New twist in the tale of Tutankhamun's club foot - life - 11 October 2011 - New Scientist: "IT IS normal," Robert Connolly exclaims, poring over the faded pages of an obscure, decades-old book. Connolly has found an image that appears to settle the controversy over whether the boy king Tutankhamun had a club foot. As with many mysteries related to the famous mummy, the truth is hard to pin down.
The argument started last year when a team led by Egypt's then-chief of antiquities, Zahi Hawass, reported that Tutankhamun's left foot was severely deformed.
Hawass's team CAT-scanned the mummy in January 2005. Their subsequent paper, published in 2009, noticed no foot-related problems. Then a reanalysis concluded that Tutankhamun's left foot was in a sorry state. The authors diagnosed club foot, two diseased metatarsals, and a missing toe bone (Journal of the American Medical Association, DOI: 10.1001/jama.2010.121).
The finding that Tutankhamun was disabled made headlines around the world. But Connolly - a researcher at the University of Liverpool, UK, and part of a team that X-rayed the mummy in 1968 - is convinced it is wrong.
The 1968 team was led by the late Ronald Harrison, also of Liverpool, UK. Most of his X-rays were never published, but Connolly says they show that both of Tutankhamun's feet were normal. If Connolly is right, the deformities in the scans are due to damage inflicted since 1968.
Connolly knew that the X-ray of the left foot appeared in a book Harrison had contributed to - Chronicle: Essays from ten years of television archaeology - written to accompany a TV documentary. New Scientist tracked down the book and the image shows a healthy foot.
Our excitement was short-lived, however. Though the photo (pictured) is labelled "left foot", it turned out to be a flipped image of the uncontroversial right foot.
Ashraf Selim, a radiologist at Cairo University in Egypt, who co-authored last year's paper, says the mix-up vindicates his findings that Tutankhamun's foot was deformed in life.
Yet other experts share some of Connolly's concerns. James Gamble, an orthopaedic surgeon at Stanford School of Medicine, California, says the foot must have twisted after death because the shape of the bones is normal, an impossibility in a club foot.
And Frank Rühli, at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, and co-author of the Hawass team's 2009 paper, says the abnormal metatarsals and missing toe bone are located close to an open lesion, suggesting damage might be a possible cause. Selim counters that recent damage would have caused telltale breaks in the fragile bones.
The missing X-ray of the left foot would settle the matter. Connolly's hunt continues.
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