King Tut’s cause of death: hippopotamus?

Beloved as the animal might be from the childhood game “Hungry Hungry Hippos,” the hippopotamus is considered the most dangerous animal in Africa. Hundreds continue to be killed by the massive mammals each year throughout the continent. The mighty hippo’s strength is such that its forceful jaws can decapitate a human with a single bite.

Though hippos have long since abandoned Egypt, their terror was well-documented in ancient times. Ancient Egyptians, in fact, held a degree of reverence towards the animal, perhaps as an outgrowth of their recognition of its danger. Many Egyptian gods even manifested in the likeness of a hippo.

Whatever respect might have been bestowed upon the animal on occasion, Egyptians knew of hippos as potential killers, and it may be that the well-known pharaoh, Tutankhamen, died at the hand (or hooved toes) of the animal. This theory is largely based upon a couple notable factors. For one, Tut’s heart was not embalmed, which did not adhere to standard Egyptian embalming techniques. In addition, King Tut has a few broken ribs, indicating possible pressure to his chest area. The theory has emerged that a hippopotamus crushed Tutankhamen’s chest, tragically ending his short-lived reign.

There are, of course, other theories. King Tut’s death has variously been attributed to malaria, homicide, gangrene, gynecomastia (which gives males female features), and other possible causes. The cause of death will almost assuredly remain inconclusive, but it would be a mistake to count out a hippo attack for the time being.