Ahmed Osman Feature






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by Charles Pope

In the Mar/Apr 2002 issue of Archaeology magazine, Mark Rose reports that DNA testing of Tutankhamun was recently canceled by the Egyptian government for reasons of "national security." More specifically, he writes that it was due to concern that the results might strengthen an association between the family of Tutankhamun and the Biblical Moses. However, Mark Rose fails to mention in the article "Who's in Tomb 55?" that this was not the first time DNA testing of Tut had been canceled. In fact, just last year Mark Rose reported that planned DNA testing of Tutankhamun by Brigham Young University was later denied by the Egyptian government. This saga was detailed in Part I of a three-part PBS documentary titled "Secrets of the Pharaohs." (www.pbs.org/wnet/pharaohs/about.html) The video aired in February of 2001 and was reviewed by Archaeology magazine (www.archaeology.org/magazine.php?page=online/features/secrets/index). Part I is called "Tut's Family Curse." It explains the collaboration of two BYU professors and Nasry Iskander of the Cairo Museum to extract DNA samples from the many extant Egyptian New Kingdom royal mummies.

"Tut's Family Curse" also documents the trip made to the Cairo Museum by anthropologist Joyce Filer in order to examine the mummy from KV 55. This is one of the most fascinating aspects of the video as it shows how both the mummy and x-rays were analyzed in order to determine the sex and age at death. A written summary of this work is provided as a supplement in the current (Mar/Apr 2002) issue of Archaeology magazine. Microbiologist Scott Woodward and archaeologist C. Wilfred Griggs of Brigham Young University were also allowed to inspect this mummy from KV 55. Presumably, they were allowed to take DNA samples, however this is not made explicit in the documentary. Extracting DNA from King Tut proved to be even more challenging. He is the only New Kingdom pharaoh who remains in his Valley of the Kings tomb, and authorities were unwilling at the time of BYU's visit to follow through on earlier plans for testing. With some persistence, the professors were able to locate the two fetuses from the tomb of Tut and take DNA samples back to their laboratory in the United States.

In 1999, Scott Woodward (http://molecular-genealogy.byu.edu/group.htm) of Brigham Young University was featured in a Discovery Channel special. This documentary was also titled "Secrets of the Pharaohs." Dr. Woodward was identified as the first scientist to successfully extract DNA from a dinosaur bone. He also claimed that he had been granted the "exclusive right to sample the pharaohs." This included 27 royal mummies of the New Kingdom and 500 other mummies from the Cairo Museum. According to Woodward, analysis of mummies spanning an 8-generation period in the 18th Dynasty revealed a "very narrow gene pool," and that there was no intermarriage outside of the royal family. Woodward stated, "already we have tremendous amount of information about the pharaohs of ancient Egypt." Because of the successful analysis of the two fetuses from the tomb of King Tut, he conveyed great confidence in the documentary that he would be able to "reconstruct the entire genealogy of the 18th Dynasty."

The 1999 video is no longer available from the Discovery Channel web site. In the second version of the documentary, which was broadcast by PBS in 2001, Woodward qualifies the optimism of the 1999 feature. For example, a "minute" variation was found between a DNA sequence of Amenhotep I and his presumed successor Thutmose I in the early 18th Dynasty. Based on this finding, Woodward stated that intermarriage with a second family could have occurred. We are not told in either video exactly when the samples were taken from the Cairo Museum and brought to the United States for testing. Judging from a press release made by the Rosicrucian Museum in San Jose California, it could have been in 1995 or even earlier (www.rosicrucian.org/museum/museum/mummy1.html). This article also mentions that DNA testing of Tutankhamun and the two fetuses in Tut's tomb was planned.

