King Tut DNA findings
September 4, 2010
The mysteries surrounding King Tut are still unfolding, thanks to technology. When the King Tut exhibition opened at the Denver Art Museum in mid-summer, Dr. Zahi Hawass, the secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities spoke at a media event, announcing that within months, experts would reveal significant findings about the young boy king, thanks to DNA research.
This month, National Geographic dedicates a cover story to King Tut, exposing his “family secrets.”
“We hope the article prompts the imagination and excitement in people to come to see the King Tut exhibition at the Denver Art Museum,” said Kristy Bassuener, senior communications manager at the Denver Art Museum. “We have seen great attendance for the exhibition, with steady crowds on both weekdays and weekends.”
Even without the cover story, local economists predict the exhibition will draw $100 million in revenue – not counting ticket sales – in terms of lodging, food and gift purchases from visitors, said Barbara O’Brien, Lt. Governor of Colorado.
And, for the first time, a portion of Tut ticket sales will help directly fund research, restoration and preservation efforts in Egypt.
“Tutankhamun’s magic still captures the hearts of people all over the world,” Hawass said.
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Especially when readers discover more about him in September’s National Geographic. The magazine dedicates a 25-page spread to King Tut and DNA results, and it includes fascinating, up-close, full-page photos of the mummies.
Hawass wrote the story, beginning by stating, “We should honor these ancient dead and let them rest in peace.” But he admits he changed his mind about studying the DNA of mummies; he first thought the “chance of obtaining workable samples while avoiding contamination from modern DNA seemed too small to justify disturbing these sacred remains.” But two years ago, several geneticists convinced him their techniques had improved, and they had a good chance of successfully gaining useful information.
The story details how geneticists obtain DNA from mummies, from deep within the bone, ensuring the samples aren’t contaminated by the DNA of previous archeologists or Egyptian priests who mummified the body. As Hawass explains the procedure – done even on fetuses buried near Tut – it’s amazing researches found what they did: Embalming material varied with each mummy, requiring different methods to purify the DNA.
In the story, readers learn about one pharaoh’s revolt: Before King Tut, Amenhotep IV rejects all of the Egyptian gods, except for Aten, the sun. He then elevates himself to god status, and experts believe this “religion” continued past his death – until King Tut came on the scene at age 9. By age 11, he and his wife (whom DNA testing confirmed) revive the traditional form of worship and reopen the old temples.
Hawass continues to tell readers about Tut’s family and how studies support a theory of Tut’s death related to congenital problems and malaria, as opposed to murder.
He ends his story explaining why he doesn’t let the mummies rest in peace:
“With our investigations, we seek to honor them and keep their memories alive,” he wrote.