Posted by Kate Phizackerley on Sunday, March 07, 2010

I promised to come back with a round of answers on the main questions from the
DNA Shows that KV55 Mummy Probably Not Akhenaten post.  As before, click here or on the title to read the full article.


Dave H asked about Marfans. The paper indicates that Marfans was not diagnosed and so far I've seen no reason to question that.  I am surprised, however, that no attempt was made to test for the gene known to be responsible for Marfans as that would have offered a definitive answer to the issue.

In answer to your specific question, the gene responsible for Marfans is dominant to Marfan Syndrome cannot skip a generation.


Reading commentaries elsewhere there seems to be some confusion about what I am suggesting.  I've also been working on making much clearer what assumptions I am making (over and above the accuracy of the findings reported by Hawass and colleagues).   This may help clarify what other relationships are possible. Rather than talk of alleles which I know people find confusing, I'll use "gene".  It's slightly imprecise but good enough for our purpose.  We have 3 known mummies: Yuya, Thuya and Tutankhamun.  All analysis spreads out from these fixed points.

Thuya is wonderfully genetically distinctive.  Her rare traits are inherited by the foetuses and KV21A so there must be second line of descent.  If these foetueses are Tutankhamun's then the rare genes must have been inherited from their mother's parents, whom history records as Akhenaten and Nefertiti. Nefertiti as a granddaughter of Yuya and Thuya can explain the rare genes but it's not possible for KV55 to meet the genetic profile required of Akhenaten in this scheme.

Specifically, if the foetuses are Tut's childen by Ankhesenamun, then KV55 cannot be Akhenaten because of the interplay between genetics and recorded history.

Because, to some degree, we can construct the genetic profile that Akhenaten and Nefertiti must have had, even though we don't have their mummies, we can also deduce that Tutankhamun could be the son of Akhenaten.  That's not saying he is, but the Hawass deduction of KV55 as Tutankhamun's father has been made in the absence of the Akhenaten mummy and, with that present, both options would be seen as possible.  It's almost certain KV55 and Akhenaten were brothers so, given the genetic narrowing, their DNA was probably very similar so determining which was the father of Tut requires more DNA than was tested.

So who was the KV55 mummy?  If one believes it the burial of an Amarnan king then by deduction, it must be Smenkhare.  The only viable alternative is an unknown prince.

Turning to the women, just as KV55 cannot be Akhenaten, none of the female mummies can be Nefertiti.  It's impossible (based on our same assumption on the parents of the foetuses).  Since DNA strongly suggest KV35EL was the daughter of Yuya and Thuya and she was obvioulsy a matriarch, the identification of KV35EL as Tiye is solid.

After than, in all honesty it rapidly descends into conjecture.  It seems likely that the KV35 mummy is Amenhotep III.  KV35 cannot be Akhenaten.  However if you've not read this paper Professor Edward F Wente, I would suggest you do.  There is considerable difficulty in the attribution of the cached royal mummies, and that includes Amenhotep III.  The DNA study strongly suggests the KV35 mummy is Amenhotep III but until we know more about the DNA of his peers, it would be premature to say the attribution is proven.

Succession and the Hittite Letter

DNA doesn't help with determining the succession so we cannot say who succeeded Akhenaten, nor whether kings reigned alone or as co-regents.  As I've indicated before, building a chronology using the age at death of the various mummies may help.

Little seems to have been written of the issue of how the diagnosis of malaria changes the likelihood that Ankhesenamun.  If malaria was common, she surely would have recognised the symptoms.  Had it been the cause of his death, there is no way she could have believed he had been murdered.  We seem further from setting this letter in context than ever.

Zahi's Reaction

Carolin's comment is perhaps a reference to As If Tutankhamen is Alive written by Hawass for asharq alawsat.  He says, " I told Dr. Abdel Halim Nureddin that now after the world has given all this attention to what we are doing, I expected those enemies of success and people who are obsessed with fame to come forward to try and stick their noses in the results of our research."   As Carolin says, the academic process is that other people will try to build upon the published work and critique it.  I don't know what the academic community feels, but I personally resent the accusation that I am "obsessed with fame" because I have critiqued the DNA data.  I doubt I am alone in my reaction to that statement.

Hawass also says:

Dr. Abdel Halim Nureddin told me that someone keeps saying that he was the first to carry out DNA tests on mummies. All I could do was laugh because the project that I’m honoured to be presiding over is the first ever to use DNA testing on these mummies so we have exclusively set up the first two DNA laboratories to study mummies in Egypt.
If anybody wishes to understand the history, then this article by Charles Pope is a good springboard to the truth of the matter. It might also help you to understand why the topic is so political.


taichara said...

Pfeh. It's a shame Hawass has to get on the way he is -- there's so much that could yet be sorted out thanks to his work here, but he's so brittle about debating the results that the study may as well not have been done at all.

And I don't blame your resentment in the least, in regards to that statement of his.

Anonymous said...

