Two weeks ago I posted my article about the JAMA* report’s analysis of King Tut’s foot problems and how they might have potentially led to his downfall (no pun intended).  One of the elements of my argument was that Tutankhamun was missing a toe bone in his right foot.  But he wasn’t (and probably still isn’t).

I had based my contention on a typo in one of the tables in the JAMA report, a typo that is contradicted in numerous places throughout the rest of the article, a series of dots which I somehow failed to connect.  As a result, Gentle Reader Monica gently but concisely took me to task for my mistake in the Comments section of the article.

Now a writer for a much more high-profile (at least for now) outfit than Em Hotep has made the same mistake.  So shamey-shamey on us.  But how did the same mistake make it past the editors of the Journal of the American Medical Association?


It seemed like a pretty good thesis at the time:  the combination of a painful foot condition in Tutankhamun’s left foot, a right foot weakened by a missing toe bone, and a brash young prince given to occasional risky behavior led to a traumatic fall and an untimely death. 

It’s still a pretty good thesis, for the most part.  Missing toe bone or not, the pain from Tutankhamun’s left foot was sharp enough to cause him to overcorrect on his right foot so much that the arch collapsed.  Add this to riding a chariot while hunting or onto a battlefield and you have a good case for suiregicide (break it down… suiregicide).

But not catching the mistake was just sloppy on my behalf.  Under the heading of Malformations, Table 3 lists “oligodactyly (hypophalangism) right,” with regard to Tut’s tootsies.  But the text states that the hypophalangism (missing toe bone –ism) was in the second toe of the left foot (JAMA, p. 645), and the text under Figure 5. Analysis of the Pathology in the Feet of Tutankhamun repeatedly states the right foot shows “no pathological findings” (p. 644).

But while I may be in err, I am also in good company.  Writing for Discovery News on April 7, 2010, Rosella Lorenzi writes about Tutankhamun’s sandals, which analysis reveals were specially crafted to account for his clubbed foot.  The story comes with a very cool slideshow, and if you haven’t checked it out yet, you oughta.  Unfortunately, Ms. Lorenzi repeats the Table Three Tut Toe Typo:  “Indeed, the second toe in King Tut’s right foot lacked the middle bone, making it shorter, while the left foot was clubbed, rotating internally at the ankle” (Discovery News:  “King Tut Word Orthopedic Sandals”).

The mistake was pointed out, as Egyptological mistakes nearly always are, in the missives of EEF News, an Egyptology forum mailing list moderated by A. K. Eyma, where it evoked a response from Lorenzi herself:  “Confusion around King Tut’s hypophalangism wasn’t generated by my article in the first place.”  She goes on to explain the source of the mistake (JAMA Table 3) and to assure her readers that a correction is forthcoming.

Rosella Lorenzi and I both made a mistake, and that is on us.  But the mistake also made it past the editors of the Journal of the American Medical Association, and to my knowledge no correction or clarification has been presented.  And lest it sound as if I am being defensive here by nitpicking the JAMA article, others have pointed out much more serious issues with the research covered in the JAMA article, including the methodology and conclusions of the study (See:  “The Blogroll Roundup: Critiquing the JAMA Article” here on Em Hotep).  One would think these issues would have prompted some editorial remarks from JAMA.

The introduction of groundbreaking work to the professional and lay public always engenders a variety of responses and interpretations.  The research presented in the JAMA article has certainly accomplished that, and the dialogue has been a delight to follow and participate in.  But differing interpretations should be based on a study’s conclusions, not its presentation.  As we have seen, a mistake at the source easily snowballs into a chain of mistakes and retractions.


*Note:  “JAMA” refers to Journal of the American Medical Association:  “Ancestry and Pathology in King Tutankhamun’s Family.” (Hawass, Zahi, Yehia Z. Gad, Somaia Ismail, et al. 2010; 303(7):638-647)


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Copyright by Keith Payne, 2010.  All rights reserved.

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This entry was posted on Sunday, April 11th, 2010 at 10:47 am and is filed under Egypt in the News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 comments so far

Jean-Pierre Houdin

Hi Keith,

Scientific reports are published to give scientific information the most accurately possible. Suitable referees always review papers before they are published by a journal like JAMA or other Scientific publications. It seems in the case of JAMA that the form was more important than the report itself…Letting such a mistake going through such a report is strange. Was it published too hastily ? Why ?

April 13th, 2010 at 4:30 am

Hi Jean-Pierre,

It is a mystery. I am not sure if JAMA relaxed its standards, or if they were simply counting on the ongoing process of peer review to sort out the details. If the latter, then allowing contradictory statements within the article, failing to at least comment about the very limited, almost token effort, with regard to the control group, and the fact that the research was not conducted blindly, all seem to be rather amateurish. As I stated in my conclusion, at the level of the Journal of the America Medical Association the debate should be over the interpretation of the results, not whether the most fundamental standards of methodology and presentation were followed or not.

If the former, however—JAMA relaxed its standards—then that is even more troubling. Again, we can only speculate about whether that is the case and if so why. But the element of celebrity can’t go without notice. Zahi Hawass seems to be strategically releasing news in such a manner that keeps him in the media on a weekly basis. Sharing his spotlight, the involvement of a two-part Discovery Channel special program, being associated with the ubiquitous Mr. Tut… Was there pressure on the editors to “make it happen”? Absent an explanation from JAMA, who knows?

Fortunately, as Jan pointed out in the Comments section in “Families and Frailties of the Eighteenth Dynasty,” an independent laboratory—DNA Solutions Europe—is taking a look at the conclusions of the JAMA report. Ideally the continuing pressure from various quarters will result in a second look being taken within the pages of JAMA itself.

The DNA-SE report can be viewed at Viajes Egiptio: “Beneretmut el AND de la momia KV35YL” (there is a Google Translate gadget in the upper left corner). Again, all praise be unto Jan for this info!

April 13th, 2010 at 10:29 am

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