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


Marianne Luban said...

My virus protection wouldn't even allow me to access that EU site, saying that it contained an active threat.

ML Peel seems to think some of the DNA is bogus and says so here:

Geoff Carter said...

Great stuff Kate, this is very interesting. I can't comment on the DNA, but there is no reason why the ruling elite of an area should be natives.

Pharaohs don't have to be Egyptian; there are plenty of examples of dynasties that clearly were not.

Historically, elites are more international in their origins and relationships, and often culturally quite different from the native populations they exploit.

Kate Phizackerley said...

I read the EU article on something that I hope isn't at risk. I'll try to find an alternative.

It wouldn't surprise me if the DNA hasn't been transcribed properly. I hope I have that episode on DVD ut I don't have time to review it this week. I also am not convinced it is worth doing because it doesn't tell us a great deal. I think it's being over-hyped by some.

Adrienne Giacon said...

Interesting. I did read that the Berbers were shown to be R1b. The National Geographic genographic project actually gives a great simple explanation of how it works -Ydna and Mtna. They are concentrating on tracing the migration of ancient peoples through dna testing. and have a little low down on R1b under the ATlas of the human journey section.

Do remember thatYDNA just shows the Fathers paternal unbroken line. So it could have been started for example 10 generations earlier in a person, so the person down the line may look nothing like the people traditionally from that area. It does not show the proportion of " a race" To do that you need an autosomnal test. For instance you may be only 1/64th Samoan for example, because it was so far back in your line. So you may not look Samoan, buy your ydna shows you are had an ancestor from that area.

I am not sure what you mean by the ydna altering so that it created a blur? They are away of all the mutations that have occured and can thus trace them back to the original source. Which is why it so useful for finding the migratory route of peoples.
Mtna can also travel great distances. They went with their men. Or in some cases were taken by men of other tribes and/or areas when they came, and then left.

Adrienne Giacon said...

It is interesting when looking at the past to then see what the Ydna of Egyptians is today.
This article shows that many are V
A haplogroup found amongst the Berbers.

I am not sure why their haplogroups arent the normal codes used. I will have to look them up.

Adrienne Giacon said...

This link here is an excellent and thorough review of R1b and its origins.

Interesting that R1a is credited with the invention of the horse drawn chariot and linked with Mycaneans

Anonymous said...

It is believed that Tut's parents were brother and sister. How does that effect your evaluation of the data?

Adrienne Giacon said...

Okay apparantly V etc is a different old system, not as thorough as the new ISOGG haplogroups.
The closest match in todays system is XI is E1b1b1-M35, and
V is E1b1b1a-M78.
But there is conjecture that it hasnt been sufficiently confirmed.

I have not seen any other dna testing of Modern day Egyptians.

Adrienne Giacon said...

Seems the url I posted with great detail about R1b and E1b1b did come out properly. Here it is again

Hope it comes out on the site okay now. There is also a brief overview on Ancient Egyptian DNA and other races. A discussion on it also can be found here.

Adrienne Giacon said...

I do wonder why the MTNA hasnt been published. As it is usually the easiest to extract. In the latest Archeology magazine, there is an article on how scientists extracted mitichondrial dna from a 30,000 year old finger bone. So obviously it is a process that can be done. So why hasnt it?

Ratson Nahar said...

The article states that if he was R1b, that doesn't necessarily mean his paternal parent were R1b. Taken to an extreme (a case of extensive mutations in his DNA that somehow still allowed him to thrive) this could be true, but even with a number of mutations, he haplogroup would still be the same as his father (it would just be a new clad under R1b). In fact, the DNA markers presented is a specific sub-clad of R1b. The rest of the article is more or less well reasoned. Looking for his R1b ancestry in North Africa is a wise move. However, note, a lot of migration has gone on since then (do we really know how long R1b has been in Europe and how it got there? — No). Another issue briefly touched on at the end may also be resolved by the fact that a ruling class is not always of the same genetic background as the ruled. Egypt is such a place where that is proposed to be the case (earliest dynasties, for example, have been proposed to have possibly come from Mesopotamia). Another to keep in mind is not all mothers are loyal to the father (it's a surprisingly large historical percentage of child-not-of-"father") as well as rare possibility of a condoned surrogate father (such as in cases of an infertile father who needs an heir, or the cases of religious "prostitution" — ie.: sex with a sacred surrogate of a deity, almost all biblical references to "prostitution" are actually in reference to this practice, not to secular prostitution).

Kate Phizackerley said...

@Ratson Nahar

I agree with you in relation to your point about Tutankhamun's father. If Tut was R1b it would be very unlikely that his father wasn't also R1b. I knew that when I wrote it. I opted for elision because while it's unlikely in 1 generation, it's possible over say 20 or 40 generations for a paternal line to reconverge into R1b.

However, with hindsight, I think I was wrong. I'd overlooked that Tutankhamun is 3,400 years (give or take) closer to the origin of R1b than we are. For that reason convergence would be very unlikely and would, had in occurred, left telltales in successive generations. I was wrong on that point.

I agree that rulers could be a different race to their subjects. However, the objects whose repatriation is sought, were owned by the Pharaohs, not their subjects. My phrasing was careful.

Marianne Luban said...

Have a look here:

There it claims a close match of Tut's STR to the Druze. Well...the Druze have a tradition of coming from Mesopotamia although much more recently inhabiting Syria and Lebanon.

Marianne Luban said...

