Posted by Kate Phizackerley on Saturday, January 22, 2011

By far my most read article has been my critique which set out the evidence that the KV55 mummy is not Akhenaten as claimed by Hawass, Zink and Pusch in their JAMA paper on the study of the DNA of the family of Tutankhamun.  I am planning to revisit the paper when Andie and I launch Egyptological Online.

Criticism has now reached New Scientist magazine and an article which quotes many geneticists critical of the paper and the study.

But many geneticists complain that the team used inappropriate analysis techniques. Far from being definitive, the study is "not seen as rigorous or convincing", says Eline Lorenzen of the Center for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum in Copenhagen, Denmark. "Many of us in the DNA community are surprised that this has been published."
Rather than criticise the conclusions drawn, the geneticists are concerned about the anlysis itself.  I and others were critical that insufficient controls were included in the study and this picked up, but there are reported concerns about even the extraction of DNA from the mummy of Tutankhamun.  Demands are growing for publication of the raw data which Zink is denying, allegedly saying that if the raw data was released it would cause a "a lot of arguing" over technicalities.  That isn't a sentiment that seems to exhibit much confidence in the data or methodology to me.

The one piece of good news is that they have now managed to extract mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) and will be publishing their findings.  There is no indication from which mummies mitochondrial DNA has been extracted nor whether any new paper will address the concerns raised about the previous paper and the methods used for DNA extraction and analysis.

(Quick recap.  Mitochondrial DNA is passed exclusively from the mother so its use is to determine matrilineal descent.  The royal family was so inter-related, it is possible that there may be few differences detectable so mitochondrial DNA might tell us very little.  Would it could be a good indicator of is of any women brought in from outside the royal family, possibly princesses from other countries.)

42 comments:

John Bright said...

At last! It looks as if sense is prevailing. Can we now have a re-analysis of all the results by a completely independent team and one that will not be pressurised by the Head of the Antiquities Service? The analysis would, as you say, need controls and perhaps to be done in two separate anonymous laboratories to avoid any communications between the teams. This time, if it is done again, perhaps all likely bodies should be analysed: the prince from KV35 for example and, if they have not been utterly lost, the bones from Horemheb's tomb, KV57.

Stephanie said...

In my view Zink almost admits that there might be issues with the raw data and in fact the whole process. Why else should he be afraid of sparking a lot of arguing if everything was all right and plausible?

I am really curious though what the mtdna results will bring.
Although I can hardly imagine them to turn any of the "established" results upside down.

Ashlyn said...

Love your blog Kate. I stop by frequently for the latest news.

I agree with John and Stephanie.

I hold only a measly bachelor's in biology, so far be it for me to add my criticism of Zink and Pusch to the chorus, but I will anyway. Come on, not releasing data is bad science. Any kid in a high school science class should be able to tell you that one of the first principles of the scientific method is the ability for a separate lab to reproduce your tests and obtain the same results. Hawass, Zink and Pusch apparently consider their work above peer review, which renders their analysis highly suspect. I agree, a re-analysis is badly needed.

While I'm at it I'll add that in my personal opinion, if the KV35 younger lady should in fact be Nefertiti, Hawass may not be above suppressing that information due to that unfortunate Joann Fletcher business. It would appear that Hawass has his own agenda which is disheartening to those of us who find ancient Egypt fascinating and want to get as close to the truth as science will allow.

Anonymous said...

nice one ashlyn could not agree more.daveh

Anonymous said...

In the US to determine true parentage all 16 have to match.
Tut only has a match of 5 from 'mother'and 5 from 'father'. The brother/sister link is also very poor at 9. The only strong one is the matching of Amenhotep/Tiye with KV55 skeleton.
The best analysis, which Blind Freddie can do himself, is here at
http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2010/09/tut-dna/tut-family-tree
try it yourself KMTscribe

Geoff Carter said...

The idea that the basic data would cause ""a lot of arguing" over technicalities", is a quite extraordinary statement [- I can't show you the basic data because it does not entirely support my conclusions!].

The issue for me, is that the results show signs of being fitted/shoehorned fit into an existing framework of opinion.

