Posted by Kate Phizackerley on Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Perhaps because my masters is in maths and stats, one aspect of the JAMA paper worries me which is escaping mention elsewhere.

The probabilities of the relationships given in the paper as a result of the DNA testing are based, I believe, on the incidence of alleles in a typical [modern] population.  The study has shown considerable consanguinity within the royal family which reinforces earlier studies like that by Scott Woodward.  Full-sibling marriages seem to have been common.  This would have caused genetic narrowing within the population (ie the royal family) - the probable cause of some of the birth defects identified in the study.

Genetic narrowing of the population obviously affects the allele distributon and reduces the confidence with which a particular relationship can be determined.  For instance, take a case of genetic narrowing so extreme that no variation remained.  In that case it would be impossible to determine whether two indviduals were uncle and nephew or father and son, for example - or even brothers - because all individuals would be genetically indentical and DNA tests would not be able to distinguish between them.

Clearly that is more extreme that the cirumstances of the 18th Dynasty Royal Family but genetic narrowing will have reduced the standard probabilities to some degree.  So far I've only read the highlights but I don't believe an adjustment was made.  In fact, I do not believe sufficient data was collected to assess the degree of genetic narrowing in mathemtatical terms and to rebuild population distribution functions.  The paper quotes probabilties to several decimal places.  Unless I have totally misunderstood genetic testing (which is possible), the accuracy quoted seems entirely spurious in this case.  The broad thrust of the probablities may stand, but the statistician in me is very uncomfortable with the particular probabilities (confidence levels) which were apparently quoted.

It also suggests that a control group of highly consanguineous indviduals should have been used.  It may be impossible to find a group which is as highly inbred as Tutankhamun's family, but there are a number of isolate populations which could have been used as a control reference.

(There may be a note on this buried somewhere in the fine detail of the report, but nobody else seems to be discussing it.)


Anonymous said...

I know "nothing" about the testing of DNA, but I can readily see the probability problems you present with the "inbreeding". Another post on another web site states Tut could not be the son of Tiye(KV35EL) and WV22 but could be the son of their children. What DNA could Tut possibly have in combination that his only two grandparents did not have and in what combination? One combination I can think of is having both chromosones of the same pair from one grandparent that could happen if your parents were brother and sister. Other combinations may be possible, I'll let the experts explore that issue.

On another site it is stated that WV22 could be genetically related (distantly) to his wife's mother in law. Thuya. Now that possible relationship mixes things up considerably. /

I have had a bias that the KV55 mummy is Smenkhare(spelling please). If he is, who was his wife and sister that was also a daughter of KV35EL and WV22? It was stated Meritatem(spelling please!),was his wife and she was NOT KV35EL and WV22 daughter,but the daughter of Neferiti, if we can rely on the contextual evidence from Amarna.

I may have to kiss the belief that KV55 is Smenkhare IF it is proved beyond a doubt that KV35 YL is the mother of TUT and Smenkhare's only wife was Meritaten.

Anyone who wishes to comment on this may affirm or contest my conclusions. I just hope it is done in the spirit of pursuit of knowlege, unlike some of the less than mannerly jabs and stabs on other less kindly sites!

Keep up the good work, Kate!

rymerster said...

The late 18th dynasty mummies were compared to mummies from earlier in the dynasty e.g. "Hatchepsut", the mummy formerly known as Tuthmosis I (who may have been a Prince!), the strange looking mummy found near the tomb of Seti II.

As for Smenkhkare, I'm beginning to think he may never have existed - the name itself is very poorly attested although the name Neferneferuaten is very well established from numerous articles, and I'm sure there was a female ruler before Tutankhamun. This is a major change in my thinking!

Anonymous said...

A peer reviewed article listing all known items, walls, documents, and artifacts containing the name of Smenkhare needs to be prepared, if it does not already exist. The artistic items of a male who could be Smenkhare should also be included in such a list. The canopic gold mummiform containers in Tut's tomb were alleged to have Smenkhare's name on the bottom. I would like to know what other objects of Tut's tomb also had that name. Of course, listing such items does not prove anything one way or another, it is the conclusions drawn from them that writes a history.

The lack of artifacts from the shadowy Smenkhare does not prove he did not exist, taking into account the destruction of Amarna period relics.

The KV55 bones need to be restudied by an international team of forensic professionals using all latest available technology. Such a team must address all the issues previously cited in publications about the age of the bones and present consensus and disenting opinions that cannot be eliminated or distorted by one influential person.

On a purely emotional note, although Tut appears very disabled, with a cleft palate, partial club foot and the other foot deformed, of small statue and probably very weak, he appeared much loved, at least by the women of the court. Of course, Tut was his protectors ticket to wealth and power, which of these would dare not show a love for Tut?

rymerster said...

There is only one wine jar label and some ring bezels with the name Smenkhkare. Only the wine jar label shows Ankhkheprure Smenkhkare Djeserkheperu.

