Posted by Kate Phizackerley on Thursday, July 29, 2010

From Paul Rymer:

Got pretty excited yesterday on a visit to the Louvre, saw a piece probably from the workshop of Tuthmose I'd never seen before and lightbulbs started going as to who it might represent!

Have a look at the photos I've just uploaded to Flickr at:

They are of the head of a man in Room 25 of The Louvre, maybe a recent addition. Its of very high quality, and the resemblance to Nefertiti in particular is strong; but it also reminds me of Tiye, Akhenaten and even Tutankhamun. 

If this were Ay, and if as has been often proposed, Ay is the brother of Tiye and the father of Nefertiti, the resemblance to the royal house makes sense. Who else could this be? The portrait is not Akhenaten (wrong jaw shape for a start), it's too old and too different to any of the known or assumed portraits of Smenkhkare or Tutankhamun. Amenhotep III? No, this man is very different. 

The only other portrait that looks somewhat like this is the depiction of Ay in the tomb of Tutankhamun - it has the same jawline (notably different than Tut's), a similar nose and distance between the nose, lips and chin. 

I'm surprised this piece isn't more widely known.

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on Thursday, July 29, 2010

Jane Akshar has been fortunate enough to visit the excavation site of these late period tombs in South Asasif (that's on the Theban West Bank fairly near to the Valley of the Kings) and has provided a report on her blog.

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on Friday, July 23, 2010

Those who follow the comments will know that Dennis offered to send me some old photos. I know that's not everybody's interest so I didn't want a very long post here with them so I've set them up on a Squidoo page (lens). You can find them here

Thanks to Dennis.

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on Sunday, July 18, 2010

I'm shamelessly indulging a personal love of black and white photos, but maybe other people love it too.  (I miss black and white film more than colour film.)  It's a great photo taken by Ted Forbes in 2008.  It's copyright so you'll have to follow the link to Flickr.

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on Friday, July 16, 2010

I've just connected with Antonio Crasto on Facebook and I'd like to suggest his site to anybody who hasn't seen it.  There are some pictures for everybody and some articles that look very interesting.  Sadly they are in Italian but if you can read Italian they look to be well worth the effort covering subjects like Marfans Syndrome, and Egyptian Calendars.

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on Friday, July 16, 2010


This article seems to answer some questions:

  • There is no direct evidence that it was addressed to Akhenaten, just that it is contemporaneous with the letters found at Amarna and of the standard of royal correspondence.  It is probably part of the local copy of letters sent to Akhenaten.
  • The dating seems to be on stylistic grounds
  • I have wondered why it couldn't be a letter to the king of another country and I am still not entirely convinced that Akhenaten was the recipient.  He clearly may have been but it seems to be supposition rather than fact.

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on Thursday, July 15, 2010

A tiny clay fragment has been found in Jerusalem. It's believed to be from a letter to Akhenaten. Discovery have the story and a picture.

(It's Discovery so they describe Akhenaten as the father of Tutankhamun, although of course we know better!)

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Adrienne Giacon has found this interesting paper looking at the Y-DNA of modern Egyptians.

This article shows that many are V
A haplogroup found amongst the Berbers.

(I'm on mobile today so I can't reply in comments, sorry.)


I said haplogroups "blur". What I mean is that mutations accumulate. R1b isn't a precise set of alleles, it's a probability density function. A man and his cousins could have different alleles but share the same haplogroup.

I also totally agree this is entirely separate to race. If an article suggests it is the same as race that's when my hackles rise.


Interestingly there are 3 separate threads of research each showing different aspects of migration: Y-DNA, mtDNA and language. It'll be the synthesis of all of those which will really be interesting. For instance I'm wondering whether there are similarities between ancient chadric languages and/or Berber and/or Ancient Egyptian.

PS sorry for the typos in yesterday's post. I'll tidy some of those up tomorrow as well

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on Monday, July 12, 2010

Fireworks over Lake Maggiore
I'll answer the question immediately. In my opinion there is no proof that Tutankhamun was European and on balance personally I think the genetic evidence points against it. However, it is a subject which is coming up repeatedly as it's under discussion on the Web at present, so I thought I should offer my own views. I am particularly indebted to Mike Heiser for sending me the link to an article on Eu Times which discusses the theory and to Marianne Luban who posted the link to a forum discussion on the topic.  I suggest you read the EU Times article for a background before you read the rest of my article.  (Caveat: Web of Trust rates the EU Times site as unsafe so make sure your virus protection is fully up to date and tread cautiously. Some readers report that their anti-virus is reporting an active threat so I have removed the link.)