While we can all applaud the increased Egyptian involvement in their own archaeology, state control can easily become Political, and the perceived wider interests of groups and individuals can become factors in the reporting of research.
For example;
Demonstrating that the Pharaohs of Dyn18 were 'foreign' is not without its political overtones - would such a conclusion be 'resisted'?

John Bright said...

When I taught basic science, one of the key approaches was the establishment of "a fair test" to any hypothesis/idea. This just does not seem to have happened with the examination of these DNA samples. I agree with the comments about "shoehorned to fit". So, will there be another set of tets done completely independently? While on this topic, has any more information been released on the gold sheets from within the KV55 coffin that were miraculously re-discovered in some forgotten recess of the Cairo Museum basement?

Marianne Luban said...

In a recent video made about the DNA testing of Tutankhamun and his family, Zahi Hawass has the gold foil sheets brought to him so that he can examine them. And he does. They look very fragile, are encased between transparent sheets of plastic, I imagine. So they are in Cairo, although Hawass thinks other fragments may be elsewhere. There is text on them. Go to this website and you will see plenty of citations and images, so that I need not give them here.

http://forum.egyptiandreams.co.uk/viewtopic.php?p=61637&sid=2380923ce36e7617e3f85164a896fb9f

The next URL will tell you all about the history of the coffin elements. Fascinating.

http://anubis4_2000.tripod.com/KV55/KV55B.htm

Scroll down to where it ays "Dennis Forbes examines some gold sheets"
or read the entire page, which is devoted to bits from the KV55 coffin.

But I think nothing on those pieces of foil make anybody any the wiser about the situation. Whomever the coffin was originally intended for, it was later
definitely altered for Akhenaten. That is known from his unique epithets, atthough his actual cartouches have been excised. Coffins and mummies in them are not necessarily matches.

Marianne Luban said...

At the first URL I supplied above, one can see the glyphs on the foot of the KV55 coffin. I wrote a paper [unpublished] in which I believe I effectively demonstrate that the glyphs show that the person who buried Akhenaten in this coffin and who also brought the coffin and the body it contained to Thebes was none other than Meritaten, regent of Tutankhamun and at one time called "Ankhetkheperure".

Stephanie said...

Maybe my input comes a little late as it does not correspond with the most recent comments, but I wanted to point out what has disturbed me ever since the JAMA paper was published.
We are presented with a chart that shows data of eight markers (or loci, whichever is the correct term).
But in fact the minifiler kit is designed for 16 markers and there is not a single word in the paper or elsewhere as to what happened to the other half (!) of the data.

Have the missing eight markers not yielded any results (hardly imaginable when the other markers worked so well), were they not readable or why have they not been published.
There certainly should have been an explanation in the paper.

Ken said...

Stephanie,

My guess is that the other markers had degraded. Even assuming there is no contamination, DNA that old has obviously degraded extensively, so as the "New Scientist" stated, they are lucky, if it is real, that they even found eight.

Kate Phizackerley said...

It seems unlikely however that everything else had degraded entirely for all other locii in all the other mummies. It seems more likely that either a) they decided not to test other locii, or b) other locii were tested but yielded on fragmentary results - say just for a couple of mummies. Both should have been explained in the paper. I think Stephanie is right that there is another lacuna.

John Bright said...

Tutankhamen's body was kept in natron for 70 days in extreme heat. It was then wrapped in cloths soaked in gum. Next it was placed in a virtually air-tight enclosure after having a couple of bucketfuls of "unguents" poured over it. This was left to stew for some 3000 years. It was then heated with paraffin stoves. The unwrapped body was described as "carbonized". After this mix of heating and chemical soaking, how unaffected could a DNA sample be?

Ron Lankshear said...

And then the body has been handled by Carter etc and then the WW2 robbers who stole the ribs and the chest collar and then whoever....

But if the DNA shows an expected relationship then surely it was not contaminated???

What I am wondering is what the mtDNA will establish. I understand how it was used to verify the bodies of the executed Russian Royal family using the Duke of Edinburgh etc. The linkage was known and the DNA matching was proof. Can mtDNA be so used for these various bodies.

If Tut has a mtDNA match with several women which is the mother?

MLP said...

