One of the modern world's favorite stories of ancient Egypt is the religious upheaval and family drama of Akhenaten, the "Heretic Pharaoh," and his queen Nefertiti. (Previously.
) Since the regime's history was deliberately obliterated by later pharaohs, archaeologists have had to reconstruct the whole story, leaving many open questions. No one has even been able to say how exactly the members of the royal family were related, particularly whether Akhenaten was the father of Tutankhamun, everyone's favorite boy-king (previously
). This February, leading scientists published an article in JAMA [abstract with paywall]
regarding the results of the King Tutankhamun Family Project
-- DNA analysis on the mummies of royal family members, some never identified. It may be that the question of the pharaoh's descent and relations has been answered at last, and that we now can identify an unnamed skeleton, hidden in a woman's tomb, to be the remains of Akhenaten. However, the data is not definitive, and since "leading scientists," in Egypt, are always led by the colorful and dictatorial
Dr. Zahi Hawass, there is bound to be some argument.
Some of the most interesting points:
The KV55 mummy
is a skeletal corpse that was initially believed to be a queen, but later determined to be a young man in a woman's poorly preserved burial suite. This hitherto unidentified body has DNA in the direct paternal line of Tutankhamun, and appears to be the son of Akhenaten's father, Amunhotep III. Such a person must either be Tutankhamun's father or his uncle -- or, due to Pharaonic royal marriage practices, both. Is this man Akhenaten, or the little-known
Prince Smenkhara -- a pharaoh that ruled so briefly and insignificantly that some had speculated that he was Queen Nefertiti in drag?
Tutankhamun's mother was apparently his father's full sister. She has been identified as the "Younger Lady," one of two female mummies from tomb KV21, although there are only possible names for this princess -- she may be Sitamun
, Akhenaten's sister, but we understand that she
was married to Amunhotep III, their father, not Akhenaten, her brother. Nefertiti is not believed to be a sister of Akhenaten, so this person is probably not to be identified as Nefertiti. It is interesting to note -- considering that the powerful, popular queen Nefertiti is known to have had six daughters but not known to have any sons -- that this woman, who did
bear a royal son around the same time, apparently died of severe head trauma.
Tutankhamun suffered from scoliosis and club feet, ailments he shared with his family, and must have made use of the walking sticks he was buried with. It appears likely that the other of the two female mummies found in KV21 was the mother of his children -- if this is the case, she was the girl-queen Ankhesenamun. That woman, too, suffered from scoliosis and club feet, which, if she was the queen, would lend poignancy to the graceful renditions
of the royal couple together. Ankhesenamun is most likely the queen who attempted a desperate palace coup at this time. Following Tutankhamun's sudden death, she proposed to marry herself off
to a son of the powerful Hittite king, an enemy of Egypt, in order to hold on to the throne. It ended badly, and Ankhesenamun herself disappeared from history shortly thereafter.
(Postscript: in the 2007 French animated film La Reine Soleil,
the royal couple Tut and Ankhesa are adventurous and adorable, with no apparent need for walking sticks.)
(Post-postscript: some people are way too into this dynasty