DNA testing and unravelling ancient Egyptian history
July 30 2007
DNA testing is a growing trend in genealogy with several companies now offering DNA testing and national and international surname projects are in progress to help people discover their ancestry. But can DNA testing help shed light on people who lived thousands of years ago – can it help us understand people from ancient Egypt?
The answer seems to be yes.
A study at Manchester University is carrying out an exciting new project using DNA testing to try to identify a mummy as Queen Hapshepsut, the most powerful female ruler of ancient Egypt.
Archeologists in Cairo began the ball rolling on the project when they found a tooth in a box that was associated with Hatshepsut’s tomb. This fitted exactly into a hole in the jaw socked with a broken root of an unidentified mummy. Teeth, even from people who died so long ago, still contain nerve and other tissue in the root that retains the integrity of its DNA, allowing tests to me made. The tooth has been sent to DNA specialists at Manchester who have some interesting early results and which they announced earlier this month (July 2007). Other samples from the unidentified mummy have also been tested and the DNA from the mummy samples, and from the tooth samples have been compared.
If a match were to be found, this would be good evidence that the tooth, thought to have been the Queen’s, came from the mummy, which could then be identified as Hatshepsut. Other DNA tests have been made using samples taken from Hatshepsut's royal relatives - her grandmother Ahmose Nefertari, the matriarch of 18th dynasty royalty, and her father Thutmose I.
Although DNA testing was difficult because of the problems in obtaining enough DNA that is still in tact, the Manchester team are confident that all of the DNA profiles show that the tooth and the mummy are positively identified as the Queen.
This is a major historical landmark as Hatshepsut, meaning 'Foremost of Noble Ladies', was the greatest of Egypt's female rulers. Cleopatra’s power pales by comparison. Fresh from this great result, the team now intend to carry out more DNA tests on the 40 remaining royal mummies that have been found in Egypt, including Tutankhamun. DNA testing will be used in tests designed to look into many unsolved mysteries surrounding the genealogy of the 18th and 19th dynasties. We now may be able to identify positively the mummy that is thought to be Tuthmosis I and say for sure whether the two foetuses found in Tutankhamun's tomb really the children of the young pharaoh.