King Tut's death may have been "a fairly undignified end," researcher says

(CBS News) A British team believes it has solved a mystery that has endured since ancient Egyptian times: What killed King Tutankhamen?

King Tut's mummy burial chamber was discovered virtually intact back in 1922 by Egyptologist Howard Carter, and more than 80 years later people are still flocking to see the contents of the tomb. However, the mystery of how he died has yet to be solved.

Researchers can tell by the king's death mask that he was a very young king. He was only 19 years old when he died.

After Carter discovered Tutankhamen's tomb and its contents back in 1922, they took the mummy out of its wrappings and examined, inspected and even scraped for DNA. Now, with all that data and supported by modern science, Chris Naunton and his colleagues decided to go back and take a fresh look at Carter's original notes, which he'd never followed up.

"He was absolutely meticulous in observing tiny details, but, as I say, just the quantity of the material defeated him," said Naunton.

For example, Carter said that near the flesh of the king, the wrappings were nothing more than charred powder. Could they actually have been burned?

Naunton put together an experiment to show that, yes, under the right conditions, the linseed oil used in the linen wrappings could have caught fire.

Yet what people really want to know is how the teenaged king died in the first place. Scientists have speculated for decades that it could have been malaria, a head wound or a leg infection.

However, his skeleton shows he had broken bones up the left-hand side of his body, and that to Naunton suggested a new explanation: a chariot accident.

A team that reconstructs accidents for the British court system modeled what might have happened and concluded that he was hit while kneeling, for some reason, in the way.

"I think, strangely enough, that he seems to have had a fairly undignified end," said Nauton, "if indeed he did suffer this accident."