So far as I am aware, the originator of the hypothesis that the latest genetic analysis revealed Tutankhamun to be European was Robert Tarin.  Marianne's link includes his original article.

Commenting today here on News from the Valley of the Kings, Stephanie said:

In my opinion it is very interesting to explore the ethnical background of the royal family. There`s a remote chance that it could even help to sort out some unanswered questions such as if some queens were likely of foreign origin.

But I think it is currently very unsafe to do so. There is no officially published work on this issue, and trying to establish haplotype groups from screenshots is unsecure.

We don`t know for sure if the data shown really belongs to the person we think it does, if the data can be read correctly and, very important, if this is the data which has been finally worked out and reviewed.

Just think of the discrepancies between Tut`s and the foetus`s data as it was displayed on the screen and as it was published in the JAMA paper.

I think that's wise caution, but nonetheless questions deserve answers and dismissing them without discussion isn't appropriate.  That's the mistake I made over the weekend and was rightly pulled up for doing so by Marianne.  In essence then the argument seems to me to be threefold, and I propose to examine it in those stages:
  1. the latest genetic tests showed that Tutankhamun had a haplogroup of R1b;
  2. his ancestry had a haplogroup of R1b; and
  3. therefore his ancestry was European.
Tutankhamun's Haplogroup

Like me, Robert Tarin spotted that the Discovery TV shows displayed raw genetic data.  Robert copied this down and, in summary, identified the following results for the Y-DNA analysis:
456 (13-18) = 15
389i (9-16) = 13
390 (17-28) = 24
389ii (24-34) = 30
458 (14-20) = 16
19 (10-19) = 8/14 (dual peak)
385a (7-25) = 11
385b (7-25) = 14 (? not clear in video)
393 (8-17) = 13
391 (6-14) = 11
439 (8-15) = 10
635 (19-26) = 23
392 (6-18) = 13
YGATAH4 (8-13) = 11 (10 FtDNA nomenclature)
437 (13-18) = 9/14 (dual peak)
438 (8-13) = 12
448 (16-24) = 19
I have not independently checked those from a DVD recording of the show.  Readers are welcome to do so if they wish.  As Suzanne pointed out, some believe that the results shown where standard results and not an analysis of Tutankhamun's own DNA.  We cannot discount that possibility but personally I believe that actual results were shown in the documentary.  Robert then suggests that this shows that Tutankhamun's haplogroup was R1b to a probability of about 96%.  I've not seen how that probability was calculated.  Again, I've not checked that analysis.  If I thought it mattered, I would do so, but as we will see it's the logic of the conclusion I disagree with.

What is a Haplogroup?

The basic building blocks in genetics are genes (unless one goes down to the molecular level).  Genes are equivalent to words in a language.  In that analogy then an allele which we discussed while considering the identification of the KV55 mummy is a variation of that word.  So for instance if there was a Forename locus then there might be alleles for Andrew and Robert.  Both would be Forename genes, just slightly different.

If genes and alleles are words, then a haplogroup is a sentence - a collection of words which are associated together in some way.  A haplogroup comprises a number of alleles (genes).  In our analogy a "name" haplogroup might be Eric James Higginbotham.  That would probably suggest to use that the individual was English.  In contrast a name haplogroup of Jean Marie Leclerc would suggest a Frenchman.  That's the basic reasoning behind Robert Tarin's argument: the R1b haplogroup he believes suggests that Tutankhamun was European.

So if Tutankhamun's Haplogroup was R1b, so were his ancestors?

Not necessarily.  That's were I believe Robert's argument starts to break down, although it is not my most serious objection.

