Mystery of Tutankhamun goes up in flames

New evidence showcased in a Channel 4 documentary suggests the mummified body of the ancient Egyptian boy king spontaneously combusted inside its coffin


A botched mummification led to the embalmed body of ancient Egypt’s most famous pharaoh spontaneously combusting inside his sarcophagus, according to new evidence to be revealed in a Channel 4 documentary.


Tutankhamun: The Mystery of the Burnt Mummy returns to the files of Howard Carter – the archaeologist who discovered the treasure trove of the boy king’s tomb in 1922 – prompting new analysis that shows how a chemical reaction between the embalming fluids caused the mummy to burn while sealed inside its coffin.

As well as revealing that Tutankhamun’s mummification was rushed and therefore incorrectly carried out, the new work by Egyptologist Dr Chris Naunton also helps explain how he died.

Naunton enlisted the help of car crash investigators to run software simulations that lend support to the theory that Tutankhamun was killed in a chariot accident while leading an army into battle, and that the young pharaoh was in fact a warrior king.

“Despite all the attention Tut’s mummy has received over the years the full extent of its strange condition has largely been overlooked,” said Dr Naunton.

“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.

“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.”

The tomb of Tutankhamun was excavated by Howard Carter in 1922, unearthing the most intact Ancient Egyptian royal burial ever discovered and a cache of breathtaking treasures including the boy king’s famous golden death mask.

The discovery sparked a worldwide fascination with “King Tut” that led to popular songs and tales of a curse said to have claimed the lives of several of those connected to the dig, including Carter’s sponsor Lord Carnarvon. 

Tutankhamun: The Mystery of the Burnt Mummy – Secret History is on Channel 4 on Sunday 10 November at 8pm