for National Geographic News
Three mummies have been moved from the Valley of the Kings in Luxor to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo to begin extensive studies of their origins, Egyptian authorities recently announced.
Two female mummies found in a tomb known as KV21 and one male mummy found outside the tomb of Pharaoh Seti II, who ruled Egypt from 1200 to 1194 B.C., will undergo CAT scans and DNA analysis.
Such tests could tell researchers the mysterious mummies' ancestry and could even pinpoint their identities, although it may be years before scientists can say anything definitive.
Still, the females already show promise that they may be among several Egyptian queens that archaeologists have been searching for.
Both bodies were found in the Egyptian royal pose of women: the left arm bent at the elbow with the hand clenched diagonally across the chest, and the right arm laid straight alongside the body.
"We'll try to look at the two females in KV21, because we are now looking for the families of Tutankhamun through the Egyptian Mummy Project," said Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.
The project is a five-year plan launched by Hawass to test and catalog the DNA of every mummy in the country.
"Maybe one of them could be Nefertiti or Tiye or Kiya, we do not know," said Hawass, who is also a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)
An Egyptian team will examine the mummies' genes in what Hawass describes as the only DNA lab in the world dedicated exclusively to the study of mummies.
The best way to study ancient genes is to examine mitochondrial DNA, said Angelique Corthals, a lecturer in biomedical and forensic studies at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, who trained the Egyptian team.
This type of DNA is passed on through the mother and contains thousands of copies of genetic information in each cell. (Get an overview of human genetics.)
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