We are dealing here with the simple haplogroups associated with alleles only on the male Y chromosome.  (If you want a refresher on Y-chromosomes, I have written elsewhere about the human male 46-XY karyotype, although you shouldn't need it.)  The Y chromosome is passed from father to son: [fertile] women do not have a Y chromosome.  Therefore a son's Y chromosome (and his haplogroup) will be the same as his father.  Only it isn't quite that simple.  The Y chromosome is rather puny in size and somewhat fragile ie it is relatively prone to genetic mutation.  Over many generations these differences build up so that a man's haplogroup might not identical to his great-great-great-grandfather.  Some writers refer to a blurring.  (That is, after several generations a haplogroup istelf contains a degree of diversity as mutations accumulate.)

Haplogroups are essentially the genetic heritage left by patriarchs from Antiquity - in the case of R1b probably less than 18,500 years ago.

Think of a patriarch's genetic material as like the centre of the explosion of a firework.  As it is passed down the generations it mutates slightly in some individuals and the genetic heritage spreads out like the bloom of a firework.  (You see that intro picture really wasn't a gratuitous firework photo!)   In fireworks blooms can overlap.  In the photograph, can you be sure that the pixels in the overlapping area might be from the right hand firework?  Couldn't they also have come from the left hand firework?

Similarly the genetic heritage of patriarchs will eventually overlap.  Observing the haplogroup of an individual tells us about the individual's haplogroup but it doesn't directly reveal the haplogroup of their ancestors.  If somebody speaks perfect English, that doesn't mean their parents also spoke perfect English: they might have spoken Spanish or Hindi.  It's dangerous to extrapolate from one individual.

Even if Tutankhamun's haplogroup is R1b that doesn't mean his paternal ancestors were R1b as well.  They might have been a different haplogroup but have diverged from it by genetic mutation.  At the least, the analysis would need to show that Tutankhamun couldn't be any other haplogroup, or at least that it would be statistically unlikely.  Showing that R1b is possible is not the same as showing that other haplogroups are not possible.

Figure 1

Does a haplgroup of R1b make Tutankhamun European?

This though is the crux.  Even if you believe that Tutankhamun and his ancestors had a haplogroup of R1b would that make him European.  In short, not necessarilly and, I believe once other factors are taken into account, almost certainly not.

Figure 1, (taken from Wikimedia Commons  under GDFL), illustrates the distribution of the R1b genetic haplogroup in modern Europe.  It's tempting to look at this and conclude that if Tutankhamun's DNA was R1b he was probably of Western European ancestry, probably from Britain, France, Iberia or Scandinavia.   Tempting, but I believe mistaken.  I've reproduced below a table from the Wikipedia entry on the R1b haplogroup (which is worth studying) for some sub-branches of the R1b haplgroup which are found today mainly in Sub-Saharn Africa.

