Leaders of ancient empires are so well-documented through ancient art that we often feel like we know what they looked like, even though it’s widely accepted that the portraits and sculptures underwent the ancient equivalent of Photoshop. But Egypt’s King Tutankhamun, who ruled Egypt between 1333 and 1323 B.C., is at least one such monarch who looks radically different than we may have imagined.
New research revealed by BBC One documentary Tutankhamun: The Truth Uncovered uses cutting-edge digital-rendering techniques to illustrate just what King Tut would have looked like. Instead of finding a man suited for the throne of what was once the most powerful civilization in the world, King Tut appears to have been a wide-hipped, buck-toothed and frail man. In fact, King Tut wasn’t even able to move around his kingdom like a king — he constantly had to use walking sticks because of maladies that gave him a clubbed foot.
BBC’s documentary argues that these problems were likely based on the fact that King Tut’s parents produced him out of an incestual relationship. Researchers carried out a virtual autopsy based on around 2,000 computer scans of the remains of King Tut as well as of his family members. The researchers concluded that King Tut’s parents were indeed brother and sister, and that genetic disorders — perhaps due to the incestual relationship — were the cause of his death and not the murder plot or chariot accident scenarios that have been thrown around over the years. Hutan Ashrafian, a lecturer in surgery at Imperial College London, says that the degenerative genetic disorder is also seen in Egyptian royals near King Tut on the bloodline.
“A lot of his family predecessors lived to a ripe old age. Only his immediate line were dying early, and they were dying earlier each generation.”
Speculation about King Tut’s life and death will undoubtedly continue. Several other reasons for King Tut’s death have been presented as the definitive truth over the years. But the documentary’s presenter Dallas Campbell notes that much progress has been made in piecing together the life of the famous ruler.
“Trying to navigate through the intense speculation and politics that surround one of the most famous characters in history is both daunting and thrilling in equal measure… Foolhardy perhaps! But using solid science and a truly multi-disciplinary approach we’ve finally been able to put to bed some of the myths and pre-conceived ideas that have surrounded his life and death, and hopefully add a new chapter that will ensure the Tutankhamun story continues to fascinate.”
After seeing the revelations about King Tut, viewers tweeted about the documentary’s existential conundrums online. Several also noted the unflattering light King Tut was now destined to be portrayed in.
— Anicee Gohar (@aniceegohar) October 20, 2014
Once imagined as a lovely, almond-eyed creature – King Tut was all too obviously John Travolta’s ancestor.. pic.twitter.com/IVHbXNCRe3
— Peter Curran (@curranradio) October 20, 2014
“Oh, c’mon man” – King Tut’s mummy, upon seeing his “virtual autopsy” pic.twitter.com/Ik5zQFM9Eo
— pattymorgue (@pattymo) October 20, 2014
[Photos via BBC One, Flickr]