Tuesday, February 16, 2010

HoS Micropost: King Tutankhamun (link roundup)

Posted by Darin Hayton on 02/16 at 10:46 PM

King Tutankhamun was all over the news today, thanks to a study published in the current issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association. Studying a number of mummies, the authors of the study suggest a lineage between them and tentatively suggest a number of afflictions King Tut suffered. They conclude boldly by carving out a new discipline, molecular Egyptology:

In conclusion, this study suggests a new approach to research into the molecular genealogy and pathogen paleogenomics of the Pharaonic era. With additional data, a scientific discipline called molecular Egyptology might be established and consolidated, thereby merging natural sciences, life sciences, cultural sciences, humanities, medicine, and other fields.

Mummies related to King Tutankhamun(Source: Z. Hawass et al., “Ancestry and Pathology …” JAMA)

The study’s conclusions about Tutankhamun’s ailments are rather tentative, carefully qualified at each turn (though they are reported in the popular press with greater certainty):

On the other hand, Tutankhamun had multiple disorders, and some of them might have reached the cumulative character of an inflammatory, immune-suppressive—and thus weakening—syndrome (Table 3). He might be envisioned as a young but frail king who needed canes to walk because of the bone-necrotic and sometimes painful Köhler disease II, plus oligodactyly (hypophalangism) in the right foot and clubfoot on the left. A sudden leg fracture possibly introduced by a fall might have resulted in a life-threatening condition when a malaria infection occurred. Seeds, fruits, and leaves found in the tomb, and possibly used as medical treatment, support this diagnosis (eAppendix, eFigures 3D and 3E).

Clearly this study struck a media nerve. Articles in Scientific American, the NY Times, The Independent, TimesOnline, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and Le Monde covered the story. There are probably others too, but after reading these the law of diminishing returns takes over. There are, however, interesting nuances in the certainty with which the results are reported and different emphasis on historical information, which make reading a block of such reports interesting beyond the basic information conveyed.

Anyway, here are the links to the various articles:

Tags: history of medicine, king tutankhamun, popular press