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King Tut Death: Epilepsy Killed Boy King Tutankhamun, New Theory Suggests

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A British surgeon is touting a new theory regarding what killed King Tut, the Egyptian pharaoh who died at 19 and whose life and death have fascinated the public since his tomb was discovered in 1922.

Tutankhamun ruled for 10 years in the 1300s B.C., and for years, speculation has abounded over why he died so young.

People have attributed the cause of death to murder, a fall from a chariot that led to a fractured leg and even a hippopotamus attack. But according to Hutan Ashrafian, a surgeon at Imperial College London, Tut suffered from a hereditary form of epilepsy, the Washington Post reports.

Ashrafian said Tut's supposed feminine features -- the king has been depicted in statues and renderings as having had breasts and wide hips -- are signs that he had a form of epilepsy that affects the temporal lobe, which is known to be involved with hormone release. The disease might be to blame for Tut's death in addition to the deaths of several of his predecessors who died at young ages, Ashrafian claims.

Ashrafian also points to King Tut's broken thigh bone, which he argues may have come from a fall during a seizure. The religious hallucinations Tut's predecessors reportedly experienced were further evidence of the disease, Ashrafian told the Post, citing that seizures starting in the temporal lobe can result in such visions after sunlight exposure. The doctor reportedly came to these conclusions after reviewing family history of the king.

Visit the Washington Post for details surrounding Ashrafian's theory.

The surgeon's theory, however, may be at odds with previous research conducted by scientists.

In 2010, DNA results showed that Tut had malaria and a bone disorder, a factor that may have been the result of inbreeding, National Geographic notes. Following the findings, which were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, some researchers concluded that Tut died from a combination of the malaria infection and the fractured thigh bone.

Since the chests of both Tut and his father were missing, the researchers couldn't definitively say whether or not Tut and his father had feminine features, which could suggest the presence of a genetic disorder.

However, the scientists noted that the mummies didn't have signs of gynecomastia or Marfan syndrome, conditions that would result in the development of breasts in males. Some researchers theorized that representations of Tut and his father with breasts could reflect the belief that gods were androgynous.

According to Discovery News, however, German researchers later disputed the conclusions, instead suggesting that abnormalities in Tut's foot were indicative of sickle-cell disease.

In 2005, researchers ruled out the murder theory after conducting CAT scans. They concluded that a bone fragment found Tut's skull was from the mummification process rather than a blow to the head.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Tut experienced religious hallucinations, but it was his predecessors who reportedly had visions.

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