Region Population Country Language N Total% R1b1a (R-V88) R1b1b2 (R-M269) R1b1a* (R-V88*) R1b1a4 (R-V69)
N Africa Composite Morocco AA 338 0.0% 0.3% 0.6% 0.3% 0.0%
N Africa Mozabite Berbers Algeria AA/Berber 67 3.0% 3.0% 0.0% 3.0% 0.0%
N Africa Northern Egyptians Egypt AA/Semitic 49 6.1% 4.1% 2.0% 4.1% 0.0%
N Africa Berbers from Siwa Egypt AA/Berber 93 28.0% 26.9% 1.1% 23.7% 3.2%
N Africa Baharia Egypt AA/Semitic 41 7.3% 4.9% 2.4% 0.0% 4.9%
N Africa Gurna Oasis Egypt AA/Semitic 34 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
N Africa Southern Egyptians Egypt AA/Semitic 69 5.8% 5.8% 0.0% 2.9% 2.9%
C Africa Songhai Niger NS/Songhai 10 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
C Africa Fulbe Niger NC/Atlantic 7 14.3% 14.3% 0.0% 14.3% 0.0%
C Africa Tuareg Niger AA/Berber 22 4.5% 4.5% 0.0% 4.5% 0.0%
C Africa Ngambai Chad NS/Sudanic 11 9.1% 9.1% 0.0% 9.1% 0.0%
C Africa Hausa Nigeria (North) AA/Chadic 10 20.0% 20.0% 0.0% 20.0% 0.0%
C Africa Fulbe Nigeria (North) NC/Atlantic 32 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
C Africa Yorubad Nigeria (South) NC/Defoid 21 4.8% 4.8% 0.0% 4.8% 0.0%
C Africa Ouldeme Cameroon (Nth) AA/Chadic 22 95.5% 95.5% 0.0% 95.5% 0.0%
C Africa Mada Cameroon (Nth) AA/Chadic 17 82.4% 82.4% 0.0% 76.5% 5.9%
C Africa Mafa Cameroon (Nth) AA/Chadic 8 87.5% 87.5% 0.0% 25.0% 62.5%
C Africa Guiziga Cameroon (Nth) AA/Chadic 9 77.8% 77.8% 0.0% 22.2% 55.6%
C Africa Daba Cameroon (Nth) AA/Chadic 19 42.1% 42.1% 0.0% 36 5.3%
C Africa Guidar Cameroon (Nth) AA/Chadic 9 66.7% 66.7% 0.0% 22.2% 44.4%
C Africa Massa Cameroon (Nth) AA/Chadic 7 28.6% 28.6% 0.0% 14.3% 14.3%
C Africa Other Chadic Cameroon (Nth) AA/Chadic 4 75.0% 75.0% 0.0% 25.0% 50.0%
C Africa Shuwa Arabs Cameroon (Nth) AA/Semitic 5 40.0% 40.0% 0.0% 40.0% 0.0%
C Africa Kanuri Cameroon (Nth) NS/Saharan 7 14.3% 14.3% 0.0% 14.3% 0.0%
C Africa Foulbe Cameroon (Nth) NC/Atlantic 18 11.1% 11.1% 0.0% 5.6% 5.6%
C Africa Moundang Cameroon (Nth) NC/Adamawa 21 66.7% 66.7% 0.0% 14.3% 52.4%
C Africa Fali Cameroon (Nth) NC/Adamawa 48 20.8% 20.8% 0.0% 10.4% 10.4%
C Africa Tali Cameroon (Nth) NC/Adamawa 22 9.1% 9.1% 0.0% 4.5% 4.5%
C Africa Mboum Cameroon (Nth) NC/Adamawa 9 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
C Africa Composite Cameroon (Sth) NC/Bantu 90 0.0% 1.1% 0.0% 1.1% 0.0%
C Africa Biaka Pygmies CAR NC/Bantu 33 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
W Africa Composite 123 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
E Africa Composite 442 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
S Africa Composite 105 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
TOTAL 1822

As can be seen, this branch of R1b is very strongly represented in the Chadric population of Western Sub-Saharan Africa with more than 95% of Cameroonian Ouldemes having an R1b? haplogroup.  What is even more striking is that 28% of male the Berbers from Siwa in Egypt still have an R1b? haplogroup.

There is another concentration of R1b in central Eurasia.

Rather than look to Europe for an explanation, I think it is significantly more likely to look to the Sahara.  At the end of the Ice Age we know it was a fertile savannah.  If you talk with Andie Byrnes or read her blog on the Western Desserts, you'll learn that ancient petroglyphs are present all across the Libyan dessert as well as the Egyptian. We believe that the Sahara was well populated.  As dessertification took place, the population would migrate in search of water.  Inevitably many must have followed the great rivers like the Niger into Southwestern Subharan Africa.  Other might have migrated eastwards into Egypt and settled around Egypt's western oases - notably Siwa - and perhaps into the Nile Valley itself.  Such an explanation could, I believe, easily account for a haplogroup of R1b in the New Kingdom royal male line and seems entirely more plausible, in the context of social anthropology, than reaching to Europe for an explanation.

Of course it is possible to separate the different branches of R1b but I am not aware that the Y-DNA analysis of Tutankhamun and the other 18th Dynasty royal male mummies was extensive enough to support such analysis.

One thing though does seem to be clear: most modern Egyptians are probably not paternally descended from the Amarna Royal family.  That might have political implications.  It is far harder to claim moral ownership of Nefertiti's bust if most modern Egyptians are themselves genetic incomers rather than direct descendents - at least down the male line.

The Maternal Line

We return again to mitochondrial DNA which is passed down the maternal line.  In contrast to Y-DNA this is more strongly resilient to mutation and therefore would give a much better picture of racial ancestry.  I'd really love to see the results.  In Ancient times, while men might have migrated as part of hunting parties or armies, women were much less likely to die away from their place of birth.  We should therefore expect quite different results if/when mtDNA is published.

