King Tut Family Project

In a press conference on 17 February 2010, Zahi Hawass announced the results of the "King Tutankhamun Family Project". The news that a number of royal mummies had undergone DNA and other research received much attention in the media. As the matter of royal lineage at the end of the 18th Dynasty is relevant to our mission, the following is an attempt to summarize the results of the "King Tutankhamun Family Project".

Research outline

Eleven mummies, believed to be of members of the royal family (end of the 18th Dynasty), were examined morphologically through CT scanning. In addition, two to six samples of bone marrow per mummy were taken. Five further (royal) mummies (earlier 18th Dynasty) underwent less extensive research, functioning as a control group. The mummies examined were:

Mummy *
Tomb
Methods used
Remarks
Tutankhamun KV62
CT
DNA
Thuya
KV46
CT
DNA
Yuya
KV46
CT DNA
unknown person
(speculated to be Akhnaten,
Smenkhkare, Tiye, Nefertiti)

KV55
CT DNA
Amenhotep III
KV35
CT
DNA
"the younger lady", unknown female
(speculated to be Nefertiti, or
another queen or princess)
KV35
CT
DNA
"the elder lady", unknown female
(speculated to be Nefertiti, Tiye,
or another queen or princess)
KV35
CT
DNA
fetus 1
(daughter of Tutankhamun
and Ankhesenamun)

KV62
CT
DNA
fetus 2
(daughter of Tutankhamun
and Ankhesenamun)

KV62
CT
DNA
unknown female
(a queen or princess)

KV21
CT
DNA
unknown female
(a queen or princess)

KV21
CT
DNA
unknown male (CCG61065)
(speculated to be Thutmose I
TT320
CT
DNA
control group
Thutmose II
TT320
CT
control group
Ahmose-Nefertari
TT320
DNA
control group
Hatshepsut
KV60
CT
DNA
control group
Sitra-In
KV60
CT
DNA
control group

* italics: identification uncertain before this investigation
Note that the mummies of Hatshepsut and Sitra-In were identified through previous research by Hawass et al., using morphological but not genetical evidence.

Of the eleven mummies on which the investigation centered, only four were identified with certainty through archaeological evidence. The mummy found in KV55 has been much debated - even the sex of the mummy was disputed. DNA testing has now proved that these are the remains of a male, ruling out the possibility that they are those of Nefertiti being buried as king Smenkhkare. (This of course neither proves nor disproves that Nefertiti may have assumed the throne in a male role during her life.)

On the other hand, it was previously generally agreed upon that the two fetuses found in Tutankhamun's tomb were his daughters, most likely by Ankhesenamun, since there is no record that he took further wives during his short life.

Methods used

CT scanning (X-ray Computed Tomography): very detailed scanning, so that a 3D image can be generated by computer. The image shows bodily structures based on their density, i.e. ability to block X-rays. This allows for non-destructive, detailed morphological study of the mummy.

Morphology: study of the form, structure and configuration of a body. This includes aspects of the outward appearance as well as the form and structure of the internal parts like bones and organs. (Wikipedia: Morphology)

DNA: samples of bone tissue were extracted and purified, with precautions taken against contamination with other DNA (which might have been transferred onto the mummy during embalming, burial, re-burial, and modern examination). Fragments of the DNA-sequence, which can be used to establish kinship, were then amplified. In addition, the samples were tested for malaria - as the malaria parasite infects human red blood cells, its DNA is found alongside the human's DNA.

One ancient DNA laboratory was located in the basement of the Egyptian Museum, Cairo; the second at Cairo University's Faculty of Medicine.

Results: family bonds

Through comparison of the genetic "fingerprints" of the mummies, it was found that the mummies of Amenhotep III, the unknown male from KV55, and Tutankhamun share the same paternal lineage.

It should be remarked that attempts were made to complete all DNA-profiles a second time in a different laboratory, in order to exclude possible mistakes in establishing the DNA "fingerprint". The second laboratory was able to complete the profiles of the "elder lady", the male from KV55, the "younger lady", and Tutankhamun, but not of Thuya, Yuya, Amenhotep III, and the two unknown females from KV21. The primary DNA laboratory was located at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and the secondary laboratory at Cairo University.

The "elder lady" was found to have very close kinship bonds to Yuya and Thuya, and she was thus identified as Tiye. The male from KV55 and the "younger lady" both showed very close kinship to Amenhotep III and Tiye. The researchers believe they are son and daughter of this royal couple, full siblings, and the parents of Tutankhamun. Tutankhamun seems to have fathered the two fetuses found in his tomb. It was found possible, but not proven, that one of the two females from KV21 is their mother. The researchers felt confident to identify the male from KV55 as Akhnaten. The evidence was not strong enough to identify either female from KV21 as Ankhesenamun.

This leaves the question open who the "younger lady", the mother of Tutankhamun, was. Since she is believed to be a sister of the male from KV55 identified as Akhenaten, the researchers concluded that she is unlikely to be either Nefertiti or Kiya. It is known that Amenhotep III and Tiye had several daughters, and that Amenhotep III married several of them. Two daughters who were not married to their father, and thus could have married their brother, are Nebetah and Beketaten.

The two fetuses and the two females from KV21 did not yield a complete genetic fingerprint.

Results: health

All sixteen mummies were morphologically examined for signs of Marfan syndrome, Antley-Bixler syndrome, and similar disorders. The possibility that any of the family members suffered from these syndroms was excluded. The researchers concluded that the feminized figures found in Amarna art have no physical basis, but are a stylistic feature.

Tutankhamun suffered from Köhler disease II or Freiberg-Köhler syndrome, a condition in which bone tissue in the foot loses its blood supply and dies off. Walking must have been difficult and painful, and he used canes as an aid - large numbers were found in his tomb, some of which show signs of wear. In addition, he had mild scoliosis (curved spine) and an incomplete cleft palate. His skull was well within normal variation, and not intentionally deformed.

Bone malformations found in the other mummies included clubfeet, scoliosis (spine curving left-right) and kyphoscoliosis (spine curving left-right and front-back).

Tutankhamun, his grandparents Yuya and Thuya, and the unknown male from TT320 were found to have been infected with malaria tropica, the most severe form of malaria. The widespread presence of mosquitoes and malaria in ancient Egypt is suggested by texts and other evidence, but this is the oldest genetic proof for malaria in precisely dated mummies. Malaria was not always lethal; Yuya and Thuya both seem to have lived into their fifties. Tutankhamun on the other hand must have been in poor health throughout his life, and the researchers suggest that the combination of his multiple disorders with a leg fracture (not yet healed at the time of his death) and a malaria infection was the cause of his early demise. Coriander seeds, fruits from the nabq tree (Arabian jujube), cocculus berries, prickly juniper berries, raisins, and dates found in his tomb may have been used as medicines; some of these are mentioned in papyrus Ebers (a text giving medical recipes).

For three other mummies, a cause of death was proposed:

No proof was found in the royal mummies for bubonic plague, tuberculosis, leprosy, or leishmaniasis.

Financial supporters of the "King Tutankhamun Family Project"

Publication of the results of the "King Tutankhamun Family Project"

Hawass et al., "Ancestry and Pathology in King Tutankhamun's Family", Journal of the American Medical Association 2010;303(7):638-647.