Stephanie,

The MiniFiler kit profiles only the 8 loci shown in the JAMA study plus the sex typing locus Amelogenin. See the FAQ at Applied Biosystems:
http://marketing.appliedbiosystems.com/mk/get/MINIFILER_FAQ

Marianne Luban said...

Please, let's not get carried away. Nobody can handle bone marrow, which is what was extracted from the remains. "Degraded" and "contaminated" do not imply the same thing. In the case of the Romanov royalty, Prince Philip was related to the Czarina Alexandra. Philip's mother and the empress were sisters. Therefore, Philip's mtDNA matched those of the empress and her daughters. It seems to me that the mtDNA of Tutankhamun is not in question. It goes back to the Younger Lady, at least, or there is no way she can have been determined to have been his mother.
Since one gets half of one's DNA from each parent, KV55 was deemed the father. This is not currently in question, AFAIK.

Kate Phizackerley said...

Although Tutankhamun's mummy was subjected to many indignities, most of the other mummies didn't, so to an extent they as a control for how Carter handled Tut's mummy.

The DNA as published strongly supports a view that the KV55 mummy was the father of the KV62 mummy. The reservation is we don't know whether the two labs agreed on the published DNA; equally it may be that the report was conservative and one lab managed to sequence SRY but the other didn't so the unpublished data could reinforce the conclusion. That is the real area of disatisfaction - we don't have the raw data to know whether the published data is from the "conservative" or "peculative" end of the spectrum of results.

John Bright said...

A long time ago, Percy Newberry suggested that Tutankhamen's parents were Smenkhkare and Meritre (presumably Meritaten having changed her name). I cannot recall his reasoning for this and it was something I read back in my teens so unfortunately I do not recall the source. So, it might not have been a total surprise that KV55 has been proposed as his father. It has long been recognised that the two are related as there are said to be similarities in bone structure and blood grouping.
However, given the unique circumstances surrounding Tutankhamen's body, I think it is difficult to find a control. To do so would mean testing another body that had been subjected to the same conditions. Given the difficulties highlighted in the television documentary in isolating a viable sample, I feel the results are still suspect and need to be repeated to establish their accuracy. If, as reported, only 8 of a possible 16 markers were established, it would be interesting to see how this stood up in a court of law when subjected to cross examination!

Stephanie said...

After MLP`s valuable input my accusations regarding the 8 markers probably fall flat on their face.
I double-checked and it is indeed the testing kit used for the Y-DNA which was designed to test 16 markers but unfortunately only yielded results for two markers (which was taken to be sufficient to establish a relationship between AIII, KV55 and Tut).


Still, with only 8 markers for the nuclear DNA when usually 10 are requested in modern courts to prove fatherhood (as stated in the corresponding TV-show), we are not on very solid ground.

Marianne Luban said...

John, I think the "Meritre" comes from a scarab of that name coupled with what looks to me like "Nebkheperure". I saw a magnified photo of the scarab and believe that what some skeptically think is the wavy sign for /n/ is really three strokes of plurality needed for the plural "xprw".

rymerster said...

Don't know if anyone has been following the threads on the gold from KV55 on EEF - it does seem that a cartouche for "Smenkhkare" was on the coffin. What the inscription says in detail I can't say (I expect it has the throne name rather than "Smenkhkare").

Marianne Luban said...

That's what caused me to give up on the EEF, finally, because I wasn't allowed to post a link to some citations and images regarding the coffin. But now I'm curious--who says that a name of Smenkhkare was on that coffin? And where?

John Bright said...

Daressy's description and the texts he gives in Davis's book make no mention of Smenkhkare.

Marianne Luban said...

Right. And, as far as I am aware, there wasn't a single cartouche on the entire coffin that wasn't excised, even from the gold foil that lined it. It was, when found in KV55, essentially an anonymous coffin. The thing was, though, that the unique epithets of Akhenaten such as "great in his lifetime" and "the perfect child of the Aten" were retained--so we know his catouches once accompanied them. Now, on one of the URLs I gave above, one can see a writing of "Waenre", a name of Akhenaten, not in a cartouche, it appears, on a piece of gold foil. But that could be a remnant of "mryt n wa-n-ra" with the meaning of "beloved of Waenre", referring to the woman the coffin had originally been made for, probably Kiya. A lot of that foil had inscriptions, according to Dennis Forbes, editor of Kmt, who was shown them in Cairo.

