King Tut's Body Cooked While Inside the Sarcophagus

More proof of the mummy's curse? A recent examination of Tutankhamun's mummified remains shows that it spontaneously combusted shortly after burial. It's one of two incredible new insights into the life — and afterlife — of the world's most famous pharaoh.

There's a Channel 4 documentary that's set to air on November 10th called "Tutankhamun: The Mystery of the Burnt Mummy." The program will feature the work of Chris Naunton, the director of the Egypt Exploration Society.

Naunton recently performed a virtual autopsy of King Tut using X-ray and CAT scanning technology, and the results suggest that the young pharaoh may have been struck by a chariot while leading his army in battle. This may explain why his body had a distinct pattern of injuries and why his heart was missing. Naunton enlisted the help of car crash investigators and forensic scientists to help him reach this conclusion.

But not only that, Naunton's analysis also showed that Tutankhamun's mummification was rushed and incorrectly carried out. The mistakes led to the embalmed body spontaneously combusting and cooking inside the coffin. The fire investigators who took part in the study say that embalming oils caused a chemical reaction which ignited the blaze.

Ancient Egyptian embalmers took great care in preparing mummies for their passage into the afterlife. They did so by removing all water from the tissues and sealing the body to prevent the growth of microbes and moisture. Typically, embalmers used a concoction of chemicals, including salts, beeswax, and plant oils and resins (including terpines and phenols). This process may have disinfected the mummy, but in this case, it created the perfect conditions for a tremendous build-up of heat, and the combustion of tissue.

“The charring and possibility that a botched mummification led the body spontaneously combusting shortly after burial was entirely unexpected, something of a revelation in fact," noted Naunton. “I think what the project shows is that when it comes to ancient material there is always more to learn, and there probably will in the future, but with this study we have taken a big step forward in terms of understanding what happened at the end of Tut’s life.”

[ Radio Times | Telegraph | Discovery | Image: Channel 4 ]