and death - including his royal lineage, his exact age at the time of his death, now estimated at 17 - and the reason he died.

A simpler X-ray done 36 years ago showed bone fragments inside the skull of Tut, who was buried in a "hurried" fashion in a glitter of gold treasures, said Zahi Hawass, Egypt's chief archaeologist. But that previous test wasn't sophisticated enough to determine if the bone fragments signified a blow to the head.

The CT scan, in contrast, will provide a far more detailed, three-dimensional view of the scattered bones and coverings that make up Tut's mummy.

CT imaging has been used for numerous Egyptian mummies in the past, including one of famed pharoah Ramses I. It also was used on the 5,200-year-old remains of a Copper Age man found frozen in 1991 in a glacier in the Italian Alps. In that case, CT imaging picked up what simpler X-rays had failed to identify - an arrowhead in the iceman's body that possibly killed him.

Hawass, part of the 10-man team that conducted Wednesday's tests, said the results of the Tut scan will be announced this month in Cairo.

"There are so many stories about his death and his age," Hawass said. "Today we will determine what really happened."

The removal of the mummy from its tomb - the first time in 82 years - also showed that it's in bad condition, Hawass said, adding that Egyptian officials will begin a "process of restoration to protect and preserve it."

After the scan the mummy was returned to the tomb, where all restoration will be done, he said.

The short life of Tutankhamun has fascinated people since his tomb was discovered in 1922 by a British archaeologist, revealing a trove of fabulous treasures in gold and precious stones that displayed wealth and craftsmanship.

A U.S. museum tour a quarter-century ago of Tut's treasures drew more than 8 million people. A smaller number of treasures - minus Tut's famous gold mask - will again go on display in the United States starting June 16 in Los Angeles, after touring Germany and Switzerland.

The decision to allow the exhibit was a reversal of an Egyptian policy set in the 1980s that confined most of the objects to Egypt, after several pieces were damaged on international tour.

Archaeologists have long wondered if Tut was murdered. Hawass said one factor was that the conditions of his burial in the tomb seemed "hurried."

The CT scan began with the removal of the wooden box that holds Tut's mummy from underneath a stone sarcophagus in the underground tomb.

The box holding the mummy was then carried up stone steps out of the vault. Coverings, which appeared to be insulation-like material, were then pulled back. The blackened mummy, still resting in the box to protect it, was then inserted into the CT machine.


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