Kate Phizackerley said...

Backing up a few comments, I don't believe that in establshing likely parentage of mummies we should expect that DNA tests will be done to legal standards. Legal standards might require a 1 in a million chance of not being wrong (I haven't checked). We simply don't see that accuracy. 99% would be sufficient - 95% would be sufficient perhaps. So the team shouldn't be expected to push for legal standards of proof, so personally I don't think doing 7 locii rather than 16 is an issue - although I would have liked more information on how the locii were selected and whether others were attempted and not published.

BUT the probability of the proposed relationships should have been stated with worked calculations so they could be verified.

MLP said...

Kate,

The particular loci measured were determined when Applied Biosystems was picked to equip the new Cairo Museum's Ancient DNA Lab. That company's Identifiler and Yfiler kits contain the primers needed to amplify the loci used by U. S. and some European police forces. The Minifiler uses newer techniques to amplify some of the more difficult Identifiler loci. The Minifiler loci and 2 of the 17 Yfiler loci were published in the JAMA study.

Note that these same 3 kits were used to verify the identity of the 2 missing Romanov children after their remains were found in summer 2007.

Kate Phizackerley said...

Cheers MLP - love the straight answer which clears up the confusion on that point.

I actaully rather pity the lead authors. The European approach is much more open than we see from Egypt and it must be difficult for the European authors to restrain a probable wish to get much more information out there and subject to the usual academic scrutiny than Egyptian teams seem to be comfortable doing. In general, the Egyptian approach is making running Egyptology news blogs like this ever harder. I hate reliance on State media channels for much of the news - I have joked that we are soon going to need an Egyptology equivalent of Wikileaks if things carry on the way they seem to be going.

John Bright said...

Marianne, there is an article in KMT for Autumn 1997 that refers to the interior of the lower box. This is followed by correspondence in the Spring issue. There is reference to a screwed up band of gold that the original investigators of the tomb had ignored. On this band was, reportedly, the nomen of Smenkhkare. The letter is not clear whether the band of gold came from the coffin or was a "mummy band". Perhaps this is the origin of the Smankhkare attribution. At the time the article was written, the lower box and, I presume the band, were in an anonymous European museum...... since revealed as Munich. At about this time, Dennis Forbes proposed the idea that Smankhkare and Meritaten were Tutankhamen's parents.
As to the scarab Newberrry mentions, it was found by Mariette at the Osiris temple at Abydos (not a sit you immediately connect with Amarna). Merytre is indeed referred to as King's Mother (a reed sign alongside a vulture). However, the king's name is written in the reproduction as Neb Kheper N Re. Where there should be three strokes to read Khepru, the sign looks distinctly like "N". This might be bad copying. It was published by Mariette in Volume II of his work on Abydos where it is plate n.

Stephanie said...

Is there a known king with the nomen or prenomen Neb-kheper-n-Re?
If so it would be easy to assign the scarab to him, if not we would have to think further.
Can anyone, maybe Marianne ot John, kindly give a link or reference to see a picture of this scarab?

John Bright said...

Stephanie, I have a scan of the reproduction in Mariette's book. Is there any way I can forward it? I think it is also in the KMT issue for Spring 1998.
Returning to the DNA, I saw a clip of the Discovery video in which it is said 15 samples were taken from Tutankhamen for testing. Despite all the criticism, that sounds pretty thorough on the face of it.

Ken said...

Stephanie,

I have seen this discussion before and the only reference to a Nebkhepenenre seems to be from this scarab. At the end of this discussion thread is some manner of reproduction from Schaden and if the reproduction of that scarab is accurate, that /n/ is definitely odd looking. Like someone put a line through the strokes... The beetle looks a little sloppy too, so who knows...
Here is the link:

http://forum.egyptiandreams.co.uk/viewtopic.php?t=5269

Marianne Luban said...

