A bonsai family tree
June 14, 2010 7:31 PM   Subscribe

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.)
posted by Countess Elena (15 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
I will comment in more detail once I've read the links... but how does an article about some woman's insane plastic surgery not include photos?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:42 PM on June 14, 2010

Here's another picture. It, um . . . it certainly arched her eyebrows.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:45 PM on June 14, 2010

she's gotten eight nose jobs, three chin implants, one eyebrow lift...

Let me guess, her left one?
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:56 PM on June 14, 2010

My favorite part is the note at the beginning that says that Akhenaten is Moses is Barack Obama.

I think Dr. Hawass would be sad to hear that a Pharaoh could be black AND Jewish in his other lives.
posted by funfetti at 8:01 PM on June 14, 2010

^ Sorry, of course I meant "at the beginning" of this link.
posted by funfetti at 8:05 PM on June 14, 2010

Wow, what a great post. Guess I'm not going to bed early tonight after all.
posted by saucysault at 8:07 PM on June 14, 2010

Here's another picture.

Good gravy, she looks like a Sharon (or maybe a Tracy) who's had godawful surgery. Nothing like Nefertiti. Why do plastic surgeons do this to people?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:12 PM on June 14, 2010

Good old Ay, history's first villain.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:36 PM on June 14, 2010

Thanks for the abstract summarizing this really interesting post.
posted by effluvia at 8:56 PM on June 14, 2010

Interesting. I had my own DNA analyzed through an online service, leading me to develop an interest in early human populations, so I was curious to see what "haplotypes" were determined from these remains. Googling returns sites that claim that Tut may have had a Y chromosome (paternal ancestry) more common in Western Europe than Egypt! However, this was apparently only revealed accidentally in a Discovery Channel video, and I feel queasy clicking on some of the links I've found as they seem like they may be white supremacist... But interesting if people, royalty included, really did get around that much back in the day.
posted by Schmucko at 9:29 PM on June 14, 2010

Schmucko - so.... the white supremacists really want to claim an totally inbred, clubfooted dude with a bad back as their own?
posted by Riemann at 11:02 PM on June 14, 2010

If the shoe fits...


I'll show myself out

posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:16 PM on June 14, 2010

These details are all too "I'm my own mummy's grandfather's mummy" to keep track of. Is there a family tree (or selection of possible trees) online that would help to sort things out?

(Also, if you wanted to totally derail your own post, why didn't you just link to this?)
posted by pracowity at 11:21 PM on June 14, 2010

Shhhh! Don't say his name! If you walk around stiffly while chanting Akhenaton! You are not forgotten! and wearing a make-shift toga-like outfit, you will be touched by the Mummy's Curse while you sleep!

Okay, not really -- I just wanted an excuse to link to this awesomely silly video of my mother-in-law getting used as an unpaid extra in a cheesy 70's science fiction TV show for which she briefly served as a researcher. She's the one in red.
posted by Asparagirl at 12:06 AM on June 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Is there a family tree (or selection of possible trees) online that would help to sort things out?

Couldn't tell you how accurate these are, but here and here. I will admit to trying to sketch one out by hand when reading this post myself...
posted by Catseye at 2:10 AM on June 15, 2010

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