of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt, announced that
Egyptian scientists were going to test the DNA of two mummified
stillborn infants found in King Tut's tomb.
He said that DNA samples taken from the fetuses "will
be compared to each other, along with those of the mummy of King
August 6, 2008, Zahi Hawass,
This is a wonderful
announcement from Zahi Hawass, but the promise it holds may not be
Last year DNA
testing was done on the purported mummy of Queen Hatshepsut. This
was announced widely announced and heralded in a Discovery Channel
documentary entitled "Secrets of Egypt's Lost Queen."
What's more, the DNA testing would take place in a Discovery
Channel-funded DNA lab. But read the first part of a Washington
Post article (published December 22, 2007) in which the
reporter criticizes what happened:
after Egypt boldly announced that archaeologists had identified
a mummy as the most powerful queen of her time, scientists in a
museum basement are still analyzing DNA from the bald,
3,500-year-old corpse to try to back up the claim aired on TV.
Progress is slow. So far, results indicate the linen-wrapped
mummy is most likely, but not conclusively, the female pharaoh
Queen Hatshepsut, who ruled for 20 years in the 15th century
B.C. Running its own ancient-DNA lab is a major step forward for
Egypt, which for decades has seen foreigners take most of the
credit for major discoveries here. It's time Egyptian scientists
took charge, said Zahi Hawass, Egypt's antiquities chief who
spearheaded the quest to find Hatshepsut and build the lab.
"Egyptology, for the last 200 years, it has been led by
foreigners." But the Hatshepsut discovery also highlights
the struggle to back up recent spectacular findings in Egypt,
including the unearthing of ancient tombs and mummies,
investigations into how King Tut died, and even the discovery in
the Siwa oasis of possibly the world's oldest human footprint.
So far, the science shown in the Discovery Channel's
"Secrets of Egypt's Lost Queen" has not been published
in a reputable peer-reviewed scientific journal--the gold
standard of scientific research worldwide...
And in another article
written by the Associated Press in June 2008, the writer discusses
the promise of another DNA test, this one on a possible King
plans to conduct a DNA test on a 3,500-year-old mummy to
determine if it is King Thutmose I, one of the most important
pharaohs, the country's chief archaeologist said Thursday. Zahi
Hawass, Egypt's antiquities chief, said the DNA test and an
X-ray will be carried out on a mummy found at the site of
ancient Thebes on the west bank of the Nile, what is today
Luxor's Valley of the Kings, the Middle East News Agency
reported. Hawass said a mummy on display in the Egyptian Museum
that was purported for many years to be Thutmose I was not
actually the ancient ruler's remains. Thutmose I was the third
pharaoh of Egypt's 18th dynasty of pharaohs. His reign is
generally dated from 1506 to 1493 B.C. He was succeeded by his
son Thutmose II, who in turn was succeeded by Thutmose II's
sister, Hatshepsut, ancient Egypt's most powerful female
pharaoh. Egypt has acquired a $5 million DNA lab, funded by the
Discovery Channel, which has become a centerpiece of an
ambitious plan to identify mummies and re-examine the royal
mummy collection. The best way to obtain accurate results is
from the DNA found in a cell's nucleus because it contains
information from both parents. But mummy DNA is usually so
deteriorated that the chances of finding usable nuclear DNA are
slim. Hawass did not say what the mummy's DNA will be compared
to in the attempt to identify it. Last year, Egypt started a DNA
test on a female mummy to determine whether it is Queen
Hatshepsut. The results were never made public. There is some
secrecy surrounding Egypt's DNA testing of mummies....
Why the reluctance to
share the results? Why the unwillingness to publish? Why the
refusal to double check the results by sending them to another DNA
lab elsewhere in the world?
Over the years, many
reputable teams of scientists have applied to Egyptian authorities
to test the DNA of some very famous Egyptian mummies, including
King Tut himself and Rameses I. According to an article in London's
Sunday Times, Egyptian officials may have blocked research
on King Tut, because "they feared Israel would use the tests
to suggest the boy pharaoh was related to Hebrew patriarchs."
And in another article at Thetimes.co.uk, noted Egyptian
archaeologist Zahi Hawass is quoted as saying that DNA testing “is
not always accurate and cannot be done with complete success when
dealing with mummies. Until we know for sure that it is accurate,
we will not use it in our research.”
Is this a case of too
much information may be a dangerous thing? He has also said, more
recently, that the DNA of Egyptian mummies can only be tested by
the Egyptians themselves.
As long as politics
plays any part in the scientific study of DNA from Egyptian
mummies, the results will be less than meaningful.