Here is the relevant part of the second URL I gave above:

"The contents of this entry have been briefly noted in the paragraph above, and very probably describe some of the basin elements now in Munich. Bell states (again in footnote 11, p. 99 of her paper) that the objects designated Temp. Reg. # 2/12/15/2 were eventually combined with other KV 55 objects that had been given the Temporary Registry number 5/11/27/16. These two lots of objects, now combined, were then assigned the coffin lid's entry number JdE 39627. Bell indicates that JdE 39627 was appended with a Special Registry number in the 1960's (SR 7784), and described at that time as "Gold plate from sarcophagus of Smenkh-Ka-Re. Some inscribed and some with glass inlay"; "Gold plate"; "Weight 920 grams." (Her use of separate quotation marks may indicate that each notation had been written in a different hand, perhaps because three different people had examined the objects, each adding something to the description.) These objects must have been the ones originally designated by Temp. Reg. # 5/11/27/16, the ones combined with Temp. Reg. # 2/12/15/2 and then added to JdE 39627. If Temp. Reg. # 2/12/15/2 represents the objects now in Munich (and Dennis Forbes implies that he thinks it does--see KMT [12: 1], 3, para. 1), then these particular objects could not have left the Cairo Museum earlier than the Temporary Registry date given to the objects with which they were combined: 5/11/27/16, which is read 5'th November, 1927, object lot 16. This is only four years before coffin basin elements were discovered missing by Engelbach."

After the article or articles by Forbes came out, the people in Munich denied they had anything with the name "Smenkhkare" on it. If they had, you may well believe someone would have published that. My guess is that, after the bones of the KV55 individual had been examined by Prof. Smith and deemed a "young man", as opposed to the belief of Davis that this was Queen Tiye, someone got the notion that "young man" was not appropriate for Akhenaten and therefore opined "Smenkh-Ka-Re".

Stephanie said...

Thanks, John, for the offer to help but I have seen the drawing in the thread which was kindly given by Ken.

The waterline for "n" certainly looks crude but IMO there is no way to mistake it for plural strokes even if they had for some rason a line drawn through them.
Plural strokes are usually longer (or should I say higher) than the waves of the represented line are.
And there is another peculiarity which makes it very unlikely that this could be in fact Neb-kheperu-Re: in the king`s cartouche on the scarab the "neb"-sign is placed between the Re-sign and the beetle, an arrangement which I have never seen in Tut`s prenomen as this is always written in the order Re-sign, under it beetle, under the beetle the plural strokes and at the bottom the neb-sign.
This arrangement has probably been chosen because the plural strokes sit so nicely above the neb-sign, whereas the waterline fits almost everywhere.

The overall crude appearance could either be due to Schaden`s "handwriting" or to some unexperienced or careless workman who manufactured the scarab.
If the scarab itself looks like this then it could well have been produced in the Second Intermediate Period when standards of art might have been lower than usual and during which a king named Neb-Kheper-n-Re seems to have lived (according to the thread in the link).
Or, considering the uncertain provenance, the scarab might be a clumsy forgery (which Ken seemed to hint at in his comment, am I right?).

Marianne Luban said...

Stephanie, how can you say "there is no way to mistake them for plural strokes" when you haven't seen a photo of the actual scarab but just a line drawing, which is someone else's interpretation of what is there? That reminds me of something else--a painting in the tomb of Tetiky at Thebes. There is [or was] represented Queen Ahmose-Nefertari in what was evidently an early stage of her life, wearing a kind of headdress for "junior wives", a feature of which is a gazelle head instead of an uraeus. But some early Egyptologist could not deal with this gazelle head and opined that it *must* be a kind of "double uraeus" and even made a line drawing which looks ridiculous with a tiny little snake head, not next to another but right on top of it! Then came papers about the first "double uraeus" seen on a queen and all kinds of stuff that persisted to this day until I brought up on the EEF a while back that in an actual *photo* of the scene, this is plainly a gazelle head and the rest of the crown, also, was of a type that never has an uraeus with it. Well, someone privately emailed a copy of the line-drawing to show me I must be wrong! In his or her mind, that line-drawing ruled, even though it shows the stupidest looking uraeus ever! So one has to be very careful with line drawings because they are not necessarily objective.

Ken said...

