Posted by Kate Phizackerley on Sunday, February 21, 2010

Discovery have a series of videos about the recent findings.  Advert stuffed they won't play for me on FireFox but I did manage to get them to play on Google Chrome.  (If having to watch crappy adverts is the future of Egyptology given the new Egyptian laws designed to maximise income from artefacts, then I may find myself a new hobby.  These adverts are really very tacky and intrusive.  They are up to 30 seconds long before you reach a 2 minute informative segment.  Sorry.  Just run them through in a background window while you do something constructive in another window.  I do promise to boycott frugalista and Hunt's tomatoes in protest.  I have a monthly bandwidth limit - which I know is common in some countries - and these adverts have eaten a significant portion of it.  Not happy.)

If you persist though, there is some information in the videos which hasn't come out in the previous articles:

  • 15 DNA samples were taken from Tutankhamun's femur.  There are good scenes of his Valley of the Kings tomb as a bonus 
  • Tutankhamun's age at death repeated as being 19. 
  • In Pharaoh Forensics the scientists examine the unwapped mummy from KV55.  You can see them display the bones which allow them to give an age assessment.  The skull suggests an age in the 20s, but the spine and femur lead them to assess the age as about 40.  (That's an earlier age than I have seen reported in some written articles.)
  • The parental relationship between KV55 and Tutankhamun is based on 10 sequences which they state would be sufficient to prove paternity in modern court cases. 
  • In Royal Sister-Wife, the video identifies Ankhesenamun as Tutankhamun's sister.  I'm not aware that the DNA has shown this (it's something I'll be looking for when I find time to read the paper itself as this is important confirmatory evidence) but they are suggesting this, I think, on the basis that they have "called" Ankhenaten as Tutankhamun's father.  This should, in fact, make Ankhesenamun Tutankhamun's half-sister.
  • Mitochondrial DNA wasn't enough to prove more than a familial relationship between the Younger Lady and Tutankhamun.  Maternity was proved by matching 8 DNA sequences.  That is less than the paternity shown for KV55 but I would guess the mDNA evidence adds to the probabilty and may bring it up to legally accepted levels of significance.
  • Zahi believes that KV63 in the Valley of the Kings was intended for Kiya and that she is Tutankhamun's mother.   He links the fact that she disappeared in Year 12 of Akhenaten's reign with the birth of Tutankhamun in the same year.
  •  In King Tut Unwrapped, there are very nice shots of the golden throne in the Egyptian Museum.  It is photographed outside the glass and the Tutankhaten cartouche is highlighted.
  • Killer Malaria is the weakest segment for me and seems to add relatively little to written published material. 

My Personal Thoughts on Paternity / Maternity 
    As I understand the videos, they have shown that the mummies from KV55 (Akhenaten?) and KV62 (Tutankhamun) are paternally related.  If I understand this correctly, it could be grandfather and grandson, or Tutankhamun could be the father of the KV55 mummy.  I believe it's only contextual archaeological analysis which has led to KV55 being identified as "the father" of Tutankhamun rather than "paternally related".  It's small point but I think in understanding these test results we must be careful to separate what they prove from what is being deduced by incorporating other archaeological evidence.  (The combination of the paternal relationship between KV55 and Tutankhmun, the maternal relationship between the Younger Lady and Tutankhamun and the sibling relationship between KV55 and the Younger Lady may be sufficient to prove patnernight and maternity in the order claimed.  My knowledge of genetic teasting is imperfect; however, I think on the basis of the DNA testing alone, it would also be possible for KV55 and the Younger Lady to be Tutankhamun's children.  That's impossible in the archaeological record of course.  It's also why the link back to Yuya and Thuya who, like Tutankhamun, were found in a secure archaeological context is vital.

    I know I will be criticised by some and my remarks discarded because I am only an amateur Egyptologist, but fortunately I am as equally qualified when it comes to genetics as most Egypologists :-)


    Jim said...

    Another very interesting and useful summary – thanks again, Kate. I’d comment on two points here.

    Firstly, Kiya. Zahi’s identification of Kiya as Tutenkhamen’s mother is – in principle – a very plausible contention in the light of other available archaeological evidence. However, the new DNA findings surely mean that it now carries with it the necessary corollary that Kiya was a previously unknown daughter of Amenhotep III and Tiye. That sits very uncomfortably with the usual understanding of the probable derivation of her name (ie as non-Egyptian in origin), and possibly too with pling’s point that ‘Kiya’ does not seem to have carried with her the status that her newly-supposed parentage would seem to demand.

    Further – unless my information here is now out of date – I thought that Kiya was known to have survived beyond Year 12. There is a wine docket which is damaged – the legible part being ‘6’ but which should probably be reconstructed to Year 16 on the basis of the orthography of the word ‘vintner’ which is in a form that was not generally used until after Year 13. Further, Hermopolis talatat show Kiya with Akhenaten and his eldest two surviving daughters (but not Nefertiti); these date to Akhentaen’s ‘last years’ (according to Aldred) and certainly post-date Nefertiti’s disappearance from the records. I therefore can’t see that Zahi’s focus on Year 12 holds much water – unless, as I say, I’m missing something. I might be behind the times!