Every other depiction, inscription or object commonly associated with Smenkhkare is actually naming Ankhkheprure Neferneferuaten (NOT mentioning the name Smenkhkare AT ALL). There are two variations from this - early versions include an epithet referring to Akhenaten ("beneficial to her husband") and the second variation is a feminised prenomen "Ankhetkheperure".

So, if you consider the evidence, there is a far clearer case for a female ruler Neferneferuaten than for an extremely ephemeral Smenkhkare.

I was really sceptical about all of this a year or so ago but having done some research it really is the case that there is a stronger argument for the existence of a female ruler before Tutankhamun.

Back to the main topic though, I hope that the data on the Tuthmosid era mummies is also released as there are still unanswered questions from that line.

Why haven't Tuthmosis IV and Amenhotep II been DNA tested against Amenhotep III?

s. stockwell said...

When I first became connected with Egyptian Art History back in 1962 (the dark ages?), the prevailing belief was that Ankhetaten died leaving Nefertiti who did co-rule with Tutankhaten. This was based upon evidence coming from the North Palace at Amarna that was believed to be one of the last inhabited structures there? The tablets that were found elsewhere at Amarna, where a queen is requesting a husband, was thought to be Nefertiti. It is believable that She could have been murdered at this point? It would be good to know what has made the current claim that KV35YL died from her injuries. So it could have gone like this. Ankheaten dies, Nefertiti, Meritaten and Tut co rule. Neferitit is killed, Smenkare is sent and marries Meritaten, they rule with Tut but disappear leaving Aye & the priests? could happen?

Anonymous said...

Stockwell adds information to the discussion not posted on this site before. He does not speculate who the parents of Tut may be. Another writer on another site states the DNA evidence makes it very very highly likely (in other words proves) KV35YL and KV55 both are the parents of Tut and are full brother/sister and they are the children of KV35EL and WV22. This could all be too neat and tidy. On the first test of DNA the whole puzzle is solved, I think not. I suspect some prior test of DNA that was unpublished led to a narrowing of who was included in the second test. Just a hunch. The conclusion on that other site would only permit Nefertiti to be Tut's mother if she were also a full sister of KV55. It appears non-nuclear DNA is not specific enough or present enough in these mummies to prove anything in this case. Any comments?

Kate Phizackerley said...

I definitely am interested why the boy found alongside KV35EL and KV35YL wasn't included in the study.

s. stockwell said...

Kate, this is such a significant issue that you raise. "For instance, take a case of genetic narrowing so extreme that no variation remained. In that case it would be impossible to determine whether two indviduals were uncle and nephew or father and son, for example - or even brothers - because all individuals would be genetically indentical and DNA tests would not be able to distinguish between them." We need to request a comment from someone about this?

rymerster said...

I think we need better assurances that X can not be the father of Y, rather than his uncle or brother.

At this point I just don't know enough about genetics and DNA.

This reminds me of the Jeremy Kyle show where in some cases they give estimates of probability in cases where two brothers could be the father of a baby. However, I am GUESSING that with modern DNA it is possible to be a lot more certain about these things.

We really need the opportunity to ask the scientists involved in the study some questions. How would we go about organising this? Through Zahi? I would imagine he would be displeased if any of the team spoke without his knowledge.

Anyone know any DNA specialists who could review the data?

Anonymous said...

I viewed, and listened, to Dr. Hawass' vidoe on his web site and thought I heard him state that CT scans had put the age of death of the KV55 bones at age 45-55. I don't plan on running the video again anytime soon. Will someone let me know if I have mistated Dr. Hawass' reported CT scan of the KV 55 bones? That means someone actually has to listen to Dr. Hawass...

Has anyone actually read the JAMA report? If you are looking for a free copy, other than a library, try a large hospital's lobby area with magazines. I did not run down to the local hospital lobby or library to look, but hint hint. Are the KV55 bones CT scans included in that report? Are they reported anywhere in published form?

If the bones of KV55 are Akhenaten's, see what results you get fitting the upper range of age 55 at DOD into the other long standing reports of the lenght of Amenhotep III's reign (38yrs) and his age at taking the throne (12 yrs). Using Akhenaton's estimated upper age
of 55 at his DOD and a reign of 17years places his birth into the 12 year old age range of his father, which I have great difficulty believing. This also brings Akhenaton to the throne at about age 38. I also have difficulty with that old an age, but it's not impossible. That means Akhenaten's age at starting a family with Nefertiti is quite late. Perhaps Akhenaten had another family before Nefertiti, and his wife and some children died of some illness. Perhaps the fragmentary scene in the Amarna royal tomb records that event, a scene of a former wife's death with one surviving child. Well, talk about fanciful thinking.

This timeline fitting brings into question the lineage of Amenhotep III and his relationship to his reported father of Tuthmose IV. What is that statement about sleeping dogs...

Perhaps the newly identified mother of Tut is not a very much younger sister of Akhenaton., Mayber the KV35YL has a convoluted parentage. Given the following interpretation would require an older than thought age for Akhenaten. I read it stated the KVYL was about 25-35 years old at DOD. Could Tut's mother be a nience of Akhenaton, who was also his daughter? Or perhaps a niece whose parents were a brother and sister of Akhenaten? If so, genetic narrowing becomes an issue and the normal probabilies assinged to interpret genetic markers for predicting parentage might not apply.

