Archaeologists taken aback by grim death of baby girls found inside Tut’s tomb

Tutankhamun: Expert discusses archaeologist Howard Carter

Tutankhamun ruled Ancient Egypt over 3,300 years ago for just nine years.

The shortest ruling pharaoh in Egyptian history, the Boy King was just eight or nine when he took the throne from his father, Akhenaten.

Egyptologists aren’t entirely sure why he died so young but believe it was likely from complications caused by a broken leg, made worse after he contracted malaria.

While archaeologists and grave robbers discovered and learned about many of Egypt’s great pharaohs, little was known about Tutankhamun until 1923 when British Egyptologist Howard Carter discovered his tomb.

He came across a treasure trove of priceless relics and artefacts, and one completely unexpected find — the remains of two baby girls, perfectly preserved due to mummification.

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An astonishing 5,000 items were found inside Tutankhamun’s tomb. Back then, technology wasn’t advanced enough for researchers to identify the human remains, so they were stored away for when it was possible.

It wasn’t until 1932 that the mummies were carefully examined, autopsied, photographed, and identified as stillborn female foetuses.

From the time of their discovery, it had been assumed that they were the children of Tutankhamun, though no such thing as DNA analysis existed.

It wasn’t until 2007 that tests to identify who the remains belonged to were undertaken. For two years, analysis was carried out on the now seriously degraded remains.

By 2009, the Tutankhamun Family Project had obtained only partial DNA profiles for the 317a and 317b mummies.

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Mummy 317a, in much better condition, was confirmed to be female based on its external genitalia, and its death was estimated to have occurred at 36.78 weeks.

While little in the way of DNA could be extracted from either mummy, what was obtained was enough to conclude that both girls were the children of Tutankhamun, with probabilities of 99.97992885 percent and 99.99999299 percent respectively.

The nearby Tomb KV21, excavated in 1812, contained the KV21A mummy, thought to be the mother of the two children — however, only a partial DNA profile has been obtained and the results were not statistically enough to be confirmed.

The causes of the deaths Tutankhmaun’s daughters’ deaths are unknown, with Carter suggesting that they were the result of a miscarriage carried out as “an accident to the expectant mother would have rendered the throne vacant for those eager to step in.”

While he speculated that they were from two separate pregnancies, later hypotheses suggested the two were identical twins with twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, resulting in one large twin but another that was too small for his gestational age.

Egyptologists Sahar Saleem and Zahi Hawass consider this diagnosis a “remote possibility”, though it can never be proven or disproven by CT analysis.

Regardless of their death, their burial alongside Tutankhamun was not an uncommon thing in Ancient Egypt.

The children of great kings and queens were often buried alongside their parents, for example when Webensenu was buried in his father Amenhotep II’s tomb.

Dr Joyce Tyldesley, a reader and academic in Egyptology at The University of Manchester, previously told the Smithsonian Channel that the reason behind this was in effect to act as an insurance policy.

Ancient Egyptians believed in the afterlife, and so taking things with them like their children ensured that they were protected in their journey to the other side.

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