|Fireworks over Lake Maggiore|
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:
- the latest genetic tests showed that Tutankhamun had a haplogroup of R1b;
- his ancestry had a haplogroup of R1b; and
- therefore his ancestry was European.
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) = 15I 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.
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
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.
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||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||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||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%|
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