Fitting these muumies into a realistic timeline using (1)CT scans to "estimate" their relative ages at DOD, (2) DNA evidence to assign familiar relationships and (3) all contextual evidencet, can provide an informed , but not perfect, basis for making statements about what people the mummies once were.

Just thought I's keep the pot brewing.

Derek said...

Kate, such questions and very similiar may be raised a few. Explore the boy would be extremely valuable given that it is suspected that he was the full-brother of Akhenaten (or Tuthmosis IV). Another question - why have not examined the mummy of Tuthmosis IV? After Wente and Harris believe that the mummies of Tuthmosis IV and Amenhotep III, are interchangeable. Put an end to speculation in the style of WV22=Akhenaten and KV55=Semenkhkare. In my opinion, all the Egyptian mummies should be sampled for DNA testing.
Answer to your, Kate, and mine question is: Z.Hawass wants to shine in the lights and camera flash many times.


Kate said...

How subjects are selected for studies is essential to avoid bias. It's a cornerstone of good science. I think the inclusion of the KV21 mummies above the KV35 boy looks inspired ... but also raises uncomfortable questions about scientific rigour if that decision is not fully explained.

@Anonymous - I just got up to watch some curling. I'll re-read your response and respond tomorrow.

Derek said...

Before the study thought that the mummies from KV21 are Amarna Queens and one of them is Ankhsenamun. Prior research also Aidan Dodson and Nicholas Reeves (I appreciate both very high) argued that KV55 is Akhenaten. Thus, DNA tests have only establish Tutankhamun's nearest family and cause of his death. Therefore, selecting objects for testing. In other words - erected a theory and look for scientific evidence to prove it. That's all. This is my opinion, of course.
Not much, as my expectations.
Who will be next? Hatshepsut and Tuthmosides?

55 - It must be mistake on Hawass website. This is probably age of WV22. On video Hawass says - 40. I've written about it earlier.

tonyholmes said...

I do not wish to denigrate the wonderful scientific work done by the genetic scientists in Egypt. I believe the studies have enabled us to take a big step forward in our search for the truth about the Amarna kings. However the “revelation” of the DNA results designed to clarify the relationships between members of the royal family of the latter part of the 18th Dynasty has raised many questions. A fundamental question is posed by Kate Phizackerley. Is the DNA result, which is fundamentally the evaluation of probabilities, based on a comparison with an appropriate and comparable (inbred) population? I have not found an answer to this in the JAMA reports.
Leaving aside the extensive studies into the pathology of the mummies, the conclusions as to the lineage of Tutankhamun would have us believe in a simple family tree from Amunhotep III via Akhenaten and Tutankhamun to the two festuses found in KV62.
This is a neat solution, ideal for a one hour Discovery Channel program, but it makes some assumptions and leaves several unanswered questions.

The most vexed question concerns the (now) assumed identity of the mummy KV55. The argument presented is somewhat circular. Tutankhamun’s father is the mummy in KV55. The mummy in KV55 is the son of Amunhotep and Tiye. Akhenaten is the son of Amunhotep and Tiye – therefore the mummy in KV55 is Akhenaten. Spot the loophole? We know that Amunhotep and Tiye had at least one other and maybe more sons.

The second question concerns the identity of KV21a and KV21b where it has been impossible to determine which (if either) is the mother of the fetuses found in KV62. It is therefore unclear which (if either) was the wife of Tutankhamun for whom we have strong evidence to suggest was Ankhesenamun.

tony holmes

Kate Phizackerley said...

Tony Holmes asked me to post some diagrams he couldn't add to his comment. To give them a content, I have created a PDF from the full text of what he sent me originally which includes those family tress.


Kate Phizackerley said...


I promised to get back. The more I look at this report the more concerned I get. Some archaeological evidence seems to have been incorporated to allow various relationships to be deduced; other archaeological evidence seems to be omitted. Like you I believe timelines are something that are likely to be critical in understand this. I'm not sufficiently familiar myself with the chronology from the reign of Amenhotep III as I have not studied it. It's taken me months to try to make sense of the Amarnan timeline, and thence to the end of Dynasty 18. Even that is muddy.

I've seen timelines posted up but I haven't cross-posted any here as I need to do more work to decided which of them are plausible before I post them.


Samantha Royce said...

@ Anonymous about the CT scans on the KV55 body putting the age at 45-55:

There was an offhand reference to this in the fall 2007 issue of KMT magazine (Volume 18, no. 3). It was in one of the sections at the front of the magazine that presents a collection of the latest finds and research. Basically, it mentioned in passing that two researchers had recently done a CT scan on the skeleton which placed its age as high as 45, thus making it a very likely candidate for Akhenaten. Unfortunately, I don't have the issue with me and I don't remember the researchers' names, so that's all the information I can provide right now. Perhaps someone who does have the issue on hand would be able to look it up and provide the exact quotation.


Admin Control Panel