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Scientists Perform Computer Scan on King Tut

January 7, 2005

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Scientists have successfully performed a computerized CT scan on the mummy of the "Boy King," Egypt's King Tutankhamen. A total of 1,700 images were taken in a 15-minute scan designed to try to determine just how King Tut died.

The question of his cause of death has perplexed archaeologists for centuries. He is thought to have died of disease, but some historians have held out for the theory that he was poisoned. An X-ray scan done 36 years ago showed bone fragments inside King Tut's skull. But that scan wasn't detailed enough to determine whether the bone fragments came from a blow to the head. If the CT scan reveals that they did, then the theory that Tut was killed becomes more plausible—unless he was week from fever and fell, striking his head during the fall.

Scientists have used CT scanning for mummies in the past, most notably for Egypt's King Ramses I. Such scans were also instrumental in proving that a Copper Age man found frozen in a glacier in Italy in 1991 had an arrowhead in his body, something that could have contributed to his death. Less sophisticated X-ray scans had failed to pick up the arrowhead.

During the procedure, the box holding Tut's mummy was lifted out of the stone sarcophagus in the underground tomb where it normally resides. (It had not left the tomb since being discovered in 1922.) The material that normally covers the mummy was pulled back, and the mummy was inserted into the CT machine.

The machine was donated by the German company Siemens and National Geographic. Tut will not be the last mummy scanned, according to National Geographic, which plans to fund the scanning of many more mummies to help determine their cause of death and also how best to preserve them. Scientists instantly discovered that Tut's mummy was in bad shape and needed modifications to its preservation.

Among the officials in attendance at King Tut's CT scan procedure was Zahi Hawass, the secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities. Hawass said that the results of the scan would be made available later in January.

For now, the question of how Tut died remains a mystery.

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