Marianne makes a good point about the drawing. I have to agree with Stephanie, though, that Tutankhamun's prenomen has the scarab and basket the other way. I think this is better evidence that it isn't Tutankhamun. I don't remember seeing his prenomen cartouche inverted, at least on anything from his tomb. Another thing that we are unlikely to solve without new evidence...

(Not that I don't think that Meritaten is his mother, because I do...)

Marianne Luban said...

Maybe the scarab is a fake! I wonder where the /t/ in "mryt" ever comes before the /y/, either. Either a fake or anomaly.
Just lately, in Kmt, somebody made a good case for a bracelet element that has been shown in books for a long time and was believed to be Queen Tiye as a sphinx being a fake. Museums are full of them--until somebody finds the "fatal flaw".

Stephanie said...

I know the weak point of my comment on the plural strokes/waterline was that I had not seen the original.
But I do trust that an experienced egyptologist like Schaden is willing and able to reproduce the signs he sees as exactly as possible. My remark about his handwriting aimed at them not looking very beautiful.
But then, there are more examples of crude-looking inscriptions like the ring with the Ankhesenamun/Aye cartouches.

At least I think we all agree that the peculiar arrangements of the signs even in both names on the scarab are somewhat suspicious.
I am by no means claiming that it is certainly a forgery, but I imagine that there are people who not only want to make money with forgeries but sometimes even want to pull everyone`s legs by producing items with puzzling inscriptions.
Maybe some of them

Marianne Luban said...

Stephanie, I think you missed my point. "Appeal to authority" is sometimes misguided, as I attempted to show in the debacle of the crown of Queen Ahmose-Nefertari. Otto Schaden, for all you know, could have had a hard time deciding just what was there and opted for /n/. I say it looked more like three strokes. You don't have to believe me, but I bet I can read hieroglyphs as well as Schaden. Why? Because he is not a philologist, does not specialize in the language. Not many Egyptologists do. If "trust in authority" was all there was to it--then there would be no point in having this thread at all. Best sometimes to decide for oneself.

Marianne Luban said...

In the words of the cinematic "Alfie"--'Ere, I forgot I 'ad this bleedin' book! It's Budge's "Tutankhamen". On the very first page he says "From a scarab which was found in the temple of Abydos, we learn that his mother was called Merit-Ra. Then Budge gives a footnote referring to Mariette's "Abydos". Stephanie, Budge was definitely a philologist--big time--although the study of the language has progressed somewhat since his day and he stands corrected here and there posthumously. Evidently, I'm not the only one who saw three plural strokes there.
Who are you going to believe now?

Stephanie said...

Marianne, when did Budge publish this book, at least roughly?

Marianne Luban said...

I have a paperback which says "originally published in 1923 by Martin Hopkinson and Company, Ltd., London." Budge dedicated the book to the memory of Lord Carnarvon, who had died by this time.

Marianne Luban said...

Doing a little research, I learned that all the commemorative scarabs of Amenhotep III are of unknown provenance! Isaac Mayer wrote an old book about scarabs. Check here for his description of the forgery situation in his time:

http://books.google.com/books?id=NgZFAAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=scarabs&source=bll&ots=QRzdX3_aEa&sig=SNkWNsfbvCUKMKZ3bUdT7fNHa0c&hl=en&ei=FzFDTfTkG4_EsAOhqZ3ICg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=16&ved=0CHIQ6AEwDw#v=onepage&q&f=false

It begins on page 123. Unfortunately, I was not able to find the publication of Mariette about Abydos, which was pretty much a neglected place until he began to excavate it. In it, he must say something about the scarab in question, although one thing in its favor of being genuine, come to that, was that the main forgery business qhen it came to scarabs was at Cairo and Thebes and certainly not at Abydos.

The thing about scarabs is that they were a kind of propaganda. Since the Egyptians didn't have coins on which to put the faces and names of their sovereigns, they put them on scarabs, instead. At least the names. About half the scarabs in the museums of the world belong to Thutmose III, from his own time down, which goes to show his status in the eyes of those who came after him. Why would there be a scarab with the names of a king and his mother? Perhaps denoting a regency for a young ruler. Scarabs can show up anywhere. It is said that the heart scarab of Thutmose IV was discovered on a dig on Sardinia. Another thing that is very common in scarabs are that the signs are often quite hard to read.

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