Scott Woodward wrote an article for Archaeology magazine in 1996. The abstract is published on the Archaeology magazine website (www.he.net/~archaeol/index.html) Click on the navigation bar under "Back Issues" and then look for the Sept/Oct '96 Issue. The feature is under "The Great DNA Hunt." Woodward's abstract is at the very bottom of that page. Woodward's 1996 article stated that he only expected to be able to analyze mitochondrial DNA. However, the Rosicrucian Museum page indicated that he had sequenced nuclear DNA for three pharaohs, viz., Tao II, Amenhotep II, and Thutmose IV. In an E-mail correspondence, Scott Woodward also mentioned that he had analyzed DNA from the mummy of Yuya, whom Ahmed Osman has identified as the Biblical Joseph. Although Woodward has made no endorsement of this association, the Mormon Church is obviously quite interested in finding evidence of Joseph in Egypt. According to the Book of Mormon, a descendant of Joseph through his son Manasseh came to America prior to the Fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. Brigham Young University has done extensive DNA testing of American Indians, and is now greatly expanding the scope of the "molecular genealogy" project.

According to the Mormon publication Meridian (www.meridianmagazine.com/turninghearts/000906microprint.html), Scott Woodward is collecting DNA samples from all over the world in order to compare modern and ancient populations. Another unexpected application of ancient DNA extraction technology has been in analyzing Dead Sea Scroll parchments in Israel (www.kbyu.org/deadsea/book/chapter7/intro.html).

Returning to the issue at hand, what can reasonably be accomplished through the DNA testing of King Tut? First of all, his relationship with the mummy thought to be Amenhotep III can be determined. There is some doubt whether Amenhotep III was correctly labeled by the priests who restored the pharaohs after their tombs and mummies had been plundered. Woodward states in "Tut's Family Curse" that of all the 18th Dynasty mummies, only Thutmose III is identified with a high degree of certainty. Presumably, this is because the mummy had not been fully unwrapped by his despoilers. The article "Royal Mummies Musical Chairs" (www.egyptology.com/kmt/spring99/mummies.html) in the Spring '99 Issue of KMT Magazine captures some of the confusion over the 18th Dynasty mummies. Another article "Who Was Who Among the Royal Mummies" (www-oi.uchicago.edu/OI/IS/WENTE/NN_Win95/NN_Win95.html) on the University of Chicago Egyptology Site is also very helpful. A second purpose of testing Tut would be to compare his mitochondrial DNA to that of the "Elder Lady." The Elder Lady was previously identified as Queen Tiye based on a comparison of her hair to a lock of Queen Tiye's hair found in the tomb of Tut. However, there is presently a proposal to re-identify the Elder Lady as Nefertiti. Assuming that the Elder Lady proves to be the biological mother of Tut, then Tut was either the son of Queen Tiye or of Nefertiti. If Nefertiti was the mother of Tut, then one would assume that Akhenaten was the father. If Queen Tiye was the mother, then Amenhotep III would be the expected father. However, ancient family affairs were more complicated. Although scholars and the media refuse to acknowledge it, there is considerable archaeological and textual evidence indicating that Tut was the son of Akhenaten by Queen Tiye (www.domainofman.com/book/essay-9.html). Herein lies a dilemma for those who wish to reconstruct the New Kingdom genealogy. There is a natural tendency to believe that incest was kept to a bare minimum within the royal family. Yet there is growing evidence that they strove to do just the opposite. Will we hide from the truth of their reproductive model, or seek to understand it? The choice is a difficult one, because these royal mummies very well may turn out to be skeletons in the closet of mankind. They are being jealously guarded as if they are. However, ancient people must not be judged by modern standards, only by their own. Let us hope that those who follow will show us the same consideration, and forgive our equally ignorant ways.

Readers may contact Archaeology magazine at www.archaeology.org. Further commentary on this topic is posted at http://dwij.org/forum/amarna/comments/pope.html Please share your comments through the The Daily Grail or at the Domain of Man discussion group.

Charles Pope

Charles Pope, a researcher and scholar, is the publisher of The Domain of Man . . . on the Internet at:


His featured article for Future Link, The Double Helix of DNA and Genesis, is in this publication at: