Posted by Kate Phizackerley on Saturday, September 11, 2010

Two very different articles for you:

1) Paul Rymer told me that National Geographic has an article in their September issue. There's nothing terribly new for regular readers of News from the Valley of the Kings but it is produced to the usual Nat Geographic lush production standards and is really very nice.

2) Rather more detailed, for my international readers, there is a very comprehensive article by Antonio Crasto, co-authored with P. Pietrapiana and G. Suadoni.  It is titled "Conferme dal DNA della famiglia de Akhenaton" (Confirmation of the DNA of Akhenaten's Family).  I'm afraid my Italian isn't good enough to offer a full summary but the article considers the permutations of elleles for the children of  KV55 and KV35YL.  This is a promising area of research.  I looked at myself and I believe the chance that Tutankhamun is the son of KV35YL and a brother of KV55 is about 3% - 4%.  That doesn't mean that we are 96% sure that KV55 and KV35YL are Tut's parents because I didn't look for instance at combinations like KV55 and another sister - or cousins for that matter.  We don't know the composition of the royal family well enough to assess the probability precisely. 

Antonio's article then looks at the possible lineage from Thuya to Akhenaten or Neferitit and onwards to KV21A and the foetuses.  (Interestingly, this DNA trail keeps coming back to Thuya and not Yuya - I suspect that Yuya was part of the historic royal family and maybe Thuya was a foreigner?)

Sadly my Italian isn't good enough to follow the logic, but the article then goes on to propose - I think ... the language is a real struggle for me - that KV35EL is Nefertiti (not Tiye) and that KV35YL is actually Akhenaten.  That's a radical suggestion.  Setting the issue of gender aside for one moment, we know that KV35YL could be a child of Amenhotep III - KV35YL is an unknown princess in the Hawass theory.  Indeed, with the addition of a Queen-Consort (Kiya), the Crasto theory does seem to fit the micro-satellite data as well as my own theory and better than the Hawass theory.  However, I am not convinced it fits historical facts as the new Crasto theory requires KV21A (putatively Akhesenamun) to be the daughter of  Akhenaten and the Queen Consort not of Akhenaten and Nefertiti.  Indeed, Crasto and colleagues suggest that Nefertiti was the Queen of Amenhotep III and the mother of Akehnaten and Smenkhare (KV55). 

For me this is unsatisfactory in a number of regards but I will leave it to those whose Italian is good enough to read the detailed reasoning to comment further.  However, the article does raise one clear point.  There is no indication in the JAMA that the gender of the supposedly-female mummies, notably KV35YL (in this case), was determined genetically by testing for the absence of SRY (the male gene on the Y-chromosome).  If this was not done, then it is a clear experimental lacuna.  Upon inspection, the main JAMA paper doesn't mention how the gender was determined for the mummies which weren't tested for SRY.  Presumably it was by pelvic examination or some similar forensic method?  Given the feminised appearance of Akhenaten in some reliefs and statues, this does seem to be a possible oversight.  (The absence of SRY isn't a definitive test for femaleness either - for example 1 in 20,000 women have something called Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome and have a Y chromosome with an SRY gene - but we can say that a woman who possesses SRY is highly unlikely to have been fertile.)   

Personally I don't think the KV35YL is Akhenaten any more than the KV55 mummy is, but it is a theory which opens up new lines of questioning and demonstrates that there is still some way to go before the family tree printed in magazine like National Geographic can really be said to have been proven.


akhetaten said...

Just like to add that for those interested, that the article is also published in the "Dutch-Belgian" issue of National Geographic. So for those that want this info in Dutch go to your local magazine store ;)

MLP said...

The commercially available kits used for profiling DNA for identification and/or paternity deliberately avoid testing for anything relating to phenotype (i.e., a person's looks or physiology). Without an off-the-shelf test, the comparatively inexperienced Cairo Museum DNA lab would have had to devise its own test or find and implement one from the literature. This test would have to be reliable for ancient DNA. Note that SRY testing of living people was eliminated from the Olympic Games in 2000 due to problems with false positives.

"Upon inspection, the main JAMA paper doesn't mention how the gender was determined for the mummies which weren't tested for SRY."

The JAMA paper states (p. 639, first paragraph beneath "Kinship Analyses") states that 8 of the 10 putative female mummies were tested with the ABI Yfiler kit. There is no indication which 2 female mummies were not tested (it seems likely to me that the omissions were KV60A and KV60B). The inability to detect any of the 17 Y chromosome loci profiled by the Yfiler kit on any of these mummies apparently was considered sufficient to confirm the absence of the Y chromosome, which in turn apparently was considered enough to confirm them as female.

Note that the ABI Identifiler and Minifiler kits which were used to develop the profiles used to establish descent among the mummies both test for amelogenin. Amelogenin shows up differently for males and females (normally, 2 results for XY profiles, 1 for XX profiles). The amelogenin results were not reported in the JAMA paper; presumably they did not contradict the Yfiler results.

Stephanie said...

I can`t follow the suggestion about Nefertiti being KV35EL and mother of Akhenaten, this has no historical support whatsoever.
What makes me think though is the question of the true gender of the Younger Lady as there seems to have been some confusion in the past.
After the beginning of the DNA-testing Hawass claimed at some point that "she" was actually male, but she later turned back into a female.
And I remember the Egyptologist Joanne Fletcher saying in her TV-show about the Younger Lady "it was a male, it was a female, she was too young, she was older", reflecting the contradicting results at various stages of the examination.

I think it would be a good idea to repeat the examination (both scan and DNA) of the Younger Lady, preferrably by an independent team. But this is probably just wishful thinking.

Kate Phizackerley said...

Thanks. It sounds as though the gender of the female mummies might be secure which would be good. Instincively I don't like the fmaily tree suggested by Antonio Crasto and colleagues but theories need to stand or fall on facst not instinct.

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