14/7/2010 - Certain typos corrected

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on Sunday, July 11, 2010

Marianne Luban linked Causing His Name to Live: Studies in Egyptian Epigraphy and History in Memory of William J. Murnane in one of her recent comments.  As the page says:

William J. Murnane (1945-2000) dedicated his life to the epigraphic recording and historical interpretation of the monuments of pharaonic Egypt. In tribute to his important contributions to Egyptology, a prominent group of his colleagues and students offer a range of new studies on Egyptian epigraphy and historiography. Amarna studies loom large in the volume as they did in Murnane's own work.
I've just started going through the papers and there is some great stuff linked there.  It's going to take me to read it all (and there's more in the same thread of comments that I need to read and appreciate as well).  I've started with James Allen's paper on the Amarna Succession.

If you haven't seen this collection of papers before, then I really do suggest that you take a look.  My thanks to Marianne.

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on Sunday, July 11, 2010

Andie Byrnes has found some more challenges.  Please follow the link to Egyptology News for details.

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on Saturday, July 10, 2010

Picture © SCA. I'm assuming it's a press picture and OK to show here.

There is a great article by Andrew Bossone and Ted Chamberlain on the National Geograpic site about the recent eploration of Seti's tomb in the Valley of the Kings.  It's across several pages but this isn't terribly clear, so don't miss them.  The hightlight is some of the photos.  I have shown one as a teaser.  My favourite is a cut-out artist's impression.

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on Sunday, July 04, 2010

There has been some fantastic material in the comments recently - thank you - but I suspect only a fraction of the visitors here notice it.  So while news is quiet over the summer, I thought I would offer the chance of guest articles.  If you have regularly left comments here over the past two or three months and would like to write one or more guest posts then please contact me. 

(When Andie and I get Egptological up and running that may be the better place for guest posts long term but that was delayed by the WordPress 3.0 release.  I'm hoping to get back to development tomorrow.)

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on Saturday, July 03, 2010

The previous post about the reconstruction of the face of the mummy from KV55 has been popular and Adrienne Giacon asked for a reconstruction of the Younger Lady so I thought I would post this video up as well. I was actually looking for Tutankhamun reconstructions when I found both of the videos - Tutankhamun is about 1:22 in to this one. (Adrienne, it does include KV35YL for you.)

It's a collection of reconstructions of the faces of several mummies (including some royal ones from the Valley of the Kings) but it doesn't indicate the sources so I cannot vouch for any of them.

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on Friday, July 02, 2010

I found this while browsing for somebody else and thought you might like to see it. As the artist says:

I'M NOT HERE TO MAKE THE SKULL LOOK LIKE AKHENATEN'S MONUMENTS. If that were the case, I would have sketched it straight and not bothered with the skull. I had a curiosity, however morbid, about what the skull could tell us about the MAN, not the statue. As it turns out, Akhenaten's sculptors put in a lot of overtime to make him look the way he seemed to the rest of the world and to history.
He also adds:
Midway through the reconstruction, I found a digitally restored version of Akhenaten's skull with the bridge of the nose rebuilt, and when I implemented those changes, it completely changed the configuration of the nose and lip, which is why the face dramatically changes halfway through the video.

Of course, since this is based on the skull from tomb KV55 in the Valley of the Kings, I think this is a representation of Smenkahare rather than Akhenaten!

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on Thursday, July 01, 2010

The press release starts:

"The Minister of Culture, Farouk Hosni, announced that a tunnel in the tomb of King Seti I (1314-1304 BC) has been discovered by Dr. Zahi Hawass and his team in the Valley of the Kings. They've been searching for this tunnel for over twenty years in the West Bank necropolis. "

More including finds on Including some nice pictures of finds.

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on Thursday, July 01, 2010

I'm not sure I'll get on the laptop tomorrow so here is the link for the breaking news:

The tunnel ends in a false door. There seemed to be a plan to decorate sections of the 170m tunnel but it is unfinished. There's some speculation in the article that Ramses II might have attempted the same feature in his own tomb in the Valley of the Kings - and he lived long enough to finish such a project.


Admin Control Panel