Regarding my last post, I wrote to its author on ySearch, asking for the source of his information. He directed me to this forum

where the person who had claimed to have puzzled out the haplogroup of Tut had posted--and the last person who wrote a comment there, a Sam Vass--about the Druze. I have no knowledge of Sam Vass or how he comes by his information. What I do know is there was, indeed, a genetic study of the Druze and I can post access to the resulting paper if anyone is interested. The Druze individual that Vass claimed has DNA numbers close to those of Tut lives in a village called Beit Jaan situated on Mount Meron in northern Israel. The Druze are a religious sect, not particularly ancient as such things go, only a few hundred years later than Islam. They are Islamic, but most Moslems consider them heretics. What is significant about the Druze as a people is that they seem to be a genetic "refugium", carrying a haplogroup that is not common in the general area where they are found, Lebanon, Syria and Israel, any longer. That haplotype is X. Because they are a minority sect [like the Samaritans] the Druze have a tendancy toward intermarriage and therefore preserved their types--and they are not all X. At any rate, the paper I refer to explains an interesting background but, if they are a genetic "refugium", that would go a long way to explain why one of their number is like Tutankhamun genetically.

Tutankhamun may not have had any living children but Amenhotep III collected women and doubtless had many. We have no idea how many sons he had. At that time Egypt ruled the east and it's entirely possible that a son or two of A III was an official stationed there--or left Egypt for some other reason for the Levant. It was only during the reign of Akhenaten that the Egyptian interests in the Levant took a turn for the worse, as the Amarna Letters indicate.

Kate Phizackerley said...

Actually my reading suggests that if Tutankhamun is R1b that a Druze connection is possible as an alternative to Sub-Sharan Africa. Because those two groups diverged some time ago it should theoretically be possible to consider whether Tutankhamun's DNA more closely matches one group or the other that I don't think that the tests done were extensive enough to permit that analysis. For the moment, a Druze link is something I think which should be considered a possibility

What I hope is that some Western museums will perform DNA tests on some non-royal mummies so that we get a sense of the haplogroup of the wider nobility.

Glenn Allen Nolen said...

"I dont for a sec. think the problem is a lack of reliable Y-DNA results that match between the generations.

Thats been established. The autosomnal results are pretty transparently a response to try to deflect criticism for the grand media rollout concerning Tuts family DNA and the lavish media campaign to support that, with Zero
results released.

Either Hawass personally or his circle in collusion, is simply deliberately withholding the Y (and Mt) results.

I saw a posting in a ARCE researchers blog only a day after the big announcement that Tut was supposedly R1b, and that researcher described a
presentation he claimed to have attended with other foreign Egyptologists at that time, during which Hawass told them that the DNA results linked Tut
Paternally, and his pharoah father, to a specific "Greek" non-egyptian ancestor who was a court advisor to the previous pharoah, and that this DNA line was not carried in prior pharoahs or later... and was not in fact of
egyptian origin.

All this sounds pretty implausible to truthfully 'establish' with such
certainty, but it does sound like the Hawass bunch was sounding-out possible explanations to see how they could ''sell'' the results they are alleged to have come up with, without damaging Tuts ''egyptian-ness'' to their liking.

The next day, the entire ''Tuts' Y-line was father by a greek advisor to his grandfather'' description was scrubbed from the ARCE blog and the site searched turned up no results to this page at all. It could be that it was a inaccurate description of the briefing, or the briefing was 'confidential'
in nature for some reason, which caused them to remove or instruct the archaeologist to remove the summary, but it should also be noted that Hawass has the power to totally remove all ARCE members or restrict them from working in Egypt.

so.. my guess is, they have repeatable Y- results that don't fit their liking, and could not find a believable way to ''market'' these results that
did not conflict with what they could accept, and they have the power to deter anyone from pursuing the matter too vigourously if they ever want to
work in egypt again.

So.. they cut loose with some autosomnal results that offer some results to quite those they cant shut up, but don't disclose the Y-results that they are eager to keep private. Doesnt prove the earlier R1b assertions, but sure doesnt conflict with what
one would expect if a group of nationalist egyptians got caught with results they didnt like and couldnt find a good way to dispose of the matter."

Kate Phizackerley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kate Phizackerley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kate Phizackerley said...

Thanks for your email. Since you have posted up the same here, I'll reply by comment too. (For the record, Glenn is quoting remarks by Peter Spencer made on Rootswen.)

I think we have to be careful as the message you posted skirts very close to being libelous in the UK. Secondly, as a professional journalist would want, I prefer to see a second source for allegations like this.

I agree entirely that the Y-DNA results (and the mtDNA results if they are now available) should be public and, failure to publish them is likely to cause many of us, me include, to conjecture on why they are being withheld. I think many of us feel that the published family tree is inaccurate in some way and would like to see the rest of the DNA to either prove or disapprove our personal theores.

That said, I have one specific problem with what Peter Spencer reports, "... that the DNA results linked Tut Paternally, and his pharoah father, to a specific "Greek" non-egyptian ancestor who was a court advisor to the revious pharoah, and that this DNA line was not carried in prior pharoahs or later... and was not in fact of
egyptian origin."

So far as I am aware there is no known Greek adviser to Amenhotep III, and certainly no indication that the DNA of non-royal mummies has been DNA tested. I'd say that we need a name for this adviser before we can consider the matter sensibly. For that reason, until we get some more facts to go on, I am personally inclined to feel that a misunderstanding of some sort has occured and that there is nothing which proves Tutankhamun's grandfather wasn't Egyptian. Of course there have been illegitmate children throughout history and presumably that happened in ancient Egypt as well, so equally if further evidence comes to life I don't have any problem per se with Tutankhamun being illegitimate.

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