Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Genealogy of Tutankhamun

Fortunately, the DNA announcements from Egypt were accompanied this time by a paper in the scientific journal, JAMA. The disputed identities of the mummies of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye [Elder Lady from KV35] have now been confirmed. The father of the pharaoh, Tutankhamun is the KV55 individual [probably Akhenaten] and his mother the "Younger Lady" from KV35. The surprise is that Tutankhamun's parents were siblings--in other words they are both offsprings of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye. The microbiologists who worked on the study are apparently still going to try to find out if the "Younger Lady" could still possibly be Nefertiti. They know the path to the identification [a foetus from Tutankhamun's tomb, of which he is probably the father and whose mother would then be Ankhesenamun, a daughter of Nefertiti, sharing her mtDNA]and, while, the JAMA paper claims this couldn't be achieved, another source says it's already been done.

Joyce Tyldesley seemed to be quite familiar with the DNA work of Scott Woodward and his BYU team, who first sampled some of the royal mummies, and mentions it several times in her 2000 book, "The Private Lives of the Pharaohs", which corresponded to a TV documentary by the same name with Woodward et al. On page 143 she writes: "While it has not been possible to extract a genetic profile for the smaller foetus,the larger baby has yielded a mitochondrial DNA sequence through which the scientists may be able to trace the maternal DNA of Ankhesenamun and her mother, Nefertiti."

There is one more possibility that would make the "Younger Lady" have the same DNA as any daughter of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye [and therefore appear a full sister to the KV55 person] and that is if Amenhotep III had a daughter with an identical twin sister of Tiye.  That could be problematic. No such person has ever surfaced in the record. Also awkward is trying to find a full sister for Akhenaten with whom he could have had Tutankhamun later in his reign rather than sooner. Akhenaten is seen with Nefertiti from his earliest days as king. There is a briefly attested secondary wife, Kiya, but she is no more styled "king's daughter" than Nefertiti. On the other hand, once Ankhesenamun became the wife of Tutankhamun, she is not styled "king's daughter", either, even though we know she really was one. Her attestations are few, as well. As for
Smenkhkare, if he was a full brother of Akhenaten [with the same DNA--that is any of four possible combinations of alleles from each parent at a given marker] and he was married to Meritaten, who would only have similar DNA as he if both her parents were full siblings--if this couple engendered Tutankhamun. There is also Baketaten, but she is shown as a child at Amarna, and some people have postulated her as a daughter of Akhenaten and not his sister, as she is not styled "snt nsw" but "sAt nsw".

As for the parentage of Nefertiti, it is never mentioned anywhere to my knowledge.  Some have believed Ay to be her father but that was not written in his commoner tomb at Amarna. The only thing that is pertinent there is that Ay's wife, Tey, was a "nurse of the goddess", meaning Nefertiti. Meanwhile, Akhenaten and Nefertiti identified themselves with Shu and Tefnut, siblings who sprang from Ra and formed a kind of "Holy Trinity" with him.
This was Akhenaten's version of "sA ra" and part of his kingly formula. This never occurred to me previously, but the notion of he and Nefertiti as Shu and Tefnut would have fallen rather flat had she been only the offspring of commoners. Therefore Nefertiti is still the best candidate for the mother of Tutankhamun.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Price of History

If you ever get a chance to travel back in time, don't forget to bring a good camera. Many people would be amazed at how much historical societies charge for scans of old photos from the 19th Century the rights to which are owned by nobody. But that's not all--you need to pay another fee per image in order to be able to use it commercially--once. I know historical societies need funds to operate but most writers are not wealthy and can end up forking over several hundreds of dollars to illustrate a book not very profusely.

Then there are old letters. These are invaluable for their historic content but most of the institutions that house them seem to believe they own them and demand permission to reproduce them or publish any of their content. A fee for photocopying and mailing is understandable but these places need to learn the concept of "public domain". Having something in ones possession does not mean owning the copyright. Every letter or even email an individual writes is his or her intellectual property and an automatic copyright is attached to it for as long as the law allows. The recipient or keeper of the communication has no rights--cannot reproduce it, publish it without permission of the author. Until such day as the communication outlasts its copyright. There is no letter written, say, in the mid-19th Century that is not in the public domain. One institution with which I recently dealt forced one to sign an online agreement while ordering a copy of old letters in its archives. In other words, if they are so clueless as to sue you for copyright volations regarding these antique papers and they lose, they are still held harmless for your attorney fees under the agreement! And this is a religious organization. Pretty sad.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The SCA and Pharaonic DNA

I am not much in favor of Dr. Hawass making this announcement. Nothing will do but a paper by a qualified microbiologist in this instance,I am afraid, as few others are capable of explaining the intricacies of DNA. Rather than supplying the paternity of Tutankhamun, any positive yDNA match with the putative Amenhotep III will do more to confirm the questioned identity of the latter. A shared yDNA will not guarantee
that Tut is the son of Amenhotep III. He could still be his grandfather as yDNA is passed on from father to son and Akhnaten could still be the middle man there. Ditto if Tutankhamun is the offspring of another son of Amenhotep III--like Smenkhkare, for example, if that happensto be Smenkhkare's filiation.

One of the websites mentions that a priority of Dr. Hawass is to find the mummy of Nefertiti. Well, that is what the little babies from KV62 have the potential to show, as I have mentioned several times in the past. In order to learn the parentage of Tutankhamun on the maternal side, the two tiny mummies could come in handy as well. That is, if they happen to have the same mtDNA as Tutankhamun.
That makes it more likely that Tut and his wife, Ankhesenamun, had the same mother. Otherwise, nuclear DNA, if viable, can prove Tut to have been the father of the children. yDNA is not passed on to female offspring. Nor could Tut pass on his own mtDNA. That could only come from the babies' mother and grandmother--all the way back indefinitely. If there is a female mummy who also has that same mtDNA, then very good. But her identity cannot be positively ascertained because a mother, all her daughters and granddaughters have the same mtDNA. People can be ruled out much more easily than positively identified. If a mummy of a pharaoh of a given dynasty does not have the same yDNA as the other kings of the dynasty, he has either been misidentified or is a cookoo in the nest, the latter not being very likely. But then the way that dynasties are established in Egyptology is a little confusing, too.

I wish we could have an end to this "Egyptological announcements" via news media and Zahi Hawass" and get back to publication of findings in journals. They don't have to be the most scholarly ones---just guarantee detailed explanations that have lately been lacking. As a for instance, Hawass seemed sure that a certain mummy from
KV60 is Hatshepsut--but where is the publication of scientific proof? To ride on the coat-tails of a cliche---"show me the DNA!" Don't assume we are too clueless to digest it. If this is going to be a new frontier of Egyptology, we've all got to learn to deal with it, become educated in it.