Hawass should rather be proud that his study has evoked so much interest that people all over the world think about the test results and alternative possibilites to overcome obvious difficulties in the genetical data and the historical context.

He could benefit so much by listening to different opinions and re-evaluating his own theories but instead he has shut down and expects the world to take the picture he has created as final.
And he does not bother to insult those who may have come to other conclusions
That`s not scientific work,it is just about a very questionable prestige.

Anonymous said...

Dear K. A few days ago on your blog you seemed open to the possibility that WV22 could have been misidentified as Amenhotep III and may in reality be Akhenaten. Now you are saying that he *cannot* be Akhenaten. What exactly changed your mind?

- Rodolfo

Kate Phizackerley said...

Rodolfo, you are right to push back on that. I think I was wrong to say "cannot" by Akhenaten. However:

1) KV35 cannot be the son of KV35EL [Tiye] - multiply prevented.

2) KV35 cannot be the father of KV21B based on D2S1338, but she could be anybody so that's perhaps not a major issue

3) KV35 is the source of some alleles eg 31 in FGA. He is an early generation within the mummies tested.

If KV35 is Akhenaten, KV55 would still probably be the son of KV55 and KV35EL ie Akhenaten and Tiye. I'd initially overlooked that this is possible. It's not impossible in the ancient context for Tiye to be both mother and wife and I was wrong to assume she wasn't. It's also possible that KV55 could tbe son of an earlier wife than Tiye.

So yes, I think you are right. I was wrong to say "cannot" be Akehnaten.


Paul H said...

Zahi is a member of an authoritarian government and grew up in an authoritarian society that traditionally does not have its proclamations questioned. Conversely we revel in the questioning of our "experts" and "leaders". Hence the combativeness, contempt and hostility towards different points of view. Facts we lead us to the answer; not all the facts are in yet so why close the case?

Kate Phizackerley said...

I'm not sure I would put it in those terms.

In the past discussion tended to be slow. Somebody would question something. After a period of careful deliberation, the orginal author might then come back with a studied response. That's changed. The Twitter and Web 2.0 generation is all about 'right now' and there is no concept of ownership of information by indivuals. It is processed collectively, like a hive of bees collaborating to make honey.

I'm closer to that generation than Zahi. I was brought up by artist parents, not in a very traditional way. I 'm also a woman. All of those, I think, make a difference. Even so, starting this blog was something of a culture shock to me. I've embraced it now and really like it. If I am wrong about something I'm very happy for people to question it right then - as Rodolfo did in an earlier comment. If I am wrong, then I'm also happy to come back publically and admit it. I don't like being wrong, but it happens to all of us sometimes.

That's the modern world. It's exciting but it speeds up progress and the evolution of ideas. I do understand, however, how it can be difficult for some people if it is contrary to their upbringing.

History has shown time and again that attempting to stand against the tide of progress isn;t sensible. Academics in the public eye - whether in the field of climate change or Egyptology - are unlikely to be remembered kindly by history, no matter how great their scholarly achievements if they lose touch with the drift society.

I'm sure the social anthropoligits here could put that more neatly, but staying current with a society which is moving very fast can be hard for many of us. I know I find it hard.

Anonymous said...


Tutankhamun died from a gangrenous broken leg that induced, thanks to the poor state he was in, malaria. Therefore, the question with regards to the murder aspect of it is that in a society that was rather adept at combating infections and injuries of this nature, why and how was such a thing allowed to happen with their king of all people? It doesn't matter what society you look at- a king always has a retinue also. Therefore, where was this retinue during and the moments after the injury took place? Aye was head priest at the time, so he would've been apart of this retinue, and it is historical fact that while Horemheb was Tut's designated heir if something happened and he should die without a son, Aye somehow managed to usurp the position from Horemheb and rule egypt for approximately four years before he died, Horemheb finally claimed his rightful place, and then saw to it that Aye's mummy was completely destroyed shortly after he took to the throne. There is also the matter where roughly a decade into Horemheb's reign, tut's tomb was broken into, but the robbers were quickly aprehended and the breach quickly and thoroughly mended and covered with Horemheb's seal repeatedly. Respect for is old king? Revenge against Aye over perhaps more than just a power struggle? This is why the Hittite papers would fall to Ankhesenamun almost certainly, as after this setup to murder the prince by Aye, Ankhesenamun quite literally disappears from history- she isn't even anywhere on Aye's tomb reliefs, his original wife is.

Anyway, that's the long and short of that vein of thought. There's many others. As for Hawass's angst over people critiquing his report, he either knows his absolute claims are ridiculously loose (which it appears they are), or he's desperate to keep the 'discovery of the heretic king' as I like to call it securely in his resume and bag of accomplishments for prestige's sake.


Anonymous said...

I'm a bit confused by one of your paragraphs:
"Little seems to have been written of the issue of how the diagnosis of malaria changes the likelihood that Ankhesenamun." Did/said/wrote something? It makes the remainder of the blog quite unclear.

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