King Tutankhamun and the Royal Family of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Ancient Egypt
By Albert Zink
Sickness, Hunger, War, and Religion: Multidisciplinary Perspectives, eds. Michaela Harbeck, Kristin von Heyking and Heiner Schwarzberg (RCC Perspectives, 2012)
Introduction: The genealogy of Tutankhamun is one of the greatest remaining unsolved mysteries in Egyptology. For decades, experts all over the world have studied and debated the pharaoh’s true lineage. However, due to the lack of concrete archaeological and Egyptological evidence, no conclusion was reached until now.
In 1922 Howard Carter uncovered the almost undisturbed tomb and the royal mummy of a nineteen-year-old boy from the late Eighteenth Dynasty, now popularly known as King Tut. This burial trove remains one of the most remarkable discoveries in Egyptology to date, capturing the public imagination in an unprecedented way, and Tutankhamun’s life (and the causes of his premature death) 3,300 years ago continues to be a subject of fascination. However, despite the wealth of artifacts found, the tomb contained very little information about Tutankhamun’s origins and family. Some names of key figures from the period appear amongst the artifacts, but no one inscription definitively tells us who the pharaoh’s parents were. Furthermore, few other mummies from the Amarna period have been definitively identified. Many Egyptologists believe that Tutankhamun was born to the pharaoh Akhenaten and his great royal wife Nefertiti, or his second wife Kiya, but these claims are highly debated.
Our study, which finally presents the real pedigree of the Eighteenth Dynasty royal family, constitutes a milestone in palaeogenetics. Using a multidisciplinary working model, we were able to identify and interpret nuclear DNA in a number of different royal mummies and put the existing hypotheses about their identities to the test. This was facilitated by the preservation of nucleic acids in the corpses, which we speculate was a result of the particular (but as yet poorly understood) embalming techniques of the ancient priests. As these techniques reached their peak with the Eighteenth Dynasty, we were provided with DNA of extraordinary quantity and quality.