King Tut Tomb Fetuses May Reveal Pharaoh's Mother

Andrew Bossone in Cairo
for National Geographic News
August 7, 2008

Two mummified fetuses found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun will undergo DNA testing to determine their relation to the famous pharaoh, Egyptian officials announced today.

The fetuses may also solve a longtime puzzle: the identity of King Tut's mother.

The young Tut, who reigned from 1336 to 1337 B.C., is controversially thought to be the son of Pharaoh Akhenaten and his wife Kiya. But some archaeologists believe he could be the son of Akhenaten's other wife, the powerful Queen Nefertiti.

"The fetuses will help us determine whether [King Tut's wife and daughter of Nefertiti] Ankhesenamun was a half sister or a full sister," said Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.

"If the fetus DNA matches King Tut's DNA and Ankhesenamun['s DNA], then they shared the same mother."

The testing will also reveal whether the fetuses are offspring of Ankhesenamun and Tut.

Scientists caution, however, that they will probably not establish a direct link between the fetuses and Tut because such genetic matches are extremely difficult to prove.

Additionally, mummies of fetuses found in a tomb are not necessarily the children of the buried pharaoh.

"I personally feel they are not the sons of Tutankhamun," said Hawass, who is also a National Geographic Explorer in Residence. (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)

"I think they are children put in the tomb to be reborn in the afterlife."

DNA Sleuthing

DNA tests are more accurate when comparing a mother to a child, because women pass on several traces of DNA—called mitochondrial DNA—to their offspring.

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