CAIRO, Egypt.—New research is revealing some sick truths about King Tut's life and death including why scientists believe his parents were most likely brother and sister.
Scientists performed DNA tests on the world's most famous mummy for two years, and found King Tutankhamun was a frail boy who suffered from a cleft palate and club foot.
Scientists say the real way King Tut died was through complications from a broken leg exacerbated by malaria.
While a comparatively minor ruler, the "boy king" as he is called, has captivated the public since the 1922 discovery of his tomb, which was filled with a stunning array of jewels and artifacts, including a golden funeral mask.
Tut, who became pharaoh at age 10 in 1333 B.C., ruled for just nine years at a pivotal time in Egypt's history before his death.
The study, which will be published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, provides the firmest family tree yet for Tut. The tests pointed to Pharaoh Akhenaten, who tried to revolutionize ancient Egyptian religion to worship one god, as Tut's father. His mother was one of Akhenaten's sisters, it said.
Egypt's top archaeologist, Zahi Hawass, who co-authored the study, noted that more than 80 years after Tutankhamun's discovery, technology was revealing secrets about the pharaoh.
"We actually can say for the first time that we have revealed the mystery of the family of the golden boy, King Tut," said archaeologist Zahi Hawass.
The newest tests paint a picture of a pharaoh whose immune system was likely weakened by congenital diseases. His death came from complications from the broken leg - along with a new discovery: severe malaria.
The team said it found DNA of the malaria parasite in several of the mummies, some of the oldest ever isolated.
"Tutankhamun had multiple disorders... He might be envisioned as a young but frail king who needed canes to walk," the JAMA article said.
The revelations are in stark contrast to the popular image of a graceful boy-king as portrayed by the dazzling funerary artifacts in his tomb that later introduced much of the world to the glory of ancient Egypt.
They also highlighted the role genetics play in some diseases. The members of the 18th dynasty were closely inbred and the DNA studies found several genetic disorders in the mummies tested such as scoliosis, curvature of the spine, and club feet.
Dr. Howard Markel, a medical historian at the University of Michigan, said some of King Tut's ailments including his bone disease likely were the result of his parents' incestuous marriage. Children born to parents who are so closely related to each other would be prone to genetic problems, he said.
Like his father, Tutankhamun had a cleft palate. Like his grandfather, he had a club foot and suffered from Kohler's disease which inhibits the supply of blood to the bones of the foot.
In Tut's case it was slowly destroying the bones in his left foot - an often painful condition, the study said. It noted that 130 walking sticks and canes were discovered in Tut's tomb, some of them appeared to have been used.
The study is part of a wider program to test the DNA of hundreds of mummies to determine their identities and their family relations. To conduct the tests, Egypt built two DNA labs to follow international protocols for genetic testing.
Hawass, who had long opposed DNA testing on Egypt's mummies because it would have been performed outside the country, acknowledged his original skepticism. "I never thought that we would really reach a great important discovery," he said in an interview with The Associated Press.