    The Smenkhare/Akhenaten identification also needs some very careful examination. Surely the weight of the anatomical evidence still favours a younger age? As a quick review of this, we have Harrison in 1966: “none of the cranial sutures in the vault of the skull show any signs of fusion … indicating an age of 22 years or less… the third molar in the right maxillary was not fully erupted … there was no bony tuberosity behind either of maxillary third molars ... this would place the skull within the early part of the age period of 18 - 22 years.”

    Then Hussain and Harris (1998), disagreeing: “the dentition is that of an individual in his mid-thirties, whilst the anatomical evidence suggests an age in excess of 35 years.”

    Contra, Filer (2000): “firstly, the dental development is not quite mature, in that the one out of four of the third molars is not fully erupted, which suggests an age at death of no more than the early twenties … further support for a low age is the fact that the molars show only the slightest traces of attrition… it is quite clear that some of the bony elements have not entirely completed their fusion process … at the ends of the upper and lower limbs … suggesting an age of between 18 - 21. The sternal epiphyses of the clavicles are not all fused, setting an upper limit of 25 years… it is clear from the evidence that this was a man between the ages of 20 -25 and veering towards the lower end of this age range."

    Interestingly, EgyptologyOnline also reports a further analysis by J Muir of the dentition, from which a definitive age in “early twenties” is shown:

    The new study seems to say that the skull supports a young age, with other skeletal elements supporting an older age, so even this new evidence points in two directions. To my mind, any reasonable observer would have to conclude that the case is unproven, but the weight of evidence favours a younger age rather than an older one, and therefore a KV55 occupant who cannot have been Akhenaten. I’m not saying that the age-data is conclusive, but it surely points more in one direction than the other.

    As an aside, interestingly enough this would avoid the difficulties which the identification of Tutenkhamen’s mother as Kiya seems to present in the light of the new DNA parental-relationship evidence.

    Well, there’s my tenpennyworth…!

    Kate Phizackerley said...


    I share your concerns about both Kiya and the age assessment of the KV55 mummy.

    The skull sutures could be compatible with a middle- aged individual as I believe it is not definitive. However, it is far harder to reconcile lack of dental wear as, in general, Pharaohs seem to have suffered from quite bad teeth.

    Watching the video I was a bit concerned that arthritis was used to determine unquestionable middle age. That's well outside what I have studied but non-age-related arthritis is possible even in adolesence (eg see

    It will take months, perhaps years, for scholarly commentaries on the Jama paper to appear, but I would be unsurprised to see papers which strongly dissent on a number of the conclusions reached.

    Carolin said...

    Dear Kate, you are a lot less ignorant about the genetics than a lot of the "experts" that have had their say about all this! You are indeed right when it comes to Y-chromosomal testing: you can only say if it is possible that the tested individuals belong to the same paternal line or if it is impossible (excluding the extremely rare chance of mutations). That is, they can be grandfather, father, son, grandson, brother, paternal uncle and so on in any combination. The same reasoning goes for mitochondrial data and the maternal line.
    The autosomal data (microsatellites) can only say if a suggested pedigree is possible or not (given that the data is authentic). Even if the data says that the family tree in the article is a possible one, it does not say it is the true one or even the only possible one. To assess this is made more difficult because no reference data (e.g. the control group) is provided. My intuition tells me that the possible or even likely occurrence of inbreeding in this family may make it even more difficult to evaluate?
    Good to see someone getting back to the basics before making grand conclusions! Keep up the good work!

    Anonymous said...

    Let's take a reality break and consider my doubtful view on experts opinions. This adds nothing to the science, but reveals my mistrust of those who would tell us what to believe.

    Considering all the quotations of prior published examinations by medical professionals of the evidence of the KV55 bones, as these reports currently appear on another web site, it appears very premature to take as reliable evidence what appeared on a recent video as a cursory examination of the KV55 bones, to indicate the mummy was near or over the age 40 at the time of death. I would go as far to say the examiner of the KV55 bones, as seen on that recent video "knew" what answer was expected and gave an opinion that was what "someone" wanted to hear. The whole thing reminds me of a similar controversy over a tooth found in a box that a dentist said was also open to a wide range of possibilites, and not a certainty.

    It puzzles me why "someone" keeps stating that Kiya was the mother of Tut when the DNA almost certainly states Tut's mother was KV55's sister. It does not make sense from the other, although fragmentary, evidence to be so certain.

    Then again, I am not paid to be certain, "someone" else is paid to do that job. If he is not certain, then why pay him at all? Get someone who is.

    It appears "someone" wants to make a positive identification of the bones without regard to contrary and substantial evidence. We all want to be certain. I'd say give it a rest.

    Jim said...

    I really wish I didn't agree with that, but unfortunately I think you're absolutely right. If there's any lesson from all of this, it's that certainty is not yet possible in many areas; we can often only talk about possibilities and sometimes probabilities. It would be helpful if the 'official' end of Egyptology was a bit more willing to admit that, rather than spending its time looking for good soundbites!


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